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The trill /r/

In Standard Afrikaans /r/ is a typical alveolartrill. In some varieties of Afrikaans it may also be a uvular trill, a uvular approximant, or a velarfricative ((Van Wyk 1977; Le Roux and Pienaar 1927). Together with /l/ it forms the group of liquids.

Table 1
Consonant Place Manner Feature specification
/r/ rhotic liquid +sonorant, +rhotic
[+]Phonotactic behaviour

The phoneme /r/ can occur as singleton onset (1a) and as second consonant, following both voiced and voicelessobstruentsplosives in (1b), voiced fricative /v/ and voicelessfricatives /f/, /x/ in (1c).

Example 1

a. raak to touch
b. prag beauty  ; tree to step  ; krag strength  ; bring to bring drag dress  ;
c. vrag load  ; wreed cruel  ; graag gladly  ;

The phoneme /r/ can occur in simple codas, as in (2a), as well as in complex codas, such as in (2b) and (2c). In (2b) case /r/ is followed by the voiceless fricatives /s/, /f/ and /x/, while in the latter instance by plosives /p/, /d/ (phonetically realised as [t]), and /k/. Example (2d) /lm/ is phonetically realised as [ləm] due to the insertion of a schwa in sonorant clusters in word-final positions.

In the latter case /r/ may be followed by voiceless obstruents. (2d) /rm/ is phonetically realised as [rəm], due to the regular insertion of a schwa in sonorant clusters.

Note that onset and coda clusters are mirror images of each other.

Example 2

a. ver far
b. harp harp hark to rake hart heart
c. eers first gerf sheaf  ; erg serious
d. kern kernel  ; kerm to moan

The Afrikaans phoneme /r/ can manifest in a simple coda, as in (2a), as well as in complex codas, such as in (2b) to (2d). Example (2b) contains examples of /r/ + plosives, always voiceless consonants, and (2c) of fricatives. Example (2d) is a special case of schwa insertion between two adjacent sononant consonants. This is also found with respect to codas /lm/, as in film film, thus ['f ə.ləm].

An interesting development in Afrikaans concerning codas with prefinal consonant /r/ and final /n/ is visible in forms like koring corn; wheat and doring thorn originated from Dutch koorn corn; wheat and doorn thorn, where /rn/ is replaced by [rəŋ]. In Afrikaans place names like Doornfonteinrn is still present in the written form.

The phoneme /r/ often appears intervocalically, as in (3a) to (3c).

Example 3

a. bêre to pack away  ;
b. warrel to whirl  ;
c. Sarel proper name

Afrikaans words with intervocalic /r/ preceded by a diphthong do not exist.

[+]Phonological behaviour

Lengthening effect

Some short vowels are optionally lengthened when followed by /r/ as coda, notably in words with a high frequency. (4a) shows the most common cases, viz. lengthening of /i/, /u/, /y/. In quite a number of instances, as illustrated in (4b) and (4c), the mid-high short vowels /ɛ/ and /ɔ/ are also notably elongated. See pre-/r/-lengthening of vowels.

The long /ɔ/ in môre may be ascribed to lengthening in an open syllable, followed by the deletion of /x/ in the original Dutch word morgen.

Example 4

a. pers purple   (with a long /ɛ:/  ) vs. pers to press   (with a short /ɛ/  )
Especially in the pronunciation of young, white Afrikaans-speakers, /s/ is frequently palatalised to [ʃ] when preceded by /r/ in the coda cluster /rs/. This happens in other contexts where /r/ is involved, notably across syllable and word boundaries.
Especially in high-frequency function words, in word (1a) or syllable (1b) final positions, /r/ is regularly deleted, the more so in rapid speech.
Example 5

a. hier here waar where sommer just
b. verbaas surprised byvoorbeeld for example

Less common examples are those in (7).

Example 6

a. probeer to try werk to work

See Wissing (2017) for more details.

[+]Acoustic properties

In the example below the most important acoustic properties of /r/ are shown. For purposes of comparison the other member of the liquids, /l/ in /lalalal/ is included.

Table 2
Sound Sound waves and spectrogram

Figure 1

[click image to enlarge]

  1. The vowel of the second syllable of rararar is long, due to stress; the rest are short [ɑ].
  2. The trill character of /r/ is clearly observable in the bundles of pulses; the first [r] consists of seven pulses, while the third exemplar only has one.
  3. Such bundles of pulses correspond to every trill or tap of the tongue against the alveolus.
  4. More energy than in /l/ is spread over a spectrum ranging from 4 kHz to 10 kHz.
  5. Two spectral valleys are visible, the lowest around 5000 Hz, the highest about 8000 Hz.

  • Le Roux, T.H. & Pienaar, P. de V1927Afrikaanse fonetiek.Juta
  • Van Wyk, E.B1977Praktiese fonetiek vir taalstudente: 'n inleiding.Butterworth
  • Wissing, Daan2017FonologieVan Schaik
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