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Nasal assimilation

In Afrikaans, like in many other languages, nasal consonants in tautosyllabic clusters are often homorganic with a following obstruent. As such, nasal assimilation is a type of consonant-to-consonant coarticulation. This phonological process is especially prevelant in monomorphemic tautosyllabic clusters, where nasals are predominantly followed by plosives. Clusters with the obstruent /s/ as the second component form an exception and do not generally condition nasal assimilation.

Listen to the following examples of inkomste and onbekende


In this description we attend to the basic evidence of nasal assimilation (NA) in Afrikaans, viz. in tautosyllabic clusters, followed by heterosyllabic instances. In the latter case, the focus is on compounds and phrases, with some attention to other structures (e.g. derivations such as diminutives). For an overview of nasal assimilation in Afrikaans, see textbooks by Le Roux and Pienaar (1927), Combrink and De Stadler (1987), De Villiers and Ponelis (1987), Wissing (1982), Coetzee (1992), and Wissing (2017).

[+]Homorganic clusters in monomorphemes

In simplex words like those in (1) – (3) below, the presence of homorganic clusters is not technically a matter of a process of NA, as these are all lexicalised words in Afrikaans. The process of NA is evident in the other sections lower down which deal with derivations, compounds and assimilation across word-boundaries in phrases.

The examples in (1) demonstrate the homorganic nature of the clusters formed by nasals ( /m/, /n/ and /ŋ/), respectively bilabial, alveolar and velar, and following obstruents with the same respective articulatory characteristics ( /p/, /d/ and /k/). In (2) instances of nasals plus the fricative /s/ are given, followed by heterosyllabic clusters in monomorphemes in (3).

[+]Nasals and stops
Example 1

romp /rɔmp/ skirt
hond /hɔnd/ dog
kant /kɑnt/ side
bank /bɑŋk/ bank

Note the absence of the cluster /mb/. Monomorphemes with this consonant cluster do not exist.

A selection of other examples of the type in (1) are shown in the table below (limited to mostly monosyllabic monomorphemes):

Table 1: Monomorphemes with the consonant clusters <mp>, <nk> and <nt>
-mp [mp] -nk [ŋk] -nt [nt]
amp blank agent
damp dank aksent
demp dronk dosent
hemp flink kant
kamp klank koerant
klamp sink munt
klomp skenk olifant
krimp skink omtrent
lamp stank pint
pomp stronk prent
ramp tronk punt
romp vink sement
stamp vonk student
stomp wenk tent

  1. hemp shirt, in the first column, is a special case of NA. It originates from hemd – as in Dutch, it still has the plural form hemde.
  2. Words with orthographic -nd in the final position (mostly phonemically /nd/), surface as [nt] and can thus be added to the last column.

[+]Nasals + fricative /s/
Example 2

toekoms /tukɔms/ future
langs /lɑŋs/ next to
dans /dɑns/ dance
[+]Heterosyllabic clusters in monomorphemes

Heterosyllabic clusters in monomorphemes tend to be homorganic as well, as is shown in the following representative examples:

Example 3

amper /ɑm.pər/ [ɑmpər] barely
winkel /vəŋ.kəl/ [vəŋkəl] shop
konfyt /kɔn.fəit / [kɔɱfəit] jam
Spanje /spɑn.jə / [spɑɲə] Spain
tante /tɑn.tə/ [tɑntə] aunt

The first two items, amper, winkel, are invariants, and so is tante. konfyt is also pronounced as [kɔnfəit], and Spanje as [spɑnjə].

The word openbare could be considered to be a monomorpheme; its incidence of 36 times in the RSG-dataset may be taken as a good baseline for comparisons of RAP in relation to this topic, given that it is a typical current news bulletin word, viz. in the item Openbare Beskermer Public Protector; RAP = 0.33. For the use of RAP (Rule Application Probability) see Introduction to phonological processes.

[+]Clusters in compounds

In compound words, the underlying articulatory place features of the nasal and that of the following consonant do not need to be the same, cf. (4). Where it does happen, NA in such contexts is limited to the underlying alveolar nasal /n/. Therefore, in compounds such as boomstam /boomstɑm/ tree trunk and hangmat /hɑŋmɑt/ hammock the bilabial and velar nasals /m/ resp. /ŋ/ stay intact. While the assimilation of /n/ to following stop obstruents only involves place of articulation, frequently such assimilation is complete when the nasal is followed by another nasal consonant, such as in teenmiddel. A side-effect is then degemination. Furthermore, /n/ is frequently deleted when followed by fricatives (see ). Here the focus is on cases where the second component of the compound begins with an obstruent.

Example 4

leenplaas /lenplas/ [liəmplas] loan farm
beenbreuk /benbrøk/ [biəmbryœk] leg fracture
kleinkind /kləinkənd/ [kləiŋkənt] grandchild
teenmiddel /tenmədəl/ [tiəmədəl] antidote

In the following Table, the compounds in the RSG-dataset that in principle may undergo NA are given. The actual RAP indexes of NA for each of the three types occurring in this dataset are mentioned in the Note below.

Table 2: RSG datasets that might undergo Nasal assimilation
-np ( / np/ > [mp] -nb ( /nb/ > [mb] nb ( /nb/ > [mb] -nk ( /nk/ > [ŋk] -nk /nk/ [ŋk]
aanpas aanbeveel Lydenburg aankla steenkoolmyn
eenparig aanbidding mynbedrywighede aankom teenkanting
staanplek aanbly mynbelange aankondiging
treinpendelaar aanbod mynbestuur aankoop
wanpraktyk aanbreek Rustenburg byeenkoms
wapenprogram Inbal Steinberg enjinkap
wenpunte inbeweeg Stellenbosch fynkam
inbreker Winburg golfbaankompleks
kernbeheer woonbuurt inkatrol
kleinboer Wynberg kleinkind
Lichtenburg ooreenkoms

  1. A special type of compound is formed by the prepositions aan- and in-, which can either be independent words or occur productively in constructions such as aanpas and inpas which in other contexts are divisible (cf. resp. pas ... aan and pas ... in).
  2. RAP: /np/ > [mp] = 0.29 (2 from 7); /nb/ > [mb] = 0.44 (22 from 50); /nk/ > [ŋk] = 0.36 (36 from 121). Note that in some instances, multiple occurrences of the same compound are present in the dataset, e.g. aankla / aanklagte / aanklaer all occur 36 times.
  3. According to these indexes, no clear strength hierarchy of NA in compounds can be deduced .
  4. There is some support for the assumption that high-frequency words tend to be more readily subject to NA. For instance aankla (note that aankla represents related words such as aanklagte, aanklaer) shows a much higher RAP (0.56) than most of the other words mentioned above. Of course, specifically in the context of news bulletins some words, like these, tend to be used frequently.

[+]Nasal assimilation in clusters in phrases

Phrases containing prepositions ending on n (e.g. aan, van in the previous section, as well as in and the conjunction en are numerous. Here we confine the description to van and in in phrases containing place names that are likely to occur in news bulletins, starting with bilabial /p/, /b/ and then velar /k/ viz. in respectively Pretoria, Bloemfontein and Kaapstad.

Generally, NA applies to the same degree as that found in the case of compunds, except in the case of Kaapstad (RAP < 0.12), and, at the other extreme, in the case of Pretoria (RAP = 0.89 for van Pretoria). Regarding in, in Bloemfontein scored a RAP of 0.56, and in Pretoria 0.44.

[+]Nasal assimilation in diminutives

Afrikaans words ending on nk, e.g. bank /bɑŋk/ (also sometimes phonemicised as /bɑnk/ [bɑŋk]) form their diminutives by adding -ie, rendering [bɑŋki], that is in line with the forms mentioned in (3) above. NA takes place too in cases where a noun ends in a long vowel + /n/ (e.g. maan /man/ moon); diminutive: maantjie [maɲci] (see Le Roux and Pienaar 1971 for this transcription). Both [ɲ] and [c] are palatal, the latter from /k/ by coarticulation with the high-front vowel [i]. Sometimes an alternative transcription is proposed, viz. [maiŋki]; here too the NA of /n/ to the velar stop [k] is evident.

  • Coetzee, A.E1992Fonetiek.Academica
  • Combrink, J.G.H. & De Stadler, L.G1987Afrikaanse fonologie.Macmillan
  • De Villiers, M. & Ponelis, F.A1987Afrikaanse klankleer.Tafelberg
  • Le Roux, T.H. & Pienaar, P. de V1971Uitspraakwoordeboek van Afrikaans.Van Schaik
  • Le Roux, T.H. & Pienaar, P. de V1927Afrikaanse fonetiek.Juta
  • Wissing, D.P1982Algemene en Afrikaanse generatiewe fonologie.Macmillan
  • Wissing, Daan2017FonologieVan Schaik
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