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The velar fricative /x/
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The phoneme /x/ is a voicelessvelarfricative, that, as a result of regressive voicing assimilation, sometimes surfaces as its voiced counterpart [ɣ]. Furthermore, in certain instances it may alternate with the voiced velar plosive [g]. See also (Le Roux and Pienaar 1927; Van Wyk 1977).

Table 1
Consonant Place Manner Feature specification
/x/ velar fricative -sonorant; -voice; -labial; +coronal; -velar; +continuant

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[+]The phonological analysis of /x/
Like /s/ and /f/, the other two voiceless fricatives, /x/ can occur as a singleton consonant in onset position as in (1a), and as first member in the clusters /xl/ and /xr/, as in (1b) and (1c).
Example 1

Onset
a. gat /xɑt/ hole
b. glad /xlat/ slippery
c. groot /xrot/ big

Example (2) provides some examples of /x/ in coda position. Note that the examples in (2b) and (2c) are mirror images of (1a) and (1b) respectively. Example (3) gives an example of /x/ in intervocalic position.

Example 2

Coda
a. nag /nɑx/ night
b. wilg /vəlx/ gallows
c. murg /mœrx/ marrow
Example 3

Intervocalically
a. oggend /ɔ.xənd/ morning
[+]Alternation with /g/

In some rare instances is replaced by the voiced plosive. The most well-known, and widely used example of this process is the plural form of berg /bɛrx/ mountain, namely [bær.gə]. For details see Consonant alternation).

[+]Alternation with [ç]

When followed by front vowels, [x] alternates with palatal [ç]. Examples are: /xit/ > [çit] to pour, and /(xə)xe/ > [(xə)çiə]gegee gave. (See Palatalisation for details). Listen to the words gegaan /xəxan/ went compared to gegee, and compare it to their waveforms and spectrograms in die figure below:

Spectrogram

Figure 1

[click image to enlarge]

The relevant velar fricative sounds are in colour boxes. Note that the palatalized [ç] has more high frequency energy than does [x].
References:
  • Le Roux, T.H. & Pienaar, P. de V1927Afrikaanse fonetiek.Juta
  • Van Wyk, E.B1977Praktiese fonetiek vir taalstudente: 'n inleiding.Butterworth
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