Afrikaans has a similar phonology to other West Germanic languages, especially Dutch.
1.1.1 The phonetic quality of the close vowels 1.1.2 The phonetic quality of the mid vowels 1.1.3 The phonetic quality of the open vowels 1.1.4 Other notes 1.1.5 Nasalized vowels
1.2.1 /ɪø, ɪə, ʊə/ 1.2.2 Other diphthongs 1.2.3 Long diphthongs 1.2.4 'False' diphthongs
2.1 Obstruents 2.2 Sonorants
3 See also 4 References 5 Bibliography 6 Further reading
Monophthongs of Afrikaans on a vowel chart, from Wissing (2012:711)
Afrikaans has an extensive vowel inventory consisting of 17 vowel phonemes, among which there are 10 monophthongs and 7 diphthongs. There are also 7 marginal monophthongs. Monophthongs
Front Central Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
short long short short long short long short long
Close i (iː) y
Mid ɛ ɛː
ə (əː) œ (œː) ɔ (ɔː)
Near-open (æ) (æː)
The phonetic quality of the close vowels
/y/ tends to be merged with /i/ into [i]. /u/ is weakly rounded and could be more narrowly transcribed as [u̜] or [ɯ̹]. Thus, it is sometimes transcribed /ɯ/.
The phonetic quality of the mid vowels
/ɛ, ɛː, ɔ, ɔː/ vary between mid [ɛ̝, ɛ̝ː, ɔ̝, ɔ̝ː] or close-mid [e, eː, o, oː]. According to some scholars, the stressed allophone of /ə/ is actually closer than mid ([ɪ̈]). However, other scholars do not distinguish between stressed and unstressed schwas. This article uses the symbol [ə] regardless of the exact height of the vowel. The central /ə, əː/, not the front /ɛ, ɛː/ are the unrounded counterparts of /œ, œː/. Phonetically, /ə, əː, œ, œː/ have been variously described as mid [ə, əː, ɞ̝, ɞ̝ː] and open-mid [ɜ, ɜː, ɞ, ɞː]. /œ, œː/ are rather weakly rounded, and many speakers merge /œ/ with /ə/ into [ə], even in formal speech. The merger has been noted as early as 1927, when it was stigmatised.
The phonetic quality of the open vowels
In some words such as vanaand /faˈnɑːnt/ 'this evening', unstressed ⟨a⟩ is actually a schwa [ə], not [a]. /a/ is open near-front [a̠], but older sources describe it as near-open central [ɐ] and open central [ä]. /ɑː/ is either open near-back [ɑ̟ː] or open back [ɑː]. Especially in stressed positions, the back realization may be rounded [ɒː], and sometimes it may be even as high as the /ɔː/ phoneme. The rounded realization is associated with younger white speakers, especially female speakers of northern accents.
As phonemes, /iː/ and /uː/ occur only in the words spieël /spiːl/ 'mirror' and koeël /kuːl/ 'bullet', which used to be pronounced with sequences /i.ə/ and /u.ə/ respectively. In other cases, [iː] and [uː] occur as allophones of /i/ and /u/ respectively before /r/. Like /i/ and /u/, /y/ is phonetically long [yː] before /r/. /ɛ/ contrasts with /ɛː/ only in the minimal pair pers /pɛrs/ 'press' – pers /pɛːrs/ 'purple'. Before the sequences /rt, rd, rs/, the /ɛ–ɛː/ and /ɔ–ɔː/ contrasts are neutralized in favour of the long variants /ɛː/ and /ɔː/, respectively. /əː/ occurs only in the word wîe 'wedges', which is realized as either [ˈvəːə] or [ˈvəːɦə] (with a weak [ɦ]). The sequence /œː.ə/ is realised as either [œː.ə] or [œː.ɦə] (with a weak [ɦ]). /œː, ɔː/ occur only in a few words. As a phoneme, /æ/ occurs only in some loanwords from English, such as pêl /pæl/ 'pal', as well as in some words such as vertrek /fərˈtræk/ 'departure'. As an allophone of /ɛ/ before /k, χ, l, r/, [æ] occurs dialectally, most commonly in the former Transvaal and Free State provinces. As a phoneme, /æː/ occurs only in some loanwords from English (such as grênd [græːnt] 'grand'), as well as before /k/ in some words. [æː] also occurs as an allophone of /ɛː/ before /r/ and the sequences /rs, rt, rd/. /a/ has been variously transcribed with ⟨a⟩, ⟨ɐ⟩ and ⟨ɑ⟩. This article uses ⟨a⟩. /ɑː/ has been variously transcribed with ⟨ɑː⟩ and ⟨aː⟩. This article uses the former symbol. In some words, such as hamer, short /a/ is in free variation with long /ɑː/ despite the fact that the spelling suggests the latter. In some words, such as laat, the pronunciation with short /a/ occurs only in colloquial language. In some other words, such as aambeeld /ˈambɪəlt/ 'anvil', the pronunciation with short /a/ is already a part of the standard language. The shortening of /ɑː/ has been noted as early as 1927. The orthographic sequence ⟨ae⟩ can be pronounced as either [ɑː] or [ɑːɦə] (with a weak [ɦ]).
Example words for monophthongs
Phoneme IPA Orthography Gloss Phoneme IPA Orthography Gloss
/i/ /dif/ dief 'thief' /iː/ /spiːl/ spieël 'mirror'
/y/ /ˈsykis/ suutjies 'quietly'
/u/ /buk/ boek 'book' /uː/ /kuːl/ koeël 'bullet'
/ɛ/ /bɛt/ bed 'bed' /ɛː/ /sɛː/ sê 'say'
/ə/ /kənt/ kind 'child' /əː/ /ˈvəːə/ wîe 'wedges'
/œ/ /kœs/ kus 'kiss' /œː/ /rœː/ rûe 'backs'
/ɔ/ /bɔk/ bok 'goat' /ɔː/ /sɔː/ sôe 'sows'
/æ/ /pæl/ pêl 'pal' /æː/ /fərˈtræk/ vertrek 'departure'
/a/ /kat/ kat 'cat' /ɑː/ /kɑːrt/ kaart 'map'
Nasalized vowels In some instances of the postvocalic sequence /ns/, /n/ is realized as nasalisation (and lengthening, if the vowel is short) of the preceding monophthong, which is stronger in some speakers than others, but there also are speakers retaining [n] as well as the original length of the preceding vowel.
The sequence /ans/ in words such as dans is realised as [ãːs]. In monosyllabic words, that is the norm. The sequence /ɑːns/ in more common words (such as Afrikaans) is realized as either [ɑ̃ːs] or [ɑːns]. In less common words (such as Italiaans), [ɑːns] is the usual pronunciation. The sequence /ɛns/ in words such as mens is realized as [ɛ̃ːs]. The sequence /œns/ in words such as guns is realised more often as [œns] than as [œ̃ːs]. For speakers with the /œ–ə/ merger, these transcriptions are to be read as [əns] and [ə̃ːs], respectively. The sequence /ɔns/ in words such as spons is realised as [ɔ̃ːs].
Collins & Mees (2003) analyze the pre-/s/ sequences /an, ɛn, ɔn/ as phonemic short vowels /ɑ̃, ɛ̃, ɔ̃/ and note that this process of nasalising the vowel and deleting the nasal occurs in many dialects of Dutch as well, such as The Hague dialect. Diphthongs
Starting point Ending point
Front Central Back
Mid unrounded ɪø, əi ɪə
rounded œi, ɔi ʊə œu
Open unrounded ai
/ɪø, ɪə, ʊə/
According to Lass (1987), the first elements of [ɪø, ɪə, ʊə] are close-mid, more narrowly transcribed [ë, ë, ö] or [ɪ̞, ɪ̞, ʊ̞]. According to De Villiers (1976), the onsets of [ɪə, ʊə] are near-close [ɪ, ʊ]. For simplicity, both variants will be written simply as [ɪø, ɪə, ʊə]. [ɪ, ʊ] are commonly used for centralized close-mid vowels anyway - see near-close near-front unrounded vowel and near-close near-back rounded vowel. Some sources prescribe monophthongal [øː, eː, oː] realizations of these; that is at least partially outdated:
There is not a complete agreement about the realisation of /ɪø/:
According to Lass (1987), it is realised as either rising [ɪ̯ø] or falling [ɪø̯], with the former being more common. The unrounded onset is a rather recent development and is not described by older sources. The monophthongal realisation [øː] is virtually nonexistent. According to Donaldson (1993), it is realised as [øə]. Its onset is sometimes unrounded, which can cause it to merge with /eə/.
There is not a complete agreement about the realisation of /ɪə, ʊə/
According to Lass (1987), they may be realised in four ways:
Falling diphthongs. Their first element may be short [ɪə̯, ʊə̯] or somewhat lengthened [ɪˑə̯, ʊˑə̯]. Rising diphthongs [ɪ̯ə, ʊ̯ə]. These variants do not seem to appear word-finally. The sequence /ɦʊə/ is commonly realised as [ɦʊ̯ə] or, more often, [ɦʊ̯ə̤], with /ɦ/ realised as breathy voice on the diphthong. Indeterminate diphthongs [ɪə, ʊə], which may occur in all environments. Monophthongs, either short [ɪ, ʊ] or somewhat lengthened [ɪˑ, ʊˑ]. The monophthongal realisations occur in less stressed words as well as in stressed syllables in words that have more than one syllable. In the latter case, they are in free variation with all of the three diphthongal realisations. In case of /ʊə/, the monophthongal [ʊ] also appears in unstressed word-final syllables.
According to Donaldson (1993), they are realized as either [eə, oə] or [iə, uə].
/ɪə/ also occurs in words spelled with ⟨eë⟩, like reël /ˈrɪəl/ 'rule'. Historically, these were pronounced with a disyllabic sequence /eː.ə/ and so reël used to be pronounced /ˈreː.əl/. There is not a complete agreement about the dialectal realisation of /ɪə, ʊə/ in the Boland area:
According to Lass (1987), they are centralized close-mid monophthongs [ɪ, ʊ], which do not merge with /i/ and /u/. According to Donaldson (1993) and De Villiers, they are close monophthongs, long [iː, uː] according to Donaldson (1993), short [i, u] according to De Villiers.
The scholar Daan Wissing argues that /əi/ is not a phonetically correct transcription and that /æɛ/ is more accurate. In his analysis, he found that [æɛ] makes for 65% of the realisations, the other 35% being monophthongal, [ə], [æ] and [ɛ]. Most often, /œi/ has an unrounded offset. For some speakers, the onset is also unrounded. That can cause /œi/ to merge with /əi/, which is considered non-standard. /ɔi, ai/ occur mainly in loanwords. Older sources describe /œu/ as a narrow back diphthong [ou]. However, newer sources describe its onset as more front. For example, Lass (1984), states that the onset of /œu/ is central [ɵu].
In some words, which, in English, are pronounced with /əʊ/, the Afrikaans equivalent tends to be pronounced with /œu/, rather than /ʊə/. That happens because Afrikaans /œu/ is more similar to the usual South African realization of English /əʊ/.
Example words for diphthongs
Phoneme IPA Orthography Gloss
/ɪø/ /sɪøn/ seun 'son'
/əi/ /ɦəi/ hy 'he'
/ɪə/ /vɪət/ weet 'to know'
/œi/ /ɦœis/ huis 'house'
/ɔi/ /ˈχɔiəŋ/ goiing 'burlap'
/ʊə/ /brʊət/ brood 'bread'
/œu/ /kœut/ koud 'cold'
/ai/ /ˈbaiə/ baie 'many'
Long diphthongs The long diphthongs (or 'double vowels') are phonemically sequences of a free vowel and a non-syllabic equivalent of /i/ or /u/: [iu, ui, oːi, eu, ɑːi]. Both [iu] and [eu] tend to be pronounced as [iu], but they are spelled differently: the former as ⟨ieu⟩, the latter as ⟨eeu⟩. 'False' diphthongs In diminutives ending in /ki/ formed to monosyllabic nouns, the vowels /u, ɪə, ʊə, ɛ, ə, œ, ɔ, a, ɑː/ are realised as closing diphthongs [ui, ei, oi, ɛi, əi, œi, ɔi, ai, ɑːi]. In the same environment, the sequences /ɛn, ən, œn, ɔn, an/ are realized as [ɛiɲ, əiɲ, œiɲ, ɔiɲ, aiɲ], i.e. as closing diphthongs followed by palatal nasal.
The suffixes ⟨-aad⟩ and ⟨-aat⟩ (phonemically /ɑːd/ and /ɑːt/, respectively) and the diminutive suffix /ki/ are realised as [ɑːci] (with a monophthong), rather than [ɑːici]. In practice, the diphthong [əi] is realised the same as the phonemic diphthong /əi/. [œi], when it has arisen from diphthongisation of [œ], differs from the phonemic diphthong /œi/ by having a slightly different onset, although the exact nature of that difference is unclear. This means that puntjie 'point' sounds somewhat different than puintjie 'rubble'.
Labial Alveolar Dorsal Post- alveolar Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive voiceless p t k t͡ʃ
voiced b d (ɡ) (d͡ʒ)
Fricative voiceless f s χ ʃ
voiced v (z)
All obstruents at the ends of words are devoiced so that, for instance, a final /d/ is realised as [t]. /p, b/ are bilabial, whereas /f, v/ are labiodental.
According to some authors, /v/ is actually an approximant [ʋ].
/p, t, k, tʃ/ are unaspirated.
/k/ may be somewhat more front before front vowels; the fronted
allophone of /k/ also occurs in diminutives ending in -djie and
/dʒ, z/ occur only in loanwords.
/χ/ is most often uvular, either a fricative, [χ] or a voiceless
trill [ʀ̥], the latter especially in initial position before a
stressed vowel. The uvular fricative is also used by many
speakers of White
South African English
/m/ is bilabial. /n/ merges with /m/ before labial consonants. Phonetically, this merged consonant is realized as bilabial [m] before /p, b/, and labiodental [ɱ] before /f, v/.
/n/ merges with /ŋ/ before dorsals (/k, χ/). Phonetically, this merged consonant is realized as velar [ŋ] before /k/ and the [ɡ] allophone of /χ/,[can [ɡ] occur after [ŋ]?] and as uvular [ɴ] before /χ/.
/l/ is velarised [ɫ] in all positions, especially noticeably non-prevocalically. /r/ is usually an alveolar trill [r] or tap [ɾ]. In some parts of the former Cape Province, it is realised uvularly, either as a trill [ʀ] or a fricative [ʁ]. The uvular trill may also be pronounced as a tap [ʀ̆].
Afrikaans consonants with example words
Phoneme Example Phoneme Example
IPA IPA Orthography Gloss IPA IPA Orthography Gloss
/m/ /man/ man 'man'
/n/ /noːi/ nooi 'invite'
/ŋ/ /səŋ/ sing 'to sing'
/p/ /pɔt/ pot 'pot' /b/ /bɛt/ bed 'bed'
/t/ /ˈtɑːfəl/ tafel 'table' /d/ /dak/ dak 'roof'
/k/ /kat/ kat 'cat' /ɡ/ /ˈsɔrɡə/ sorge 'cares'
/tʃ/ /ˈtʃɛχis/ Tsjeggies 'Czech' /dʒ/ /ˈbadʒi/ budjie 'budgerigar'
/f/ /fits/ fiets 'bicycle' /v/ /ˈvɑːtər/ water 'water'
/s/ /sɪøn/ seun 'son' /z/ /ˈzulu/ Zoeloe 'Zulu'
/χ/ /χut/ goed 'good'
/ʃ/ /ˈʃina/ Sjina 'China' /ʒ/ /viʒyˈɪəl/ visueel 'visually'
/ɦ/ /ɦœis/ huis 'house'
/l/ /lif/ lief 'dear'
/j/ /ˈjiːsœs/ Jesus 'Jesus'
/r/ /roːi/ rooi 'red'
^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 2–7.
^ a b c d Donaldson (1993), p. 5.
^ Wissing (2016), sections "The unrounded mid-front vowel /ɛ/" and
"The rounded mid-high back vowel /ɔ/".
^ Such as Donaldson (1993).
^ a b Donaldson (1993), pp. 4, 6.
^ Such as Le Roux & de Villiers Pienaar (1927) or Wissing (2016).
^ Swanepoel (1927), p. 38.
^ a b c Wissing (2016), section "The rounded and unrounded mid-central
^ Wissing (2012), p. 711.
^ Swanepoel (1927), p. 39.
^ Wissing (2016), section "The unrounded low-central vowel /ɑ/".
^ See the vowel chart in Le Roux & de Villiers Pienaar (1927:46).
^ a b c d Donaldson (1993), p. 7.
^ Lass (1984), pp. 76, 93–94, 105.
^ Wissing (2016), section "The unrounded low-central vowel /a/".
^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 4–6.
^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 5–6.
^ a b c d Donaldson (1993), p. 3.
^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 4, 6–7.
^ a b Donaldson (1993), pp. 3, 7.
^ For example by Le Roux & de Villiers Pienaar (1927) and
^ For example by Lass (1984).
^ For example by Wissing (2016).
^ For example by Le Roux & de Villiers Pienaar (1927) and Lass
^ For example by Donaldson (1993) and Wissing (2016).
^ a b Donaldson (1993), p. 6.
^ Swanepoel (1927), p. 22.
^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 3, 5.
^ Collins & Mees (2003), p. 71.
^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 2, 8–10.
^ a b c d e f g Lass (1987), pp. 117–119.
^ De Villiers (1976), pp. 56–57.
^ a b c d Donaldson (1993), p. 8.
^ a b c Lass (1987), p. 117.
^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 8–9.
^ Lass (1987), p. 118.
^ a b Cited in Lass (1987:117–118). The preview on Google Books
makes it unclear whether De Villiers' book is "Afrikaanse klankleer.
Fonetiek, fonologie en woordbou" or "Nederlands en Afrikaans", as both
are cited at the end of Lass's chapter.
^ Wissing (2009), p. 333.
^ a b c Donaldson (1993), p. 10.
^ a b Donaldson (1993), p. 9.
^ Swanepoel (1927), p. 44.
^ Lass (1984), p. 102.
^ Donaldson (1993), p. 12.
^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 10–11.
^ a b Donaldson (1993), p. 11.
^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 13–15.
^ For example Den Besten (2012).
^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 14–16.
^ a b c Donaldson (1993), p. 15.
^ Den Besten (2012).
^ a b "John Wells's phonetic blog: velar or uvular?". 5 December 2011.
Retrieved 12 February 2015. Only this source mentions the
^ a b Bowerman (2004:939): "White
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Collins, Beverley; Mees, Inger M. (2003) [First published 1981]. The
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