Afrikaans Phonology
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Afrikaans Phonology

Afrikaans has a similar phonology to other West Germanic languages, especially Dutch.


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.


Monophthong phonemes[1]
Front Central Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
short long short short long short long short long
Close i (i:) y(:) u (u:)
Mid ? ?: ? (?:) oe (oe:) ? (?:)
Near-open (æ) (æ:)
Open a ?:

The phonetic quality of the close vowels

  • /y/ tends to be merged with /i/ into .[2]
  • /u/ is weakly rounded and could be more narrowly transcribed as [u?] or []. Thus, it is sometimes transcribed /?/.[2]

The phonetic quality of the mid vowels

  • /?, ?:, ?, ?:/ vary between mid [, :, , :] or close-mid [e, e:, o, o:].[3]
  • According to some scholars,[4] the stressed allophone of /?/ is actually closer than mid .[5] However, other scholars[6] do not distinguish between stressed and unstressed schwas. This article uses the symbol [?] regardless of the exact height of the vowel.
  • The central /?, ?:/, not the front /?, ?:/ are the unrounded counterparts of /oe, oe:/.[7][8] Phonetically, /?, ?:, oe, oe:/ have been variously described as mid [?, ?:, , :][8] and open-mid [?, ?:, ?, ?:].[9]
  • /oe, oe:/ are rather weakly rounded, and many speakers merge /oe/ with /?/ into , even in formal speech.[8] The merger has been noted in colloquial speech since the 1920s.[10]

The phonetic quality of the open vowels

  • In some words such as vanaand /fa'n?:nt/ 'this evening', unstressed ⟨a⟩ is actually a schwa [?], not [a].[5]
  • /a/ is open near-front ,[11] but older sources describe it as near-open central [12][13] and open central .[14]
  • /?:/ is either open near-back or open back . Especially in stressed positions, the back realization may be rounded , and sometimes it may be even as high as the /?:/ phoneme. The rounded realization is associated with younger white speakers, especially female speakers of northern accents.[15]

Other notes

  • As phonemes, /i:/ and /u:/ occur only in the words spieël /spi:l/ 'mirror' and koeël /ku:l/ 'bullet', which used to be pronounced with sequences /i.?/ and /u.?/ respectively. In other cases, and occur as allophones of /i/ and /u/ respectively before /r/.[16]
  • Close vowels are phonetically long before /r/.[17]
  • /?/ contrasts with /?:/ only in the minimal pair pers /p?rs/ 'press' - pêrs /p?:rs/ 'purple'.[18]
  • Before the sequences /rt, rd, rs/, the /?-?:/ and /?-?:/ contrasts are neutralized in favour of the long variants /?:/ and /?:/, respectively.[13]
  • /?:/ occurs only in the word wîe 'wedges', which is realized as either ['v?:?] or ['v?:] (with a weak [?]).[19]
  • The orthographic sequence ⟨ûe⟩ is realised as either [oe:.?] or [oe:.] (with a weak [?]).[13]
  • /oe:, ?:/ occur only in a few words.[13]
  • As a phoneme, /æ/ occurs only in some loanwords from English, such as pêl /pæ:l/ 'pal', or as a dialectal allophone of /?/ before /k, ?, l, r/, most commonly in the former Transvaal and Free State provinces.[20]
  • /a/ has been variously transcribed with ⟨a⟩,[21]?[22] and ⟨?⟩.[23] This article uses ⟨a⟩.
  • /?:/ has been variously transcribed with ⟨?:[24] and ⟨a:⟩.[25] This article uses the former symbol.
  • In some words, such as hamer, short /a/ is in free variation with long /?:/ despite the fact that the spelling suggests the latter. In some words, such as laat (vb. 'let'), the pronunciation with short /a/ occurs only in colloquial language, to distinguish from homophones (laat, adj. 'late'). In some other words, such as aan 'on', the pronunciation with short /a/ is already a part of the standard language.[26] The shortening of /?:/ has been noted as early as 1927.[27]
  • The orthographic sequence ⟨ae⟩ can be pronounced as either [?:] or [?:] (with a weak [?]).[26]
Example words for monophthongs
Short Long
Phoneme IPA Orthography Gloss Phoneme IPA Orthography Gloss
/i/ /dif/ dief 'thief' /i:/ /spi:l/ spieël 'mirror'
/y/ /'sykis/ suutjies 'quietly'
/u/ /buk/ boek 'book' /u:/ /ku:l/ koeël 'bullet'
/?/ /b?t/ bed 'bed' /e:/ /se:/ 'say'
/?/ /k?nt/ kind 'child' /?:/ /'v?:?/ wîe 'wedges'
/oe/ /koes/ kus 'kiss' /oe:/ /roe:?/ rûe 'backs'
/?/ /b?k/ bok 'goat' /o:/ /so:?/ sôe 'sows'
/æ/ /pæl/ pêl 'pal' /æ:/ /fæ:r/ ver 'departure'
/a/ /kat/ kat 'cat' /?:/ /k?:rt/ 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.[28]

  • The sequence /ans/ in words such as dans is realised as [ã:s]. In monosyllabic words, that is the norm.[18]
  • The sequence /?:ns/ in more common words (such as Afrikaans) is realized as either [:s] or [?:ns]. In less common words (such as Italiaans, meaning Italian), [?:ns] is the usual pronunciation.[18]
  • The sequence /?ns/ in words such as mens (meaning "human") is realized as [:s].[18]
  • The sequence /oens/ in words such as guns (meaning "favour") is realised more often as [oens] than as [oe?:s].[2] For speakers with the /oe-?/ merger, these transcriptions are to be read as [?ns] and [:s], respectively.
  • The sequence /?ns/ in words such as spons is realised as [:s].[2]

Collins & Mees (2003) analyze the pre-/s/ sequences /an, ?n, ?n/ as phonemic short vowels /, , / 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.[29]


Diphthong phonemes[30][31]
Starting point Ending point
Front Central Back
Mid unrounded ?ø, ?i
rounded oei, ?i oeu
Open unrounded ai

/?ø, , /

  • According to Lass (1987), the first elements of [?ø, , ] are close-mid,[31] more narrowly transcribed [ë, ë, ö] or [, , ]. According to De Villiers (1976), the onsets of [, ] are near-close [?, ?].[32] For simplicity, both variants will be written simply as [?ø, , ]. [?, ?] 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 [ø:, e:, o:] realizations of these; that is at least partially outdated:[31][33]
    • There is not a complete agreement about the realisation of /?ø/:
      • According to Lass (1987), it is realised as either rising [ø] or falling [?ø?], with the former being more common. The unrounded onset is a rather recent development and is not described by older sources. The monophthongal realisation is virtually nonexistent.[34]
      • According to Donaldson (1993), it is realised as [ø?]. Its onset is sometimes unrounded, which can cause it to merge with /e?/.[35]
    • There is not a complete agreement about the realisation of /, /
      • According to Lass (1987), they may be realised in four ways:
        • Falling diphthongs. Their first element may be short [, ] or somewhat lengthened [?, ?].[31]
        • Rising diphthongs [, ]. These variants do not seem to appear word-finally. The sequence // is commonly realised as [?] or, more often, [], with /?/ realised as breathy voice on the diphthong.[31]
        • Indeterminate diphthongs [, ], which may occur in all environments.[31]
        • Monophthongs, either short [?, ?] or somewhat lengthened [, ]. 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 //, the monophthongal also appears in unstressed word-final syllables.[31]
      • According to Donaldson (1993), they are realized as either [e?, o?] or [i?, u?].[33]
  • // also occurs in words spelled with ⟨eë⟩, like reël /'rl/ 'rule'. Historically, these were pronounced with a disyllabic sequence /e:.?/ and so reël used to be pronounced /'re:.?l/.[33]
  • There is not a complete agreement about the dialectal realisation of /, / in the Boland area:

Other diphthongs

  • The scholar Daan Wissing argues that /?i/ is not a phonetically correct transcription and that /æ?/ is more accurate. In his analysis, he found that [æ?] makes for 65% of the realisations, the other 35% being monophthongal, , and .[38]
  • Most often, /oei/ has an unrounded offset. For some speakers, the onset is also unrounded. That can cause /oei/ to merge with /?i/, which is considered non-standard.[39]
  • /?i, ai/ occur mainly in loanwords.[39]
  • Older sources describe /oeu/ as a narrow back diphthong [ou].[40][41] However, newer sources describe its onset as more front. For example, Lass (1984), states that the onset of /oeu/ is central [?u].[42]
    • In some words which, in English, are pronounced with //, the Afrikaans equivalent tends to be pronounced with /oeu/, rather than //. That happens because Afrikaans /oeu/ is more similar to the usual South African realization of English //.[40]
Example words for diphthongs
Phoneme IPA Orthography Gloss
/?ø/ /s?øn/ seun 'son'
/?i/ /i/ hy 'he'
// /vt/ weet 'to know'
/oei/ /?oeis/ huis 'house'
/?i/ /'i/ goiing 'burlap'
// /brt/ brood 'bread'
/oeu/ /koeut/ koud 'cold'
/ai/ /'bai?/ 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, o:i, eu, ?:i]. Both [iu] and [eu] tend to be pronounced as [iu], but they are spelled differently: the former as ⟨ieu⟩, the latter as ⟨eeu⟩.[43]

'False' diphthongs

In diminutives ending in /ki/ formed to monosyllabic nouns, the vowels /u, , , ?, ?, oe, ?, a, ?:/ are realised as closing diphthongs [ui, ei, oi, ?i, ?i, oei, ?i, ai, ?:i]. In the same environment, the sequences /?n, ?n, oen, ?n, an/ are realized as [?i?, ?i?, oei?, ?i?, ai?], i.e. as closing diphthongs followed by palatal nasal.[44]

  • The suffixes ⟨-aad⟩ and ⟨-aat⟩ (phonemically /?:d/ and /?:t/, respectively) and the diminutive suffix /ki/ are realised as [?:ki] (with a monophthong), rather than [?:iki].[39]
  • In practice, the diphthong [?i] is realised the same as the phonemic diphthong /?i/.[45]
  • [oei], when it has arisen from diphthongisation of [oe], differs from the phonemic diphthong /oei/ 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'.[45]



  • All obstruents at the ends of words are devoiced so that, for instance, a final /d/ is realised as [t].[46]
  • /p, b/ are bilabial, whereas /f, v/ are labiodental.
    • According to some authors,[47]/v/ is actually an approximant .
  • /p, t, k, t?/ are unaspirated.[48]
  • /k/ may be somewhat more front before front vowels; the fronted allophone of /k/ also occurs in diminutives ending in -djie and -tjie.[49]
  • /d?, z/ occur only in loanwords.
  • /?/ is most often uvular, either a fricative, or a voiceless trill , the latter especially in initial position before a stressed vowel.[50][51][52] The uvular fricative is also used by many speakers of white South African English as a realisation of the marginal English phoneme /x/.[52] In Afrikaans, velar may be used in a few "hyper-posh" varieties, and it may also, rarely, occur as an allophone before front vowels in speakers with otherwise uvular .
  • /?/ occurs mostly in loanwords, but also occurs as an allophone of /?/ at the end of an inflected root where G is preceded by a short vowel and /r/ and succeeded by a schwa such as in berg(e) ('mountain', /bæ:r?, 'bæ(:)r/).[53]
  • /w/ occurs frequently as an allophone of /v/ after other obstruents, such as in kwaad ('angry')


  • /m/ is bilabial.
  • /n/ merges with /m/ before labial consonants. Phonetically, this merged consonant is realized as bilabial [m] before /p, b/, and labiodental [?] before /f, v/.
    • /n/ merges with /?/ before dorsals (/k, ?/).
  • /l/ is velarised in all positions, especially noticeably non-prevocalically.[34][49]
  • /r/ is usually an alveolar trill or tap .[34] In some parts of the former Cape Province, it is realised uvularly, either as a trill or a fricative .[49] The uvular trill may also be pronounced as a tap .
Afrikaans consonants with example words
Voiceless Voiced
Phoneme Example Phoneme Example
IPA IPA Orthography Gloss IPA IPA Orthography Gloss
/m/ /man/ man 'man'
/n/ /no:i/ nooi 'invite'
/?/ /s/ sing 'to sing'
/p/ /p?t/ pot 'pot' /b/ /b?t/ bed 'bed'
/t/ /'t?:f?l/ tafel 'table' /d/ /dak/ dak 'roof'
/k/ /kat/ kat 'cat' /?/ /'s?r/ sorge 'cares'
/t?/ /'tis/ Tsjeggies 'Czech' /d?/ /'bad?i/ budjie 'budgerigar'
/f/ /fits/ fiets 'bicycle' /v/ /'v?:t?r/ water 'water'
/s/ /s?øn/ seun 'son' /z/ /'zulu/ Zoeloe 'Zulu'
/?/ /?ut/ goed 'good'
/?/ /'?ina/ Sjina 'China' /?/ /vi?y'l/ visueel 'visually'
/?/ /?oeis/ huis 'house'
/l/ /lif/ lief 'dear'
/j/ /'ji:soes/ Jesus 'Jesus'
/r/ /ro:i/ rooi 'red'

See also


  1. ^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 2-7.
  2. ^ a b c d Donaldson (1993), p. 5.
  3. ^ Wissing (2016), sections "The unrounded mid-front vowel /?/" and "The rounded mid-high back vowel /?/".
  4. ^ Such as Donaldson (1993).
  5. ^ a b Donaldson (1993), pp. 4, 6.
  6. ^ Such as Le Roux & de Villiers Pienaar (1927) or Wissing (2016).
  7. ^ Swanepoel (1927), p. 38.
  8. ^ a b c Wissing (2016), section "The rounded and unrounded mid-central vowels".
  9. ^ Wissing (2012), p. 711.
  10. ^ Swanepoel (1927), p. 39.
  11. ^ Wissing (2016), section "The unrounded low-central vowel /?/".
  12. ^ See the vowel chart in Le Roux & de Villiers Pienaar (1927:46).
  13. ^ a b c d Donaldson (1993), p. 7.
  14. ^ Lass (1984), pp. 76, 93-94, 105.
  15. ^ Wissing (2016), section "The unrounded low-central vowel /a/".
  16. ^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 4-6.
  17. ^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 5-6.
  18. ^ a b c d Donaldson (1993), p. 3.
  19. ^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 4, 6-7.
  20. ^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 3, 7.
  21. ^ For example by Le Roux & de Villiers Pienaar (1927) and Donaldson (1993).
  22. ^ For example by Lass (1984).
  23. ^ For example by Wissing (2016).
  24. ^ For example by Le Roux & de Villiers Pienaar (1927) and Lass (1984).
  25. ^ For example by Donaldson (1993) and Wissing (2016).
  26. ^ a b Donaldson (1993), p. 6.
  27. ^ Swanepoel (1927), p. 22.
  28. ^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 3, 5.
  29. ^ Collins & Mees (2003), p. 71.
  30. ^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 2, 8-10.
  31. ^ a b c d e f g Lass (1987), pp. 117-119.
  32. ^ De Villiers (1976), pp. 56-57.
  33. ^ a b c d Donaldson (1993), p. 8.
  34. ^ a b c Lass (1987), p. 117.
  35. ^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 8-9.
  36. ^ Lass (1987), p. 118.
  37. ^ 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.
  38. ^ Wissing (2009), p. 333.
  39. ^ a b c Donaldson (1993), p. 10.
  40. ^ a b Donaldson (1993), p. 9.
  41. ^ Swanepoel (1927), p. 44.
  42. ^ Lass (1984), p. 102.
  43. ^ Donaldson (1993), p. 12.
  44. ^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 10-11.
  45. ^ a b Donaldson (1993), p. 11.
  46. ^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 13-15.
  47. ^ For example Den Besten (2012).
  48. ^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 14-16.
  49. ^ a b c Donaldson (1993), p. 15.
  50. ^ Den Besten (2012).
  51. ^ "John Wells's phonetic blog: velar or uvular?". 5 December 2011. Retrieved 2015. Only this source mentions the trilled realization.
  52. ^ a b Bowerman (2004:939): "White South African English is one of very few varieties to have a velar fricative phoneme /x/ (see Lass (2002:120)), but this is only in words borrowed from Afrikaans (...) and Khoisan (...). Many speakers use the Afrikaans uvular fricative [?] rather than the velar."
  53. ^ Donaldson (1993), pp. 13-14.


Further reading

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