Palatalisation of /s/ in Afrikaans

  • Daan Wissing Centre for Text Technology (CTexT®), North-West University, Potchefstroom
  • Wikus Pienaar Centre for Text Technology (CTexT®), North-West University, Potchefstroom
  • Daniel van Niekerk Multilingual Speech Technologies (MuST), North-West University, Vanderbijlpark
Keywords: Afrikaans, Acoustic features, Centre of Gravity, Palatalisation, /s/-Fronting, Voiceless sibilant fricatives


This article reports on the investigation of the acoustic characteristics of the Afrikaans voiceless alveolar fricative /s/[1]. As yet, a palatal [ʃ] for /s/ has been reported only in a limited case, namely where /s/ is followed by palatal /j/, for example in the phrase is jy (‘are you’), pronounced as [ə-ʃəi]. This seems to be an instance of regressive coarticulation, resulting in coalescence of basic /s/ and /j/. The present study revealed that,  especially in the pronunciation of young, white Afrikaans-speakers, /s/ is also palatalised  progressively when preceded by /r/ in the coda cluster /rs/, and, to a lesser extent, also in other contexts where /r/ is involved, for example across syllable and word boundaries. Only a slight presence of palatalisation was detected in the production of /s/ in the speech of the white, older speakers of the present study. This finding might be indicative of a definite change in the Afrikaans consonant system. A post hoc reflection is offered here on the possible presence of /s/-fronting, especially in the speech of the younger females.  Such pronunciation could very well be a prestige marker for affluent speakers of Afrikaans.[1] Given that this is a study of the phonetic characteristics of the voiceless alveolar and palatal sibilant fricatives of Afrikaans, these two consonants as well as combinations thereof are presented with  the phonetic symbols in square brackets [ ], except when they are specifically being dealt with in a phonemic sense, in which case  the conventional slash symbols / / will be used. This is applicable to other characters too, such as the palatal fricative [j] in the next sentence. [Please click on "Supplementary files" in the ARTICLE TOOLS sidebar on the right for the accompanying video (Figure 3)]