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The rounded mid-high back vowel /ɔ/

The rounded mid-high back /ɔ/ is quite common in Afrikaans, especially in closed syllables. It is a member of the set of short vowels, /i, y, u, ɛ, œ, ә, ɔ, ɑ/ ((Le Roux and Pienaar 1927); (Van Wyk 1977)(Coetzee 1981); (De Villiers and Ponelis 1987); (Combrink and De Stadler 1987); (Wissing 2017))).

Example 1

a. ton /tɔn/ [tɔn] ton
b. offer /ɔ.fәr/ ['ɔ.fәr] offer
c. bokkom /bɔ.kɔm/ ['bɔ.kɔm] type of fish

The Standard Afrikaans (SA) speaker referred to below is a prototypical standard speaker and a prominent radio personality. In a recent survey she was nominated as the most appropriate speaker of Standard Afrikaans. Participants (N = 344) in this survey were from all walks of life, male and female and of different ages and ethnicity groups. In some of the charts below the /ɔ/ of Standard Dutch (SD) is shown alongside that of SA. Vowel information with respect to SD was found in the description of Dutch /ɔ/,

Where relevant, acoustic vowel information on the Afrikaans as spoken in Genadendal, Western Cape (henceforth abbreviated as GA), is provided. It is considered here to be a prototype of Standard Coloured Afrikaans ( SCA). There are of course many other variants of coloured Afrikaans as well . The above-mentioned acoustic information is based on recordings of a number of aged female speakers of Genadendal .

[+] Articulation

/ɔ/ is a rounded, mid to high-mid vowel in Afrikaans. The tongue body is somewhat raised and retracted, the lips are slightly rounded and the front cavity is enlarged due to pursing of the lips.

Figure 1 below shows the Afrikaans vowel phonemes within the IPA vowel chart. Note that this is an idealised depiction; a realistic acoustic vowel chart is presented as Figure 2 below.

Figure 1: IPA vowel chart. Idealised positions of Standard Afrikaans vowels are added.

Figure 1

[click image to enlarge]

Both the alternate sets of tongue height positions are indicated: those in italics ( high - low) show the height of the tongue in relation to the oral cavity; those in normal letter type ( open - close) refer to the degree of openness of the mouth during pronunciation. The latter set is used here and elsewhere.

[+] Acoustic features

The formant frequencies as well as the temporal values of vowels vary per speaker (age, gender), speech community, and also according to speech rate and style.

[+] Temporal value

/ɔ/ is a short vowel, in some instances lenghtened before /r/, and sometimes also before /l/. An average duration of 83 ms was found for the SA speaker, measured in the phonetic context s_s, read in word-list style.

[+] Spectral values

The following table and set of figures highlights the formant frequency features of /ɔ/ . It has been compared to that of Standard Dutch (SD) as well as to Standard Coloured Afrikaans (SCA). . Vowel information with respect to SD was found in the description of Dutch /ɔ/.

[+] Acoustic plot

Figure 2: Standard Afrikaans vowel chart, with /ɔ/ highlighted. StD = Standard Dutch.

Figure 2

[click image to enlarge]

  1. /ɔ/ of SA is encircled; that of SD is indicated by the abbreviation StD_ɛ .
  2. The F1 value of SCA (408 Hz) is practically identical to that of SA and both are much lower than SD's 578 Hz, indicating a higher vowel. SCA's F2 of 763 Hz means that it is more rounded than either that of SA (946 Hz), or SD (933 Hz) (see also Table 1 below).

Figure 3 presents a waveform and associated spectrogram of the word sos, while Figure 4 is plot of the formant tracks of its vowel, /ɔ/.

[+] Waveform and spectrogram

Normally formant characteristics of vowels are visible in their spectrograms, especially with regard to their formant tracks. Figure 3 shows the vowel /ɔ/ as embedded in the nonsense form s_s, here /sos/[sɔs]. In the present case (Figure 3) the formant charateristics are less clear, but Figure 4 (the formant plot) is more distinct in this regard.

Figure 3: Wave form (A) of the nonsense words /sɔs/[sɔs] , and its spectrogram (B).

Table 1
Sound Sound waves and spectrogram
[click image to enlarge]

Listen to the pronunciation of the nonsense words that were used in producing the waveform and the spectrogram

[+] Formant plots

Figure 4 shows the formant tracks of the vowel /ɔ/, as produced in the same phonetic context as in Figure 3, viz. s_s. It gives the F1/F2 values of this vowel as presented in Table 1. F3 is added to the plot, but merely for secondary reasons.

Table 1: Formant frequency tracks of F1 and F2.

Figure 4

[click image to enlarge]

Figure 4: Formant plot of /ɔ/.

Figure 5

[click image to enlarge]

F1 is the red track at the bottom of the figure, F2 is the green track (and F3 the black one at the top). The relative straightness of /ɔ/'s formant track shows it to be a reasonably monophthongal vowel. It starts off from a more centralised position, then bends down to be more backish, indicative of a clearly rounded character.

[+] Phonological analysis of /ɔ/


A possible feature specification of /ɔ/ is +HIGH, +MID, +BACK, +ROUND, -LONG

/ɔ/ behaves phonologically as a true short vowel. As a non-high vowel, is may realised as nasalised, and lenghtened before /r/ (in wors, /vɔrs/[vɔ:rs]sausage) as well as in some cases before /l/, as in volg, /fɔlx/[fɔ:lx]follow).

[+] Nasalisation

Although nasalisation of all Afrikaans vowels has been a distinct characteristic of the vowel system during most of the last century (cf. (Le Roux and Pienaar 1927)), it seems to be much less the case in recent years, especially in the speech of younger persons ((De Villiers and Ponelis 1992). Practically no evidence is found in coloured varieties, as is evident in the pronunciation of Genadendal Afrikaans speakers.

As a nonhigh vowel, /ɔ/ is more readily nasalised however. As with other Afrikaans vowels, nasalisation happens mostly when followed by the alveolar nasal /n/ + a fricative consonant, predominantly /s/ . Though not exclusively, nasalisation is more to be expected when the alveolar nasal is tautosyllabic, as in the first person plural ons/ɔns/[ɔ̃:s]we. (Coetzee 1977)Lenghtening effect

Most short vowels are optionally lengthened when followed by /r/ as coda, notably in words with a high frequency. (4)(a) shows the most common cases, viz. lengthening of /i/, /u/, /y/. In quite a number of instances, as illustrated in (4)(b) and (4)(c), the mid-high short vowels /ɛ/ and /ɔ/ are also notably elongated.

Example 2

a. bier beer  ; boer farmer  ; uur hour
b. ver far  ; perd horse  ; tert tart
c. snor moustache  ; dors thirsty more tomorrow

The long /ɔ/ in more may be ascribed to lengthening in an open syllable, followed by the deletion of /x/ in the original morgen.

Lengthened vowels in pre-/r/ context sometimes trigger semantic differences, for example:

Example 3

a. pers purple   (with a long /ɛ:/  ) vs. pers press   (with a short /ɛ:/  )
[+] Reduction of /ɔ/

A feature of Afrikaans is the reduction of /ɔ/ to schwa in the suffix -ɔr/ in frequently used words as doktor and professtor, but not in uncommon words like mentor.

[+] Phonotactics of /ɔ/

/ɔ/ can occur without an onset position, or may be preceded by up to three consonants. Except in a few interjections, like , it should be followed by one or at most two consonants. No other restrictions on its distribution have been noted.

  • Coetzee, A.E1977Nasalering in Afrikaans.Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe1728-46
  • Coetzee, A.E1981Fonetiek vir eerstejaars.Academica
  • Combrink, J.G.H. & De Stadler, L.G1987Afrikaanse fonologie.Macmillan
  • De Villiers, M. & Ponelis, F.A1987Afrikaanse klankleer.Tafelberg
  • De Villiers, M. & Ponelis, F.A1992Afrikaanse klankleer.Tafelberg
  • Le Roux, T.H. & Pienaar, P. de V1927Afrikaanse fonetiek.Juta
  • Le Roux, T.H. & Pienaar, P. de V1927Afrikaanse fonetiek.Juta
  • Van Wyk, E.B1977Praktiese fonetiek vir taalstudente: 'n inleiding.Butterworth
  • Wissing, Daan2017FonologieVan Schaik
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