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The labiodental fricatives /f/ and /v/

The voicelesslabiodentalfricatives of Afrikaans are /f/, and its voiced counterpart /v/. The /v/ turns voiceless to [f] in word-final position, due to to the phonological process of final devoicing (See also Le Roux and Pienaar 1927 and Van Wyk 1977.)

Table 1
Consonant Place Manner Feature specification
/f/ labiodental fricative -sonorant, -voice, +labial, -coronal, -velar, +continuant
/v/ labiodental fricative -sonorant, +voice, +labial, -coronal, -velar, +continuant
[+]Phonological analysis of /f/

Phonotactic behaviour
As a prototypical voiceless labiodental, /f/ can occur as a singleton consonant in onset position as in (1a), or as first member of a cluster of two initial consonants, such as in (1b).

a. fiets bicycle  ; volk nation
b. fluit to wistle  ; vrede peace

Note that /f/ is spelt as either f or v. In the case of (2b) the second consonant position is occupied by one of the two anteriorsonorant non-nasal (liquid) consonants /r/ and /l/.

Simple codas as in (2a) and complex codas as in (2b), are commonly found in Afrikaans.

a. kalief caliph
b. elf fairy

Except for /l/, in (2b), /r/ is also common as preceding consonant, less so the nasal /m/ in limf lymph, nimf nymph and triomf triumph – the only three Afrikaans examples.

Finally, /f/ regularly appears intervocalically, as in (3).

a. tafel table  ; buffel buffalo  ; twyfel doubt
[+]Phonological analysis of /v/

Phonotactic behaviour
As a voiced fricative, /v/ can occur as a singleton onset consonant as in (4a), and in (4b) as first member of a cluster, in combination with the liquid consonants /l/ and /r/. Furthermore, /v/ can occur in simple and complex codas underlyingly. The /v/ neutralises to [f] in word-final position because of final devoicing. In Afrikaans quite a number of labiodentals in final position may be underlyingly voiced, as can be seen in the plural form -we in words such as boef villian or skaaf plane (alternating with boewe and skawe), or in derived adjectives laf silly or lief lovely (alternating with lawwe and liewe). The onset consonant is therefore always phonetically a voiced labiodental fricative; word-finally an underlying /v/ surfaces as a voiceless [f], resulting from final devoicing.

a. wolk cloud
b. vrees fear  ; vlees flesh

Simple codas (5a) and complex codas (5b), are commonly found in Afrikaans.

a. laf silly
b. kolf bat  ; korf hive

As first member of the final cluster in (5b), only the liquid consonants /l/ and /r/ are allowed, which is a mirror image of cases like (4b). In a few words like triomf triumph (see above) C1 may be /m/.

a. oewer table  ; stowwe substances  ;
b. klawer clover  ; stowe stoves  ; duiwel devil

The /v/ is clearly the voiced counterpart of /f/. Voicing assimilation of /f/ yields [v]. Note that voiced fricatives, unlike in Dutch, also may trigger such assimilation, as in (7b).

a. af+dra /ɑfdra/ /ɑ[vd]ra/ to deliver
b. af+weeg /ɑfvex/ /ɑvvex/ to consider

Note that in (7b) [vv] could be a geminate voiced fricative resulting from identical consonant amalgamation, that could in its turn shorten via degemination, especially in fast speech, to single [v], albeit somewhat longer than normal. See Degemination.

[+]Acoustic information

Figure 1 portrays soundwave forms (upper window) and spectrograms (lower window) of the voiceless labiodental fricative /f/ (in the nonsense word fafafaf) and the voiced labiodental fricative /v/ (in the nonsense word vavavav).

Table 2: Example
Sound Sound waves and spectrogram
Figure 1
[click image to enlarge]

  1. The vowel of the second syllable of both fafafaf [fɑ'fafɑf] and vavavav [vɑ'vavɑf] is long [a], the rest of the vowels are all short [ɑ].
  2. The /f/ and /v/ are members of the non-strident group of fricatives ( /s/ and /z/ are strident sibilants). This group of fricatives is generally characterised by low relative energy and thus have less energy than stridents. This difference is usually visible in their spectrograms, and more clearly in Linear Predictive Coding (LPC) spectra (see Kent and Read 1992).
  3. Compared to the strident fricative /s/ every voiceless /f/ segment in fafafaf is characterised by notable overall diffuse low frequency energy in the spectrograms in Window A, indicated with blue rectangles. Less energy is visible in the wave forms of Window A, though the aperiodic nature of these voiceless fricatives is more salient in the associated wave forms of Window A.
  4. The voiced consonants of [v] in [vɑ'vavɑf] show far less relative noise energy than [f], also in [fɑ'fafɑf]. The overall weak presence of energy in /v/ (and also in /f/) is characteristic of all non-strident fricatives.
  5. Voicedness of [v] is furthermore to be seen in the periodic striations of Window A, as well as in the quasi-periodic modulation of the noise by glottal pulse in the bars at the bottom of Window B, similar to those created for the voiced stop [b] (see The bilabial plosives p and b).

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