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Background to primary stress in monomorphemes in Afrikaans

The overall goal of the Taalportaal project is the construction of a comprehensive and authoritative scientific grammar of Dutch, Frisian and Afrikaans. At the same time, the aim is not to operate strictly within a specific theoretical framework such as, for example, in the case of phonology, generative or optimality phonology. At the same time, the description of the phonology of Afrikaans (or any language for that matter) cannot be completely untheoretical and, in what follows, applicable reference is made to all available relevant literature on a specific topic, regardless of its theoretical heritage.

As an orientation with respect to all topics concerning stress placement in Afrikaans monomorphemes, the following reference list should be consulted:

(De Stadler 1981; Combrink and De Stadler 1987; De Stadler 1991; De Villiers 1965; De Villiers and Ponelis 1992; Lee 1963; Le Roux 1936; Le Roux and Pienaar 1927; Lubbe 1993; Wissing 1971; Wissing 1987; Wissing 1988; Wissing 1989; Wissing 1991; Wissing 2017)


Afrikaans is not viewed here as a language displaying an initial stress pattern, as it is sometimes described e.g. by De Villiers (1965) and Lee (1963). Here, instead, we adopt a Main Stress Rule (MSR), that maintains that stress in Afrikaans falls on either the final syllable of monomorphemes, or on the penultimate syllable. Only in a small number of subclasses is one of the prefinal syllables other than the penult stressed – usually the antepenultimate syllable.

In bisyllabic words such as winter /'vən.tər/ do., stress placement is mostly described in the available literature as initial; in the current descriptions we define it as penultimate. Note that this helps in the analysis of multisyllabic words, such as minister /mə.'nəs.tər/ do., in which stress is not on the initial syllable, but rather on the penult. The same analysis applies usefully to, for example, bisyllabic padda /'pɑ.dɑ/ frog compared to multisyllabic monomorphemes also ending on an open final syllable such as patatta, jakaranda and abrakadrabra. In all these words stress is analysable as being placed on the penultimate syllable. From these examples, it seems clear that determining stress placement from the right edge of the word is the most effective approach. By sometimes referring to the beginning of a word (i.e. initial position), the elegance and uniformity of the MSR is disrupted.

In the following descriptions of specific topics, we adopt a synchronic, word-based morphology framework for the description of word-structure and stress assignment in Afrikaans. According to this approach, morphemes are not combined to form complex word forms, but rather generalizations that hold between words are simply stated. Hereby we specifically depart from a perspective that the average lay speaker does not, or cannot, tell whether the noun personeel personel is a simplex or a complex word, while persoon person clearly is a monomorpheme. Although these two words are closely related, it is questionable whether the lay speaker actively realises personeel is derived from persoon. Note that these words are independent items in a dictionary such as HAT-6(Odendal and Gouws 2005).

Similarly, words that resemble derivations by means of morphemes, here called pseudo-suffixes, are considered to be monomorphemes. Examples of this are begin /bə.'xən/ begin, with the pseudo-prefix be-, and lelik ugly, with -lik resembling a true affix. For more examples, see Primary stress in monomorphemes ending on Type-I schwa, respectively Primary stress in monomorphemes ending on Type-II schwa.

In some descriptions of the stress patterns of Dutch, it is common practice to make use of Latin, French and Italian loanwords and names, because native words are too short to demonstrate, for example, the relevance of the important notion of the Three-Syllable Window According to Booij (1995) the relevant native words of Germanic origin usually contain only one full vowel, an Afrikaans example of such a long monomorpheme with only a single full vowel other than schwa being onverbiddelik /'ɔn.fər.bə.də.lək/ relentlessly. Consequently, personal names of a very low usage frequency like the following are cited in the Dutch literature as a means of explaining the stress patterns of this language: Ashurbanipal, Carvancevitam, Demosthenes, Erechtheion, Melanchton and many others (especially by Kager (1989)).

In parallel to this, in the present description of Afrikaans stress, loanwords as well as well-known names of places and persons from indigenous languages such as Khoi, the Nguni languages (Zulu or Xhosa), or the Sotho family of languages (Southern Sotho and Setswana), are used. These names are often heard on a daily basis, such as on Afrikaans radio weather reports or news bulletins. Place names include multisyllabic ones like Bophuthatswana, Ekhuruleni, Empangeni, Ethekwini, Khayalami, Lerato, Malelane, Marikana, Modimolle, Mokopane, Mpumamlanga, Phalaborwa, Phutaditjhaba and Polokwane. Well-known public personalities’ names include Buthelezi, Holomisa, Komphela, Madonsela, Madiba, Mantashe, Malema, Mandela, Ramaphosa, Ramoloko and Zwelinzima. Such names, all ending on one of the short vowels ( /ɛ, ɔ, ɑ/, but also short /i/ and u) not usually found in this position in normal Afrikaans words, provide important means for the falsification of proposed stress rules (as propagated by, for example, Neijt and Zonneveld 1982). Kager (1989), for one, confirms the role played by imported words in this regard.

The already mentioned HAT-6(Odendal and Gouws 2005), as well as the pronunciation dictionary of Le Roux and Pienaar (1971), were consulted frequently, supplementing and corroborating our own native knowledge and intuition.

As general background to the phenomenon of stress in general, read:

The above-mentioned background should always be taken into account when reading the more specific topics on the stress patterns of Afrikaans monomorphemic words.

A standard pronunciation dictionary  (Le Roux and Pienaar 1967) and the online version of the Handwoordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal (HAT were consulted, and,  for examples of relevant monomorphemes, the VivA-Afrikaans Korpusportaal). The latter contains corpora of a variety of written texts and consists of more than 84 million words.

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  • Combrink, J.G.H. & De Stadler, L.G1987Afrikaanse fonologie.Macmillan
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