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The alveolar nasal /n/

The Afrikaans phoneme /n/ is an alveolarnasalsonorantconsonant (Le Roux and Pienaar 1927; Van Wyk 1977). Nasal assimilation is a common process in which /n/ changes into the homorganic counterpart of a following consonant.

Table 1
Consonant Place Manner Feature specification
/n/ alveolar nasal +sonorant, -labial, +coronal, -velar, +nasal
[+]Phonotactic behaviour

The phoneme /n/ can occur as a singleton onset (1a) and as a second consonant, following either initial /s/ or /k/, as in (1b).

a. neem to take
b. snel quick  ; knoop button

Except for /s/ and /k/ as initial consonant, the voiceless fricatives /x/ (in gnoom ) and /f/ (in fnuik) are extremely rare possibilities in Afrikaans.

Furthermore, it can occur in simple codas (2a), and in complex codas, such as in (2b).

a. been leg
b. hond dog  ; ons ounce
c. kern kernel

The underlying coda cluster /rn/ becomes [rən] due to schwa insertion.

The /n/ regularly appears intervocalically, as in (3):

a. gene genes  ; tonnel tunnel  ; byna nearly
[+]Sensitivity to place assimilation

The Afrikaans phoneme /n/ tends to assimilate to the place of articulation of the following consonant (called homorganic nasal assimilation. The strength of this tendency depends on the morphosyntactic ‘distance’ of the following consonant. At cross word boundaries, like in combinations of first and last names, as in the examples under (4), especially in casual or rapid speech, homorganic nasal assimilation is ordinary.

a. Jan Pieters [mp]
b. Jan Botha [mb]
c. Jan Jacobs [ɲ]
d. Jan Kruger [ŋk]
e. Jan Nel [n(n)]
f. Jan Malan [m]
[+]Acoustic properties

In the example below the most important acoustic properties of /n/ are shown. For purposes of comparison /mamamam/ and /ŋaŋaŋaŋ/ are shown on the left and right hand side of /nananan/.

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

  1. Diffuse energy is visible in the blue rectangles isolating all four of the /n/ segments. This diffuseness is to be observed in the low amplitudes of the wave form as well as in the diffuse energy spread in the spectrogram (Window B).
  2. Weakly defined traces of formants are visible in all [n] exemplars, especially in the two intervocalic positions.
  3. Intervocalic second and third [n] (100 ms) are shorter than the other two.

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