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The bilabial plosives /p/ and /b/

In Afrikaans /p/ is a voicelessbilabialplosive; its voiced counterpart is /b/ (Van Wyk 1977; Le Roux and Pienaar 1927; Kent 1992; MacKay 1987). Afrikaans /p/ counts among the most frequent phonemes of Afrikaans; /b/ has a more restricted distribution, inter alia due to the phonological process of final devoicing.

The bilabialplosives do not exhibit any meaningful variation in terms of place of articulation.

Table 1
Consonant Place Manner Feature specification
/p/ bilabial plosive -sonorant, -voice, +labial, -coronal, -velar, - continuant
/b/ bilabial plosive -sonorant, +voice, +labial, -coronal, -velar, - continuant
[+]Phonotactic behaviour of /p/

The phoneme /p/ can occur as singleton consonant in onset position (1a), or in clusters of two or three consonants, such as in (1b) – (1c).

a. paar pair
b. praat to speak  ; plaat plate
c. spreek to speak  ; plas to splash

The /p/ combines regularly with the alveolar, non-nasal sonorants, /r/ and /l/ (as in (b) and (c)). In some loan words /p/ occurs as first consonant in the clusters pnpneumaties pneumatic, or pspsige psyche. In these cases the first consonant, as in English, is deleted.

Furthermore, it can function as sole consonant in coda position (2a), as well as in double clusters, as in (2b).

a. hap to bite  ;
b. lamp lamp  ; skerp sharp  ; help to help

In complex codas, /p/ is commonly preceded by sonorant consonants, viz. the homorganic bilabial nasal /m/ and by the liquids /l/ and /r/ (2b).

Finally, /p/ regularly appears intervocalically – as in (3) – preceded by all kinds of vowel segments.

a. appel apple  ; druppel drop  ; sypel to seep
[+]Phonotactic behaviour of /b/

The occurrence of voiced plosive /b/ is more restricted phonotactically than that of its voiceless counterpart /p/. In onset position it functions only as singleton consonant (4a), or, in combination with a second, alveolar non-nasal sonorant consonant (4b). Thus a complex onset /bCC-/ is not allowed:

a. baar to bear
b. bruin brown  ; blaar leaf

Because of final devoicing, [b] does not occur syllable-finally, including word-finally. Consequently, /b/ turns into [p] in rare words such as rib id. and skub scale, as well as in proper names like Namib.

Afrikaans /b/ regularly appears intervocalically, as in (5) – preceded by all kinds of vowel segments.

a. kabel cable  ; dubbel double  ; bybel bible

Except for cases of final devoicing in which /b/ becomes [p], these two plosives alternate in the case of voicing assimilation, where /p/ becomes [b], as in op+deel [ɔbdel] subdivide, or op+werk /ɔbvɛrk/ work up.

[+]Variation of /b/ with /v/

Le Roux and Pienaar (1927) mentioned a number of cases where /b/ is replaced by /v/ in unstressed syllables, such as troebel > troewel. cloudy. This frequently happens in proper names, like Kobus > Kowus. The output of the voicing assimilation of /p/ into [b] can thus in turn trigger a change into [v].

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

Figure 1 portrays sound wave forms (upper window) and spectrograms (lower window) of the voiceless bilabial plosive /p/ (in the nonsense word papapap) and the voiced bilabial plosive /b/ (in the nonsense word bababab).

  1. The sounds are labelled using phonetic transcription; thus [p]. Note that the vowels written as a are all short [ɑ].
  2. The final /b/ of bababab is devoiced to phonetically voiceless [p], due to the phonological process of final devoicing.
  3. The voiceless plosives of [pɑ'pɑpɑp] are indicated with green rectangles; while the voiced plosives of [bɑ'bɑbɑp] are indicated with blue rectangles, except the final devoiced /b/ > [p], which is marked with purple.
  4. The release bursts of the onset plosive portion of both consonants, [p] and [b], are not clearly visible in these examples.
  5. The intervocalic silence gaps of voiceless [p] in papapap are visible as green rectangles (cf. 3); no positive voice onset time (VOT) is present between the release burst and the start of the vowel, indicative of an absence of aspiration in Afrikaans [p].
  6. Negative voice onset time (-VOT) is clearly visible in the form of the harmonic waveforms of [b] in Window A, and black bars at the bottom of Window B, i.e. quasi-periodic modulation of the noise by glottal pulses in the case of voiced consonants.
  7. If plosives are released in word-final position, a plosive burst is visible (marked in dark blue).


Voicing feature in [b]
In the case of the voiced stop [b], a negative VOT is in most cases present in Afrikaans. This feature is variable across speakers: some speakers always realise [b] (and other voicedplosives) as pre-voiced, while others do so only half the time, or even not at all (Coetzee, Patrice and Wissing 2014).

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