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The alveolar plosives /t/ and /d/

Afrikaans /t/ is a voicelessalveolarplosive; its voiced counterpart is /d/ (Van Wyk 1977; Le Roux and Pienaar 1927). Afrikaans /t/ counts among the most frequent consonants of Afrikaans; due to the phonological process of final devoicing, /d/ cannot occur in syllable final position; more generally it also has a more restricted distribution in comparison to /t/.

Table 1
Consonant Place Manner Feature specification
/x/ velar fricative -son, -voice, -labial, -cor, +velar, +cont
[+]Phonotactic behaviour of /t/

Like /p/, the voiceless alveolar plosive, /t/ is a common sound and in Afrikaans regularly functions as singleton onset consonant (1a); furthermore, onset clusters of two or three consonants are possible (1b) to (1c):

a. tak branch
b. tree stride
c. streek region

Apart from the common occurrence of /r/, as in (1b), as second consonant after /t/, only /w/ is found in the same position in a small number of Afrikaans words, like twee two or twaalf twelve. In some idiolects the approximant [ʋ] allophone of /v/ is not uncommon in these contexts. Afrikaans /t/ can occur in simple and complex codas, such as in (2a) to (2b).

a. kat cat
b. kant side  ; hart heart  ; bult hill

In (3b) the consonants /n/, /r/ and /l/, preceding the alveolar /t/, are all alveolar like /t/. More specifically they are all sonorants.

Finally, /t/ regularly positions itself intervocalically, preceded by all kinds of vowel segments, as in (3).

[+]Phonotactic behaviour of /d/

The occurrence of voiced plosive /d/ is more restricted than that of its voiceless counterpart /t/. 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 /dCC-/ is not allowed:

a. daar there
b. dra to carry
Unlike the combination of /b/ and /l/ in /bl-/ (e.g. bly), only the /dr/ cluster is allowed here, thus /*dl-/). As phoneme, /d/ is allowed in coda position, but, due to final devoicing, turns into voiceless [t].

Finally, /d/ regularly appears intervocalically, following every type of vowel segment, as in (4):

a. boete
b. fine bitter bitter
c. uiters utmost
[+]Alternation of /t/ and /d/

Due to the process of final devoicing, in word-final position the phonetic form of /d/ is [t]. This also applies in syllable final position. That final devoicing is a productive process is evident in the final /d/ in proper names like David or Bagdad. Note that such devoicing is occassionally reversed or neutralised in cases such as /d/ > [t] in the word handbagasie hand baggage, due to regressive voicing assimilation. In such cases the voiced and voiceless options regularly alternate with each other.

In intervocalic biconsonantal clusters with alveolar sonorants as first member, ( /rd/, /nd/ and /ld/), and when followed by schwa, /d/ is readily deleted, especially in fast speech – see (7a).

/d/ deletion
a. perde horses  ; sonder without  ; kelder cellar
b. vir die for the  ; in die in the  ; wil die will the

Across word boundaries, as in (7b), /d/ in the definite pronoun die is omitted when preceded by words ending in one of these three sonorants.

[+]Acoustic information

Figure 2 portrays the sound wave forms (upper window) and spectrograms (lower window) of the voiceless alveolar plosive /t/ (in the nonsense word tatatat) and the voiced bilabial plosive /d/ (in the nonsense word dadadad).

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

  1. The sounds have been labelled using phonetic transcription; thus [t].
  2. Note that the vowels written as a are all short [ɑ], except for the vowel of the second syllable of dadadad, which is long.
  3. The final /d/ of dadadad is devoiced to phonetically voiceless [t], due to the phonological process of final devoicing.
  4. The voiceless plosives of [tɑ'tɑtɑt] are indicated with green rectangles; while the voiced ones of [dɑ'dadɑt] are indicated with blue rectangles, except for final devoiced /t/ < [d], which is marked with purple.
  5. The voiced [d] plosives have been indicated using blue rectangles; negative voice onset time (VOT; that is pre-voicing or voicing lead), is visible in the form of regular wavelike patterns in Window A, and black bars at the bottom of Window B. These black bars represent a quasi-periodic modulations of the noise by glottal pulses in the case of voiced consonants.
  6. If released in word final position, a plosive burst is visible (marked in dark blue).
  7. Final devoicing of /d/ in dadadad results in [t], in which case absence of either wave patterns in A or in black bars in B is evident.
  8. Release bursts of the onset plosive portion of both consonants, [t] and [d], are not clearly visible in these examples.
  9. Intervocalic silence gaps of voiceless [t] in tatatat are visible as green rectangles; no positive VOT is present here between the release burst and the start of the vowel, indicative of the absence of aspiration in Afrikaans [t].
  10. Negative voice onset time is clearly visible in the form of periodic waveforms of [d] 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.
  11. If plosives are released in word-final position, a plosive burst is visible (marked in dark blue).


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


Van Wyk, E.B.Praktiese fonetiek vir taalstudente: 'n inleiding., 1977Le Roux, T.H.; Pienaar, P. de V.Afrikaanse fonetiek., 1927Kent, Ray D. and Charles ReadThe acoustics analysis of speech, 1992MacKay, Ian R.I.Phonetics: the science of speech production, 1987Coetzee, A. W., Patrice S. Beddor and Daan P. WissingEmergent tonogenesis in Afrikaans, 2014
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