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Homorganic glide insertion

At the phonemic level, Afrikaans allows for sequences of two adjacent  heterosyllabic vowels, a so-called hiatus. Generally, such hiatuses are resolved phonetically through intervocalic homorganic glide insertion (HGI), or, in some instances, by the insertion of a glottal stop [ʔ]. Sometimes, though rarely, HGI is also observed across word boundaries in connected speech. In these instances, the insertion of [ʔ] is the default strategy for hiatus-resolution.

This section deals with the rules that govern HGI as well as the way in which seeming exceptions are treated.

(Combrink and De Stadler 1987; Coetzee 1992De Villiers and Ponelis 1992; Wissing 1982; Wissing 1978; Wissing 2017; Zonneveld 1978)


The various examples below show where the three approximant consonants (i.e. glides), [ɦ], [j] and [ʋ] may be inserted. We begin with derived nouns i.e. where a schwa, functioning as the plural morpheme, has been added (impermissable insertions are indicated by the asterisk *).

[+]Homorganic glide insertion in plural forms
  1. dae (plur. of dag /dɑx/ day) [daɦə], [*dajə] or [*daʋə].
  2. treë (plur. of tree /tre/ step) [tri:ɦə] or [*tri:ʋə].
  3. ploeë (plur. of ploeg /plux/ plough) [plu:ɦə].

In 1 and 3, the coda, /x/ (written with g), of the singular is deleted by a general process that is active not only in relation to the dervivation of plurals but also with respect to derived adjectives.

The following general principle covers the insertions in 1 – 3:

HGI is governed by the quality of the left-most vowel.

This principle also holds for the following sets of representative examples:

  1. The approximant consonant [ɦ] is inserted in the following example: Monomorphemes: insae [ənsaɦə].
    1. Attributive adjectives derived from words ending on -g ( /x/): lae [laɦə] < laag.
    2. Adjectives in comparative mode, derived from words ending on -g [laɦər] < laag.
    3. Nouns derived from verbs ending on -g ( /x/): jaer [jaɦər] < jaag.
  2. The approximant consonants [ɦ] or [j] are inserted in: Monomorphemes ending on a) -eë: geneë [xəni:ɦ/jə]; b) -iaal: liniaal [liniɦ/jal].
    1. Plurals of singular words ending on -ie / -ieg; -ee / -eeg: knieë [kni:ɦ/jə] < knie; vlieë [[fli:ɦ/jə]] < vlieg; trofeë [trufi:ɦ/jə] < trofee; strateë [strɑti:ɦ/jə] < strateeg.
    2. Personalised nouns of the type ending on -ieër: bedrieër [bədri:ɦ/jər] < bedrieg, etc.
    3. Attributive adjectives derived from words ending on -g ( /x/) like in leë [li:ɦ/jə] < leeg.
    4. Attributive adjectives derived from words ending on -d ( /d/) [t]: breë [bri:ɦ/jə] < breed.
    5. Adjectives in comparative mode derived from words ending on -g: leë [li:ɦ/jər] < leeg.
    6. Nouns derived from verbs ending on -ie or -ieg; -eeg: bieër [bi:ɦ/jər] < bie; vlieër [fli:ɦ/jər] < vlieg; vee [fi:ɦ/jər] < vee; verpleër [fərpli:ɦ/jər] < verpleeg.
    7. Personal names behave similarly: Adrian [adriɦ/jɑn], Adriaan, Christian, Christiaan, Iaan, Riaan, Vian. The orthography of the localised version of Christian, i.e. Krisjan, is evidence for the existence of [j] in these cases.
  3. The approximant consonants [ɦ] or [ʋ] occur in the following examples:
    1. Monomorphemes ending on -oë: bedroë [bədru:ɦ/ʋə].
    2. Plurals of singular words ending on -oog / -og / -oeg: boë [bu:ɦ/ʋə] < boog; trôe [trɔ:ɦ/ʋə] < trog; kroeë [kru:ɦ/ʋə] < kroeg.
    3. Attributive adjectives derived from words ending on -g ( /x/): vroeë [fru:ɦ/ʋə] < vroeg.
    4. Adjectives in comparative mode derived from words ending on -g ( /x/): moeër [mu:ɦ/ʋər] < moeg.
    5. Nouns derived from verbs ending on -oog: betoër [bətu:ɦ/ʋər] < betoog .

1. Phonemically short vowels tend to lengthen in open syllables when followed by glides.

2. The approximant consonant [ɦ] is, in all instances, the basic glide; the other two, [j] and [ʋ], are optional (in 2 and 3).

[+]HGI rule

Informally, the following rules apply for the above examples, and other, similar ones:

  1. The approximant consonant [ɦ] is always inserted after low vowels, but is also possible in all other instances.
  2. The approximant consonants [j] or [ɦ] are inserted after high and mid-high front vowels; in practice mostly after /i/ and /e/, i.e. the phones [i] and [iə]. No occurrences of /ø/ in this position could be located. The other front vowel, /ɛ/, could possibly be included here too, although its presence is restricted to only two words êe harrows and lêer ledger.
  3. The [ʋ] or [ɦ] are inserted after back vowels: /u/, /o/ and /ɔ/, resp. phonetically [u], [uə] and [ɔ].

[+]Glottal stop insertion

In a small number of cases where HGI is not applicable, the glottal stop [Ɂ] is inserted instead e.g. Kaïro /kɑ'iru/ and aorta /ɑ'ɔrtɑ/, rendering respectively [kɑ'Ɂiru] and [ɑ'Ɂɔrtɑ]. Note that, other than in the case of HGI, the second vowel now carries stress. Insertion of the glottal stop might be considered an Elsewhere Condition i.e. in all cases where HGI, as stated above is not applicable Glottal Stop Insertion applies.

Monomorphemes containing the pseudo-afffix be- (e.g. in beaam confirm) behave in a similar fashion: [bə'Ɂam]. Many words, though which are not simplexes, contain the glottal stop in a similar phonetic context: geagte dear [xə'Ɂɑxtə], geantwoord answered [xə'Ɂɑntvuərt].

[+]Some special cases

The example Ruanda constitutes a special case, in that [ɦ] or [ʋ] is found here instead of the predicted glottal stop. In chaoties and poëties, the glottal stop is not used either; instead, in the former case the unpredicted [ʋ] is used along with [ɦ] i.e. [xɑʋuətis] is found next to basic [xɑɦuətis]. Likewise, in the latter case we find [pujiətis] instead of the expected [puʋiətis] (next to [puɦiətis]). These seeming exceptions to the main HGI rule can be explained in terms of regressive co-articulation (RC) of the relevant approximant to the following vowel, instead of the default progressive co-articulation (PC) in the normal instances of HGI, as described above. Pertinent examples of co-articulation of consonants in onset position to following vowels, specifically the [uə] and [iə] as contained in the words chaoties and poeëties are: hoor /hor/ [ʋuər] [ʋər] hear; hier /ɦir/ [ji:r] here. This is precisely what is happening in the case of [xɑʋuətis] and [puɦiətis]. This means that this specific instance of regressive co-articulation overrides that of the normal process of HGI, or, stated alternatively, here RC seems to be stronger than PC.

The place name Israel is normally pronounced as [əsrɑil], that is with a diphthong – other than the Dutch [ɪsraʔɛl]. In words containing as two separate, adjacent vowels, only [ɦ] is allowed, despite the presence of [i] as the first vowel, thus, for example, tersiêr [tærsiɦær] [*tærsijær].

  • Zonneveld, Wim1978A formal theory of exceptions in generative phonologyDordrechtForis
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