Afrikaans phonology

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Afrikaans has a similar phonology to other West Germanic languages, especially Dutch.


Afrikaans has an extensive vowel inventory consisting of 17 vowel phonemes, among which there are 10 monophthongs and 7 diphthongs. There are also 7 marginal monophthongs.


Monophthong phonemes[1]
Front Central Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
short long short short long short long short long
Close i () y ə (əː) u ()
Mid ɛ ɛː œ (œː) ɔ (ɔː)
Open (æ) (æː) ɐ ɑː

Close and mid

  • As phonemes, /iː/ and /uː/ occur only in the words spieël /spiːl/ 'mirror' and koeël /kuːl/ 'bullet', which used to be pronounced with sequences /i.ə/ and /u.ə/ respectively. In other cases, [] and [] occur as allophones of, respectively, /i/ and /u/ before /r/.[2]
  • /y/ tends to be merged with /i/ into [i].[3]
  • /y/ is phonetically long [] before /r/.[4]
  • When stressed, /ə/ is closer than mid: [ɨ̞] and so Donaldson (1993) transcribes it as /ɪ̈/. Many scholars however, simply use /ə/,[5] which is the transcription that is used in this article.
  • In some words such as vanaand /fəˈnɑːnt/ 'this evening', unstressed ⟨a⟩ is actually a schwa /ə/, not /ɐ/.[5]
  • /əː/ is always stressed and so is [ɨ̞ː] phonetically (the reason for which Donaldson (1993) transcribes it as /ɪ̈ː/). It occurs only in the word wîe 'wedges', which is realized as either [ˈvəːə] or [ˈvəːɦə] (with a weak [ɦ]).[6]
  • /u/ is weakly rounded and could be more narrowly transcribed as [u̜] or [ɯ̹]. Thus, it is sometimes transcribed /ɯ/.[3]
  • /ɛ/ contrasts with /ɛː/ only in the minimal pair pers /pɛrs/ 'press' – pers /pɛːrs/ 'purple'.[7]
  • Before the sequences /rt, rd, rs/, the /ɛ–ɛː/ and /ɔ–ɔː/ contrasts are neutralized in favour of the long variants /ɛː/ and /ɔː/, respectively.[8]
  • The closest unrounded counterparts of /œ, œː/ are central /ə, əː/, rather than front /ɛ, ɛː/.[9]
    • Many speakers merge /œ/ with /ə/ into [ɨ̞].[3] The merger has been noted as early as 1927, when it was stigmatised.[10]
    • The sequence /œː.ə/ is realised as either [œː.ə] or [œː.ɦə] (with a weak [ɦ]).[8]
  • /œː, ɔː/ occur only in a few words.[8]


  • As a phoneme, /æ/ occurs only in some loanwords from English, such as pêl /pæl/ 'pal', as well as in some words such as vertrek /fərˈtræk/ 'departure'. As an allophone of /ɛ/ before /k, χ, l, r/, [æ] occurs dialectally, most commonly in the former Transvaal and Free State provinces.[11]
  • As a phoneme, /æː/ occurs only in some loanwords from English (such as grênd [græːnt] 'grand'), as well as before /k/ in some words. [æː] also occurs as an allophone of /ɛː/ before /r/ and the sequences /rs, rt, rd/.[11]
  • /ɐ, ɑː/ are sometimes transcribed with simpler symbols /a, aː/,[12] but the actual phonetic realisation of the phonemes is, respectively, [ɐ] and [ɑː].[13][14]
  • In the former Transvaal province, /ɑː/ is realized as rounded [ɒː]. Very rarely, it is also raised to [ɔː].[15][Does the [ɔː] realization of /ɑː/ merge with /ɔː/?]
  • In some words, such as hamer, short /ɐ/ is in free variation with long /ɑː/ despite the fact that the spelling suggests the latter. In some words, such as laat, the pronunciation with short /ɐ/ occurs only in colloquial language. In some other words, such as aambeeld /ˈɐmbeəlt/ 'anvil', the pronunciation with short /ɐ/ is already a part of the standard language.[16] The shortening of /ɑː/ has been noted as early as 1927.[17]
  • The orthographic sequence ⟨ae⟩ can be pronounced as either [ɑː] or [ɑːɦə] (with a weak [ɦ]).[16]
Example words for monophthongs
Short Long
Phoneme IPA Orthography Gloss Phoneme IPA Orthography Gloss
/i/ /dif/ dief 'thief' /iː/ /spiːl/ spieël 'mirror'
/y/ /ˈsykis/ suutjies 'quietly'
/u/ /buk/ boek 'book' /uː/ /kuːl/ koeël 'bullet'
/ɛ/ /bɛt/ bed 'bed' /ɛː/ /sɛː/ 'say'
/ə/ kənt kind 'child' /əː/ /ˈvəːə/ wîe 'wedges'
/œ/ /kœs/ kus 'kiss' /œː/ /rœː/ rûe 'backs'
/ɔ/ /bɔk/ bok 'goat' /ɔː/ /sɔː/ sôe 'sows'
/æ/ /pæl/ pêl 'pal' /æː/ /fərˈtræk/ vertrek 'departure'
/ɐ/ /kɐt/ kat 'cat' /ɑː/ /kɑːrt/ kaart 'map'

Nasalized vowels

In some instances of the postvocalic sequence /ns/, /n/ is realized as nasalisation (and lengthening, if the vowel is short) of the preceding monophthong, which is stronger in some speakers than others, but there also are speakers retaining [n] as well as the original length of the preceding vowel.[18]

  • The sequence /ɐns/ in words such as dans is realised as [ɐ̃ːs]. In monosyllabic words, that is the norm.[7]
  • The sequence /ɑːns/ in more common words (such as Afrikaans) is realized as either [ɑ̃ːs] or [ɑːns]. In less common words (such as Italiaans), [ɑːns] is the usual pronunciation.[7]
  • The sequence /ɛns/ in words such as mens is realized as [ɛ̃ːs].[7]
  • The sequence /œns/ in words such as guns is realised more often as [œns] than as [œ̃ːs].[3] For speakers with the /œ–ə/ merger, these transcriptions are to be read as [ɨ̞ns] and [ɨ̞̃ːs], respectively.
  • The sequence /ɔns/ in words such as spons is realised as [ɔ̃ːs].[3]

Collins & Mees (2003) analyze the pre-/s/ sequences /ɐn, ɛn, ɔn/ as phonemic short vowels /ɑ̃, ɛ̃, ɔ̃/ and note that this process of nasalising the vowel and deleting the nasal occurs in many dialects of Dutch as well, such as the The Hague dialect.[19]


Diphthong phonemes[20][21]
Starting point Ending point
Front Central Back
Mid unrounded eø, əi
rounded œi, ɔi œu
Open unrounded ɐi

/eø, eə, oə/

  • Some sources prescribe monophthongal [øː, , ] realizations of these; that is at least partially outdated:[21][22]
    • There is not a complete agreement about the realisation of /eø/:
      • According to Lass (1987), it is realised as either rising [ë̯ø] or falling [ëø̯], with the former being more common. The unrounded onset is a rather recent development and is not described by older sources. The monophthongal realisation [øː] is virtually nonexistent.[23]
      • According to Donaldson (1993), it is realised as [øə]. Its onset is sometimes unrounded, which can cause it to merge with /eə/.[24]
    • There is not a complete agreement about the realisation of /eə, oə/
      • According to Lass (1987), they may be realised in four ways:
        • Falling diphthongs. Their first element may be short [ëə̯, öə̯] or somewhat lengthened [ëˑə̯, öˑə̯].[21]
        • Rising diphthongs [ë̯ə, ö̯ə]. These variants do not seem to appear word-finally. The sequence /ɦoə/ is commonly realised as [ɦö̯ə] or, more often, [ö̯̤ə̤], with /ɦ/ realised as breathy voice on the diphthong.[21]
        • Indeterminate diphthongs [ëə, öə], which may occur in all environments.[21]
        • Monophthongs, either short [ë, ö] or somewhat lengthened [ëˑ, öˑ]. The monophthongal realisations occur in less stressed words as well as in stressed syllables in words that have more than one syllable. In the latter case, they are in free variation with all of the three diphthongal realisations. In case of /oə/, the monophthongal [ö] also appears in unstressed word-final syllables.[21]
      • According to De Villiers (1976), the onsets of [eə, oə] are somewhat closer to cardinal [i, u] than cardinal [e, o], that is near-close [ɪə, ʊə].[25]
      • According to Donaldson (1993), they are realized as either [eə, oə] or [iə, uə].[22]
  • /eə/ also occurs in words spelled with ⟨eë⟩, like reël /ˈreəl/ 'rule'. Historically, these were pronounced with a disyllabic sequence /eː.ə/ and so reël used to be pronounced /ˈreː.əl/.[22]
  • There is not a complete agreement about the dialectal realisation of /eə, oə/ in the Boland area:

Other diphthongs

  • The scholar Daan Wissing argues that /əi/ is not a phonetically correct transcription and that /æɛ/ is more accurate. In his analysis, he found that [æɛ] makes for 65% of the realisations, the other 35% being monophthongal, [ə], [æ] and [ɛ].[28]
  • Most often, /œi/ has an unrounded offset. For some speakers, the onset is also unrounded. That can cause /œi/ to merge with /əi/, which is considered non-standard.[29]
  • /ɔi, ɐi/ occur mainly in loanwords.[29]
  • Older sources describe /œu/ as a narrow back diphthong [ou].[30][31] However, newer sources describe its onset as more front. For example, Lass (1984), states that the onset of /œu/ is central [ɵu].[32]
    • In some words, which, in English, are pronounced with /əʊ/, the Afrikaans equivalent tends to be pronounced with /œu/, rather than /oə/. That happens because Afrikaans /œu/ is more similar to the usual South African realization of English /əʊ/.[30]
Example words for diphthongs
Phoneme IPA Orthography Gloss
/eø/ /seøn/ seun 'son'
/əi/ /ɦəi/ hy 'he'
/eə/ /veət/ weet 'to know'
/œi/ /ɦœis/ huis 'house'
/ɔi/ /ˈχɔiəŋ/ goiing 'burlap'
/oə/ /broət/ brood 'bread'
/œu/ /kœut/ koud 'cold'
/ɐi/ /ˈbɐiə/ baie 'many'

Long diphthongs

The long diphthongs (or 'double vowels') are phonemically sequences of a free vowel and a non-syllabic equivalent of /i/ or /u/: [iu, ui, oːi, eu, ɑːi]. Both [iu] and [eu] tend to be pronounced as [iu], but they are spelled differently: the former as ⟨ieu⟩, the latter as ⟨eeu⟩.[33]

'False' diphthongs

In diminutives of monosyllabic nouns ending in /ki/, the vowels /u, eə, oə, ɛ, ə, œ, ɔ, ɐ, ɑː/ are realised as closing diphthongs [ui, ei, oi, ɛi, əi, œi, ɔi, ɐi, ɑːi]. In the same environment, the sequences /ɐn, ɛn, ən, œn, ɔn/ are realized as [ɐiɲ, ɛiɲ, əiɲ, ɔiɲ, œiɲ], i.e. as closing diphthongs followed by palatal nasal.[34]

  • The suffixes ⟨-aad⟩ and ⟨-aat⟩ (phonemically /ɑːd/ and /ɑːt/, respectively) and the diminutive suffix /ki/ are realised as [ɑːci] (with a monophthong), rather than [ɑːici].[29]
  • In practice, the diphthong [əi] is realised the same as the phonemic diphthong /əi/.[35]
  • [œi], when it has arisen from diphthongisation of [œ], differs from the phonemic diphthong /œi/ by having a slightly different onset, although the exact nature of that difference is unclear. This means that puntjie 'point' sounds somewhat different than puintjie 'rubble'.[35]


Consonant phonemes
Labial Alveolar Dorsal Post-
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive voiceless p t k t͡ʃ
voiced b d (ɡ) (d͡ʒ)
Fricative voiceless f s χ ʃ
voiced v (z) ʒ ɦ
Approximant l j
Rhotic r


  • All obstruents at the ends of words are devoiced so that, for instance, a final /d/ is realised as [t].[36]
  • /p, b/ are bilabial, whereas /f, v/ are labiodental.
    • According to some authors,[37] /v/ is actually an approximant [ʋ].[38]
  • /p, t, k, tʃ/ are unaspirated.[39]
  • /k/ may be somewhat more front before front vowels; the fronted allophone of /k/ also occurs in diminutives ending in -djie and -tjie.[40]
  • /dʒ, z/ occur only in loanwords.
  • /χ/ is most often uvular, either a fricative, [χ] or a voiceless trill [ʀ̥], the latter especially in initial position before a stressed vowel.[38][41][42] The uvular fricative is also used by many speakers of White South African English as a realisation of the marginal English phoneme /x/.[42] In Afrikaans, velar [x] may be used in a few "hyper-posh" varieties, and it may also, rarely, occur as an allophone before front vowels in speakers with otherwise uvular [χ].[41]
  • /ɡ/ occurs only in loanwords. In some environments,[which?] [ɡ] is an allophone of /χ/.[43]


  • /m/ is bilabial.
  • /n/ merges with /m/ before labial consonants. Phonetically, this merged consonant is realized as bilabial [m] before /p, b/, and labiodental [ɱ] before /f, v/.
    • /n/ merges with /ŋ/ before dorsals (/k, χ/). Phonetically, this merged consonant is realized as velar [ŋ] before /k/ and the [ɡ] allophone of /χ/,[can [ɡ] occur after [ŋ]?] and as uvular [ɴ] before /χ/.
  • /l/ is velarised [ɫ] in all positions, especially noticeable non-prevocalically.[23][40]
  • /r/ is usually an alveolar trill [r] or tap [ɾ].[23] In some parts of the former Cape Province, it is realised uvularly, either as a trill [ʀ] or a fricative [ʁ].[40] The uvular trill may also be pronounced as a tap [ʀ̆].
Afrikaans consonants with example words
Voiceless Voiced
Phoneme Example Phoneme Example
IPA IPA Orthography Gloss IPA IPA Orthography Gloss
/m/ /mɐn/ man 'man'
/n/ /noːi/ nooi 'invite'
/ŋ/ /səŋ/ sing 'to sing'
/p/ /pɔt/ pot 'pot' /b/ /bɛt/ bed 'bed'
/t/ /ˈtɑːfəl/ tafel 'table' /d/ /dɐk/ dak 'roof'
/k/ /kɐt/ kat 'cat' /ɡ/ /ˈsɔrɡə/ sorge 'cares'
/tʃ/ /ˈtʃɛχis/ Tsjeggies 'Czech' /dʒ/ /ˈbɐdʒi/ budjie 'budgerigar'
/f/ /fits/ fiets 'bicycle' /v/ /ˈvɑːtər/ water 'water'
/s/ /seøn/ seun 'son' /z/ /ˈzulu/ Zoeloe 'Zulu'
/χ/ /χut/ goed 'good'
/ʃ/ /ˈʃinɐ/ Sjina 'China' /ʒ/ /viʒyˈeəl/ visueel 'visually'
/ɦ/ /ɦœis/ huis 'house'
/l/ /lif/ lief 'dear'
/j/ /ˈjiːsœs/ Jesus 'Jesus'
/r/ /roːi/ rooi 'red'

See also


  1. Donaldson (1993), pp. 2–7.
  2. Donaldson (1993), pp. 4–6.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Donaldson (1993), p. 5.
  4. Donaldson (1993), pp. 5–6.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Donaldson (1993), pp. 4, 6.
  6. Donaldson (1993), pp. 4, 6–7.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Donaldson (1993), p. 3.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Donaldson (1993), p. 7.
  9. Swanepoel (1927), p. 38.
  10. Swanepoel (1927), p. 39.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Donaldson (1993), pp. 3, 7.
  12. For example by Donaldson (1993).
  13. Lass (1984), pp. 76, 93–94, 105.
  14. Donaldson (1993), pp. 7, 18.
  15. Donaldson (1993), pp. 6–7.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Donaldson (1993), p. 6.
  17. Swanepoel (1927), p. 22.
  18. Donaldson (1993), pp. 3, 5.
  19. Collins & Mees (2003), p. 71.
  20. Donaldson (1993), pp. 2, 8–10.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 21.4 21.5 Lass (1987), pp. 117–119.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 Donaldson (1993), p. 8.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Lass (1987), p. 117.
  24. Donaldson (1993), pp. 8–9.
  25. De Villiers (1976), pp. 56–57.
  26. Lass (1987), p. 118.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Cited in Lass (1987:117–118). The preview on Google Books makes it unclear whether De Villiers' book is "Afrikaanse klankleer. Fonetiek, fonologie en woordbou" or "Nederlands en Afrikaans", as both are cited at the end of Lass's chapter.
  28. Wissing (2009), p. 333.
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 Donaldson (1993), p. 10.
  30. 30.0 30.1 Donaldson (1993), p. 9.
  31. Swanepoel (1927), p. 44.
  32. Lass (1984), p. 102.
  33. Donaldson (1993), p. 12.
  34. Donaldson (1993), pp. 10–11.
  35. 35.0 35.1 Donaldson (1993), p. 11.
  36. Donaldson (1993), pp. 13–15.
  37. For example Den Besten (2012).
  38. 38.0 38.1 Den Besten (2012).
  39. Donaldson (1993), pp. 14–16.
  40. 40.0 40.1 40.2 Donaldson (1993), p. 15.
  41. 41.0 41.1 "John Wells's phonetic blog: velar or uvular?". 5 December 2011. Retrieved 12 February 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Only this source mentions the trilled realization.
  42. 42.0 42.1 Bowerman (2004:939): "White South African English is one of very few varieties to have a velar fricative phoneme /x/ (see Lass (2002:120)), but this is only in words borrowed from Afrikaans (...) and Khoisan (...). Many speakers use the Afrikaans uvular fricative [χ] rather than the velar."
  43. Donaldson (1993), pp. 13–14.


Further reading