I (Andries Coetzee) visited the Meertens Institute in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, at the of July. The Meertens Institute, established in 1926, is a research institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, that focusses on the diversity of language and culture in the Netherlands. I had fruitful and stimulating conversations with the linguists affiliated with the Meertens Institute. Due to the close historical relationship between Dutch and Afrikaans, researchers at the Meertens Institute have a keen interest in Afrikaans, and we are optimistic about possible future collaboration on research related to Afrikaans.

As part of my visit to the Meertens Institute, I  gave a presentation  about a joint project (collaboration between myself, Pam Beddor and Daan Wissing from the North-West University in South Africa). In this presentation, I reviewed evidence for a currently ongoing process of tonogenesis in Afrikaans, and consider the consequences of this change for the morphophonological system of the language. The title and abstract of the presentation is included below.


The phonetics (and some phonology) of Afrikaans obstruent voicing

Afrikaans, like its close ancestor Dutch, is usually described as having a contrast between phonetically pre-voiced plosives /b d/ and voiceless unaspirated plosives /p t/, giving minimal pairs such as the following:


bas   [bas]   'bark'        vs.        pas   [pas]  'fit'

dak   [dak]   'roof'                    tak    [tak]  'branch'


In this talk, I will present the results of a recent study on the production and perception of word-initial /b d p t/ in Afrikaans. In this study, we found that though older speakers (over 50) still retain the voicing distinction between historically voiced and voiceless plosives, the voicing distinction is all but gone for younger speakers (under 25). These younger speakers tend to produce all word-initial plosives as voiceless unaspirated plosives (i.e. as [p t]). The younger speakers do still maintain a contrast between words that historically started on voiced plosives (bas) and those that started on voiceless plosives (pas). They have transferred this contrast, however, onto the following vowel, with vowels after historically voiced plosives having a fundamental frequency that 20 to 40 Hz lower than vowels after historically voiceless plosives. These speakers are in the process of replacing a voicing contrast with a tonal contrast, and they therefore realize the minimal pairs from above as follows:


bas   [pàs]   'bark'                  pas   [pás]   'fit'

dak   [tàk]   'roof'                   tak    [ták]   'branch'

I will also consider what implications this ongoing change may have for the phonology of Afrikaans, focusing on phenomena such as final devoicing and voicing co-occurrence restrictions, all of which presuppose the existence of a voicing contrast for obstruents.