The University of Michigan was well represented at the annual conference of the Linguistic Society of Southern Africa that was held 24-26 June, 2015, on the campus of the North-West University, in Potchefstroom, South Africa. Andries Coetzee, who also spent about six weeks doing data collection in Potchefstroom over the summer, delivered two papers, both of which are based on collaboration with colleagues at Michigan. Andries reports that, given the complex multilingual reality of life in Southern Africa, there were many presentations at the conference that would have been of interest to members of the Michigan linguistics community. Information about the two Michigan presentations is given below.
Afrikaans (like its direct ancestor Dutch) is usually described as having a contrast between prevoiced and unaspirated voiceless plosives ([b]~[p], [d]~[t]). In this study we report the results of two experiments showing that this voicing contrast is being replaced by a tonal contrast. In Experiment 1, we explore the production of /b d/ and /p t/ in word-initial position by 10 younger speakers (under 25) and 13 older speakers (over 50). We found that all speakers realized some historically voiced plosives /b d/ as voiceless, thereby merging them with the realization of the unaspirated voiceless plosives /p t/. The devoicing rate was much higher for younger than older speakers (83% vs. 44%), however, suggesting an ongoing sound change. Although the voicing contrast between /b d/ and /p t/ is being lost, we also found that the contrast between these two groups of plosives is being preserved in the fundamental frequency of the following vowel, i.e. as a tonal contrast. Vowels following /b d/ are realized as low-toned with a fundamental frequency approximately 50 Hz lower than vowels after /p t/, which are realized as high-toned. The Afrikaans words "bas" and "pas" are hence still differentiated, but are produced not with a voicing contrast as in [bas]~[pas], but with a tonal contrast as in [pàs]~[pás]. In Experiment 2, we explore the perception of this contrast, showing that the same older and younger participants alike used the tonal contrast to differentiate between words starting with phonologically voiced and voiceless plosives—i.e. all listeners identified [pàk] as a production of "bak" and [pák] as a production of "pak". We will also consider the relevance of these results for theories of sound change, with particular attention to the respective roles of speakers and listeners in the origin and propagation of a sound change.
Approximately 600 Afrikaans speakers settled in an isolated part of Patagonia, Argentina, between 1902 and 1906. Over the following six decades, the community grew to include several thousand people with Afrikaans as their first (and often only) language. With the discovery of oil, however, there has been a large migration of Spanish speakers into the community, resulting in a decline of Afrikaans usage. Although nowadays the community still maintains a strong Afrikaans cultural identity, knowledge and use of Afrikaans are limited to only to the oldest generation (fewer than 50 fluent speakers remain, most over 70 years of age). In this presentation, we report on our research about the Afrikaans spoken by this community. Our data were collected during a 2014-fieldtrip to the community, and consist both of informal interviews and speech samples collected through more controlled elicitation tasks. Our presentation focuses on the influence that extensive Spanish contact has had on the phonetics and phonology of Patagonian Afrikaans, with particular reference to the rhythmic properties of the language. Although the phonetics and phonology of Patagonian Afrikaans have preserved most of the features of South African Afrikaans, there are examples of Spanish influence on this variety, including inter-vocalic lenition of voiced plosives (pronouncing the [d] in "sodat" with a voiced inter-dental fricative), and loss of the length contrast in low vowels (i.e. pronouncing words like "ma" and "pa" with short [a]). We will show, in particular, that the rhythmic properties of Patagonian Afrikaans are much closer to Spanish than to South African Afrikaans. Patagonian Afrikaans has a more syllable-timed rhythmic structure (typically associated with Romance languages) rather than the stress-timed structure (more typical of Germanic languages). We will interpret our results in the light of theories about language change, loss and preservation in situations of language contact.