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The approximants
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/ɦ/, /j/ and /ʋ/ are primarily approximants, also called semivowels and glides. Afrikaans /j/ is sometimes called a fricative too, for example by Van Wyk (Van Wyk 1977)(Le Roux and Pienaar 1927). Minimal pairs across the approximants exist, such as jaaryear : haarhair/ɦ/ and /j/ are considered to be true consonants, while /ʋ/ is an allophone of the fricative /v/ in onset consonant clusters as /kʋ/ (from /kv/) and /tʋ/ (from /tv/), such as in kweek or kwaal, respectively twee or twaalf. .

These three segments also function as intervocalic glides, as for example in the case of /j/ in [mɑrijɑ] (proper name/Maria/.

For details on the phonological behaviour of these consonants, see (Wissing 1978).

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Approximants (glides; semivowels) are produced by means of gradual articulatory motions, during which the vocal tract is distinctly narrowed, but not closed. As fricatives, however, some constriction of the vocal tract is present.

(1)(a) - (c) provide examples of phonetic realisations where /ɦ/, /j/ and /ʋ/ are intervocalic glides. Note that /ɦ/ appears in all phonetic contexts, but that /j/ and /ʋ/ are in mutually exclusive environments. Read (De Villiers and Ponelis 1992), and Wissing (Wissing 1978) for a detailed description.

Example 1

a. dae day   (sing. dag  ) : [daɦə]   (also [triɦə]  , but [*triʋə]  )
b. eyes  : (sing. oog  ) : [u:ʋə]   (also [u:ʋə]  , but [*ujə]  )
c. treë steps   (sing. tree  ) : [triɦə]   (also [trijə]  , but [*triʋə]  )
[+] Articulatory information

Glides are produced by means of gradual articulatory motions, during which the vocal tract is distinctly narrowed, but not closed. Insofar as they serve as full consonants, specifically fricatives, some constriction of the vocal tract is present. See figure below. /ɦ/ and /j/ are voiced. The former is a glottal sound; the latter is palatal - see the figure of the speech organs below. (MacKAy 1987)(Kent 1992); (Rietveld 1997).


Figure 1: The human speech organs

[click image to enlarge]

[+] Acoustic information

Sound waves (upper window) and spectrogram (lower window) of the nonsense words ʋaʋaʋaʋ, jajajaj and ɦaɦaɦaɦ.


Table 1
Sound Sound waves and spectrogram
[click image to enlarge]

  1. Three wave objects in the same phonetic context CVCVCV (V = /a/ or /ɑ/) are presented in the wave forms (Window A) and spectrograms (Window B). Listen to the accompanying audio file.
  2. The glides /ʋ/ /j/ and /ɦ// are indicated by coloured rectangles; the uncoloured portions correspond to the vowel.
  3. In accordance with their name semivowels, (i.e. glides) are not as prominent as the vowels themselves.
  4. Vowel-like formants are visible, though, especially in the case of /ɦ/, while F2 is clearly present intervocalically.
  5. In [ɦaɦaɦaɦ] the coarticulatory nature of /ɦ/ is prominent - as such, /ɦ/ might be called the neutral glide, in that it takes on the acoustic features of any surrounding vowels.
  6. Diffuse energy is visible in all cases of these three segments.
  7. The fricative nature of the sounds is not visible in this context.

References:
  • Kent, Ray D. and Charles Read1992The acoustics analysis of speechSingular Publishing Group
  • Le Roux, T.H. & Pienaar, P. de V1927Afrikaanse fonetiek.Juta
  • MacKAy, Ian R.I1987Phonetics: the science of speech productionCollege-Hill
  • Rietveld, Antonius C.M. & Heuven, Vincent J. van1997Algemene FonetiekUitgeverij Coutinho
  • Van Wyk, E.B1977Praktiese fonetiek vir taalstudente: 'n inleiding.Butterworth
  • Wissing, D.P1978Oor die fonologie van 'h' en 'j' en 'w' in Afrikaans.Koers4374-95
  • Wissing, D.P1978Oor die fonologie van 'h' en 'j' en 'w' in Afrikaans.Koers4374-95
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