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Onset: sequences of two consonants

Afrikaans allows complex syllable onset consonant clusters, consisting of two or three consonants (CC and CCC). Here we focus on the former.


Figure 1 displays all attested combinations of CC-clusters that can be found in Afrikaans. Vertically, all segments are given that are possible as the first element of a CC-cluster (C1); horizontally, all segments are given that are possible as the second element of a CC-cluster (C2).

Figure 1: Figure 1: Table of all possible Afrikaans onset CC combinations, except for the glottal stop /Ɂ/

[click image to enlarge]

Marginal clusters such as those occurring in loanwords are excluded from Figure 1.

[+] Examples

Table 1: Examples
C1 segment sequence example
/p/ /pl-/ plat/plɑt/flat
/pr-/ praat/prat/talk
/b/ /bl-/ blom/blɔm/flower
/br-/ broek/bruk/trousers
/t/ /tv-/ twee/tve/two
/tr-/ trop/trɔp/herd
/d/ /dv-/ dwars/dvɑrs/contrary
/dr-/ droom/drom/dream
/k/ /kv-/ kwaal/kval/disease
/kl-/ klas/klɑs/class
/kr-/ krag/krɑx/power
/kn-/ kni/kni/knee
/f/ /fl-/ fluit/flœyt/flute
/fr-/ vrag/frɑx/load
/v/ /vr-/ vreed/vred/cruel
/s/ /sl-/ slaag/slax/succeed
/sm-/ smaak/smak/taste
/sn-/ snaar/snar/string
/sp-/ spook/spok/ghost
/st-/ stoel/stul/chair
/sk-/ ski/ski/ski
/sv-/ sweet/svet/sweat
/x/ /xl-/ glas/xlɑs/glass
/xr-/ groen/xrun/green
/v/ /vr-/ wraak/vrak/revenge

In a few cases the phonemic version of the examples differ from their phonetic realisations. Word-final voiced obstruent /d/ in /vred/ become devoiced [t] via the process of final devoicing; /v/ in C2 position (in /tv/ and /dv/) realises as the positional allophone [ʋ].

Note that C1 is always a nonsonorant consonant, more specifically an obstruent (plosive or fricative). Note too that /s/ may combine with plosives too, rendering /sp-, st-, sk-/. See discussion lower down on this topic.

[+] Possible and actual combinations of two consonants (C1C2) in initial onset clusters

The following combinations of sonorant and obstruent consonants (also called [+son] and [-son] consonants) are theoretically possible:

  • sonorant + obstruent
  • sonorant + sonorant
  • obstruent + obstruent
  • obstruent + sonorant

In fact only obstruent + sonorant (e.g. /pl-, br-, tr-, dr-, xr-/ ) is frequently present in Afrikaans, as expected by the sonority hierarchy (Clements 1992). C1, the least sonorant of the two, occurs as expected on the leftmost edge of the sonority scale, followed by a sonorant, C2. The obstruent-sonorant sequence therefore obeys the preference for an increase in sonority within onset clusters. obstruent + obstruent also occurs quite frequently in Afrikaans, but only with initial /s/ (e.g. in /sp-, st-, sk-/. Clusters like /ps-/ and the affricate /tʃ-/ are found solely in loan words (resp. psalm, tjommie ). Note that the /sC/ clusters behave atypically, in the sense that this sequence violates the universal sonority hierarchy mentioned above. Some phonological theories (Kager, R.;Zonneveld, W. 1986) account for the exceptional behaviour of /s/ in this regard, by postulating a different syllable structure for this type of cluster. In doing so, /s/ is allocated to a left appendix position, also called extrametrical. Lubbe (Lubbe 1987) in effect proposes an alternative solution, by taking /sp-, st-, sk-/ as singleton consonants. Under such a solution combinations like /spl-/ and /str-/ (see Onset: sequences of three consonants ) will be viewed as CC clusters, that is C1 = /sp-/ and /st-/, and C2 = /l/ and /r/, respectively.

  • C1: [-son] C2: [+son, -nas, -lat] (covering /pr-, br-, tr-, dr-, kr-, fr-, vr-, xr-; skr-, spr-, str-/
  • C1: [-son, -cor] C2: [+lat] (covering /pl-, bl-, kl-, fl-, xl-/)
  • C1: [-son, +fric, -voice] C2: [+cons, +son] (covering /sn-, sm-, sl-/)
  • C1: [-son, -cont, -delayed release] C2: [+son, -cons, +ant] (covering /tv-, dv-, kv-/)

The following rules covers the most general possible onset clusters:

Instances that are not actual occurring clusters in Afrikaans will be excluded by special filters, for example proposed by Lubbe (Lubbe 1985). Such filters take care of excluding (De Bruto and Wissing 1974)the following nonexisting CC-clusters:

/*tl-, *dl-, *vl*, *sr-, *km-, *pw-, *bw-/

  • Clements, George N1992The sonority cycle and syllable organizationDressler, Wolfgang Ulrich (ed.)Phonologica 1988 : proceedings of the 6th International Phonology MeetingCambridge63-76
  • De Bruto, H.F. & Wissing, D.P1974Aspekte van 'n Afrikaanse TG-fonologie.ReeksMcGraw-Hill
  • Kager, René & Zonneveld, Wim1986Schwa, Syllables and Extrametricality in DutchThe Linguistic Review5197-221
  • Lubbe, H.J1985Die woordinisiële aansetkluster in Afrikaans.Bundels
  • Lubbe, H.J1987Onset sp-, st- and sk- in Germanic languages: cluster or phoneme?South African Journal of Linguistics575-99
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