Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
WISSING, Daan. The waltz of Afrikaans "a" with "l". Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2014, vol.54, n.2, pp.248-266. ISSN 2224-7912.
The present study is a follow-up of previous ones on the rounding of the long low /a/ vowel in Afrikaans, a relatively new sound variation. Against the background of existing descriptions I report a similar tendency of rounding of short /α/ vowel, specifically when followed by the lateral consonant /l/. I suggest an explanation of such rounding as being the result of a process of coarticulation, specifically under the influence of a distinct dark, retroflex quality of this lateral. A post hoc investigation with an ultrasound scanner and lip video camera confirmed this to be the case. The vowel productions of a single speaker, known to be a clear rounding of long /a/ was explored in an extensively designed case study. The phenomenon of /a/-rounding implies a qualitative change of the /a/ to [n] as in [jn] (ja; "yes") and in [snnks (snaaks; "funny"). Apart from superficial references to its existence in linguistic handbooks, such as De Villiers and Ponelis (1987:100), the first systematic study was done by Wissing (2006), followed-up by more recent other studies (Wissing 2010; 2013). Rounding is currently seemingly limited to the speech of young adult female speakers of Afrikaans, but it appears as if it has lately been spreading to the broader Afrikaans speaking community at a rather noticeable pace. It is provoking extremely negative reactions in especially the case of older, or more conservative Afrikaans speaking persons. On the other hand, younger users of Afrikaans do not even seem to notice the existence of this phenomenon, especially in their own language use. Such a vowel change is apparently part of a larger vowel shift which has recently been taking place, viz. the lowering of the front-mid vowel /e/ to almost the position of the short low /a/, or the shifting of /u/ from a back to a more centralised position (cf. Wissing 2010). Broadly defined, language change is a topic that integrates the social as well as the cognitive aspects of what it means to be human. A central feature of a language in the process of change is variation. During a period of change, there is variation in the language between forms that represent the current/previous stage and forms that represent the innovative/new stage of the language. Consequently, the rounding of/a/ could be of linguistic significance when considered against this general linguistic backdrop. The present investigation aims in particular at both broadening, developing and understanding of /a/-rounding to [a] in modern Afrikaans. In order to achieve this, firstly the existing knowledge concerning this phenomenon was summarised, whereafter a variety of carefully constructed stimuli were used in an in-depth case study of the pronunciation of a young female radio presenter at Radio Sonder Grense, the leading Afrikaans public broadcaster (hence referred to as C). The testing material was created with a view to obtaining a fuller understanding of /a/-rounding to [α] in Afrikaans in two respects. Firstly, the stimulus series concerning the degree to which long /a/ vowels are subjected to such rounding was expanded considerably. Secondly, stimuli were included with the aim of examining the possible co-articulatory influence of the rounding of /a/ followed by the lateral consonant /l/ (characterised as a dark l in the case of English pronunciation) on especially the short /a/-vowel, as in wals ("waltz"). Dark /l/ has received much attention in literature. Moreover, word frequency also has been shown (Lin, Beddor & Coetzee 2013) to influence the magnitude of the tongue tip gesture in laterals, especially with regard to /l/ vocalization. It might be applicable on the case of /l/-velarisation as well. Degree of darkness, differences in articulatory closure, dorsopalatal contact size, closure duration, relative timing of events and formant frequency (cf. Recasens & Espinosa 2005) are some of the important factors to take into account when studying this consonant and its co-articulatory effects on phonetic environment. Up until now none of these have been mentioned in Afrikaans phonetic literature. In the present article I superficially touch on some of them. Obviously these facets deserve fundamental attention. I utilised three different types of recording tasks, namely firstly the reading of carrier phrases containing a focus form with the structure /sVs/ (eg. among others, saas and sas); secondly, the naming of the letters of the alphabet (with an interest in a, h, k; all pronounced with a long [a]), and thirdly, the reading of a variety of isolated words and phrases, mostly containing words relevant to this study. In some cases C was prompted to orally complete a task, for example, a noun like val was to be read, but its diminutive (valletjie) and plural forms (valle) were to be completed without visual stimulus. Syllable structure was controlled systematically. In the case of val, /a/ appears in a closed syllable, but in valletjie and valle the syllables are open. These tasks had to be carried out twice. Recordings were done with high quality equipment, in use by RSG. Processing and acoustic analyses of the recordings were performed by means of standard procedures. As is conventional in studies of this nature, acoustic characteristics of the production of long /a/ and short /Q/ were investigated via vowel formant frequencies, F1 as well as F2. F1, the first formant, corresponds to vowel openness (vowel height). An open vowel, such as /a/, has high F1 frequencies, while close vowels, like /i/, have low F1 frequencies. The second formant, F2, corresponds to the front positions of a vowel. Back vowels, which are normally at the same time also rounded, have low F2 frequencies, in contrast to front vowels, which have high F2 frequencies. Generally the results clearly confirm the audible perception that C is a strong rounder of the long /a/. There is a very positive correlation between C's acoustic measurements and that previously found for another young female individual (Wissing 2006) as well as that of twenty others of about the same age (Wissing 2013). This finding strongly suggests a restriction on the number of participants as well as the range of required stimuli in instances of experiments of this kind, especially in the case of pilot studies. The role of syllable structure was found to be of limited importance. The short /a / was rounded to a significant degree when followed by /l/ in open as well as closed syllables, but to a small degree as in the case of open syllables. Of special importance is the finding that F1 also plays a significant role in the expression of degree of roundedness of the /a/ vowel, albeit not quite to the same extent as is the case with F2, generally considered to be the sole carrier of roundedness. The fact that the rounded [n] is frequently misinterpreted (as the rounded vowel [o] (in kom "come")), from a perceptual angle supports the current results of the analysis of the rounded [n] in Afrikaans. Of course, [o] is characterised inter alia by a higher F1 than that of the unrounded [a]. In many languages the existence of dark /l/ ([f]) is well-known (cf. Hamann 2003; also Lin, Beddor & Coetzee 2014 and references cited by them). With regard to Afrikaans, a co-articulatory effect of this lateral was found to be clearly manifested in the present study on the rounding to [a] of the short /a/, but also of the long /a/. In a broader linguistic perspective the present findings should be of distinctive importance to those interested in language change in general, and more specifically in sound variation.
Keywords : a/-rounding; acoustic analysis; case study; classic Afrikaans; co-articulation; dark [f]; /l/-velarisation; Modern Afrikaans; formant frequency; vowel language change.