Sociophonetic aspects of the Afrikaans of "coloured" South African speakers

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To date, the variety of Afrikaans that most coloured people of South Africa use as their home language has been greatly neglected, specifically the sociophonetic characteristics of its vowel system. This is despite the fact that in South Africa it makes up about half of Afrikaans as a whole. According to the 2011 census (Stats S.A. 2011), of the 41 million South Africans, 8,9% were coloured, just as many as white South Africans, which makes it necessary even in terms of numbers alone to get equal scholarly attention, not only as to language typology, but also in the first place regarding purely descriptively speaking. The present article aims at narrowing this gap regarding the linguistic features of this very important variety of Afrikaans. In this contribution I motivate and use the name Bruinafrikaans, a term that still has not been out of contention and has thus been acknowledged in the field of sociophonetics. Referring to Bruinafrikaans, of course, implies that one has to do with one, single, more or less homogeneous entity, as spoken by a similarly homogeneous group of people. In this study I considered this possibility from recordings made in nine different localities spread over South Africa, where significant concentrations of these speakers are found. The provinces where recordings were made are the Western Cape (Cape Flats: Delft, Blikkiesdorp, Bonteheuwel, Elsiesrivier, Langa, Mitchells Plain, Ravensmead and Steenberg); the Boland (Robertson); the Southern Cape (De Rust, George, Dysselsdorp, Oudtshoorn, Ladismith and Mossel Bay); and the district of Matzikama on the West Coast. Eastern Cape’s participants come from Cradock, Dispatch, Graaff-Reinet, Humansdorp, Janseville, Joubertina, Middelburg, Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha) and Uitenhage. In the Northern Cape participants were recruited in and around Kakamas and also Springbok. Participants from Northwest were inhabitants of Promosa (Potchefstroom). Residents of Bergmanshoogte, Philippolis and the Free State were involved as readers. Finally, in Namibia’s case, participants were from Gobabis and surrounding areas. Ponelis (1999) included this part of Namibia in his main classification of Northwestern Afrikaans, which justifies the incorporation of these speakers in the present study. Many of the coloured people here identify themselves as Basters, Coloureds, Namas, Hereros, and Ovambos, making it a rich collection of Afrikaans speakers; and, important for later comparison with the other survey areas, the Hereros and Ovambos in particular are originally derived from other language groups.

An acoustic description of the vowels was presented and elicited using the well-known method of the readings of a word list as read by a total of 329 speakers. The relevant vowels, (/i/, /y/, /e/, /ø/, /ɛ/, /ɑ/, /a/, /ə/, /œ/, /ɔ/, /o/, /u/) are those of the words kies, nuus, bees, reus, ses, bas, baas, kis, bus, bos, boot, koek. /əi/, /œy/, /œu/ are the diphthongs in byl, uit and oud. To achieve this study’s research aims I focused on one important segment only: the long, low vowel in the word baas (referred to in this article as BAAS).

This study used a relatively new method of voice recording using smartphones, making it feasible and relatively affordable to collect a wide range of recordings nationwide. Surveys were conducted predominantly by competent facilitators in the locations mentioned above. Recordings were sent by the facilitators to a central point via WhatsApp for processing and analysis. The relevant spectral properties of the vowels were extracted, based on which vowels of 329 speakers in total were analysed and described. For this purpose, acoustic information of vowels in terms of the vowel formant frequencies of all collected speech recordings was extracted. This was limited to the first two vowel formants, F1 and F2, as is usually done in similar studies.

Instead of the usual way of calculating, presenting and interpreting differences between groups of vowels, using statistical significance (customarily ANOVA tests), I made use of practical significance (specifically via effect sizes à la Cohen 1988). Thus differences are expressed in terms of d values instead of p values.

First, I tabularise formant values of all vowels’ renditions of all speakers, and thereafter I present a brief illustration of how I handle these results, using the BAAS vowel in the word baas. The BAAS vowel is a potentially important vowel because it lends itself particularly well to a closer look into the possibility of the working of among others the factor age. By comparing the acoustic property F2, the primary acoustic feature of the articulatory trait of vowel backness, the degree of diachronic stability of this vowel could possibly be discovered. This is of interest in a broader sociolinguistic perspective concerning facets of language variation and change. It is widely assumed that younger speakers tend to show pronunciation changes compared with those of older speakers within the same language community.

F2 valid measurements of BAAS of the 117 old participants of all ten locations versus the 215 young speakers reveal a remarkable degree of similarity (1 412 Hz vs 1 431 Hz). This difference is virtually zero in terms of effect sizes (d = 0,086). This is an indication of the very stable nature of Bruinafrikaans, and also contrary to the general expectation in the cadre of language variation and change, contrary to the situation in the case of the so-called standard variety of Afrikaans as spoken by a large portion of white speakers. Young white speakers are strongly inclined towards rounding of the BAAS vowel (1 015 Hz for 20 female speakers in another study).

By and large, the results of this sociophonetic study clearly show that Bruinafrikaans is a relatively homogeneous entity, as well as a very stable variant, in which few differences are found regarding the sociolinguistic factors of geographic location, age and gender. This preliminary findings will be investigated in more detail in forthcoming studies.

Keywords: acoustic features; age; Bruinafrikaans; coloured; denomination; ethnicity, gender; geographic location; language typology; sociophonetics; spectral features; vowel; vowel frequency; vowel system


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