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Volume 55, Issue 5


The embedded indexical value of /s/-fronting in Afrikaans and South African English

Ian Bekker
  • School of Languages, North-West University, Internal Box 493, Private Bag X6001, Potchefstroom Campus, Potchefstroom 2520, South Africa
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/ Erez Levon
Published Online: 2017-09-06 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling-2017-0022


This paper examines the indexical value of /s/-fronting in White Afrikaans and in White South African English (WSAfE). Prior research on this feature has shown that fronted articulations of /s/ in WSAfE serve as a regional and social indicator of the wealthy northern suburbs of Johannesburg, and anecdotal evidence suggests that the feature carries a similar meaning in White Afrikaans. This study therefore aims to examine whether the variable carries similar meanings across the two languages. Data are based on the evaluative reactions toward different experimental stimuli that were presented to 214 Afrikaans-English bilinguals in South Africa during a modified matched-guise task. The results indicate that /s/-fronting in a man’s voice is perceived in similar terms in White Afrikaans and WSAfE though it carries somewhat different meanings across the two languages when it occurs in a woman’s voice, a difference related in turn to different approaches to gender across the two speech communities. The results of this research, and the indexical value of /s/-fronting in the two languages, are therefore only understandable in terms of certain sociohistorical and sociological differences between the two speech communities. The article ends with some discussion relating to the possible source of the relevant similarities and differences, i.e., parallel innovation or sociophonetic transfer.

Keywords: /s/-fronting; Afrikaans; White South African English; perception; South Africa


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About the article

Published Online: 2017-09-06

Published in Print: 2017-09-26

Citation Information: Linguistics, Volume 55, Issue 5, Pages 1109–1139, ISSN (Online) 1613-396X, ISSN (Print) 0024-3949, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling-2017-0022.

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