A Comparative and Phonetico-Phonological Experimental Study of Preferred Syllable Structures in Zulu and Xhosa Adoptives


African Humanities Program Postdoctoral Fellowships


Centre for Language & Speech Technology


Languages in contact invariably adopt words from one another and regularly adapt these words to fit the phonotactic as well as phonetic structure of the particular language. The occurrence of adoptives (loanwords) in African languages is a case in point, particularly as new terms (technical and otherwise) are generated in larger languages of the world such as English and French and, out of necessity, find their way into local languages. A “Preferred Syllable” hypothesis states that a language has an inherent set of preferred syllables (i.e. specific combinations of consonant and vowel types) with the preferred syllable taking precedence in the case of trans-phonologisation.This research project (i) tests the above hypothesis with a focus on the nature of syllable structures of Zulu and Xhosa, (ii) conducts a series of perception and/or articulatory tests with mother tongue speakers/listeners of, respectively, Zulu and Xhosa to determine a possible relationship to syllable structures, and (iii) considers sociolinguistic factors that could contribute to a preference for a particular syllable structure.