Voicing in non-click consonants and orthographic design in Khoekhoegowab

Published in: South African Journal of African Languages
Volume 38, issue 1, 2018 , pages: 1–11
DOI: 10.1080/02572117.2018.1429852
Author(s): Niklaas J FredericksDepartment of Communication, Namibia, Felix BandaDepartment of Linguistics, South Africa


The debate about whether Khoekhoegowab has voicing contrast has been going on since the turn of the last century. Although it is said that there is no difference in pronunciation between b, d, g and p, t, k in Khoekhoegowab, one consistently finds b, d, g paired with p, t and k in the literature. The aim of this paper is to contribute to the debate on phonetic aspects of the consonant system of Khoekhoegowab, particularly focusing on the efficacy of using the apparently contrastive pairs of consonants to depict tonal differences, which are aspects of vowels in this case. By means of (near) minimal pair tests, individual and focus group interviews with mother tongue speakers from three dialects and PRAAT spectrograms, it was found without exception that the respondents did not pronounce the consonant pairs b/p, d/t, and g/k the same as is indicated in the literature. We contend that since the association of apparent voiced and voiceless consonants b/p, d/t, and g/k has been present for more than a century, it means that speakers have been making these contrasts in their speech, so that the argument that the pair should be treated as one and the same phoneme requires further scrutiny. We conclude by suggesting a phonetic table showing voicing contrast in Khoekhoegowab consonants.

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