Key to pronunciation: South African English

View the pronunciation model for South African English here.

The pronunciations given are those in use among educated urban speakers of standard English in South Africa, broadly corresponding to the form often described as ‘General White South African English’. While avoiding strongly regionally or socially marked forms, they are intended to include the most common variants for each word. The keywords given in this key are to be understood as pronounced in such speech.

Words associated with South Africa are given British and American pronunciations alongside the South African English pronunciation(s). Where a word is associated with an additional part of the English-speaking world, further pronunciations in the appropriate global variety of English are also given.

To hear the pronunciation spoken aloud, click the blue play icon to the left of each transcription.


South African English As in…
i happy
ɪ kit
e dress
æ trap
ɑː bath, start, palm
ɒ lot, cloth
ʌ cup
ʊ foot
ɜː nurse
ɪə here
ɛː square
ʊə cure
ɔː hawk, force
ə alpha, letter
əʊ goat
ɔɪ choice

The symbols used for several of the South African vowels are less precise than their use in other varieties. For example, in some words the /ɪ/ vowel will sound closer to /ə/ whilst still being in a stressed syllable. Some vowels reflected as /ɒ/ may sound similar to /ɔː/ but significantly shorter. Some vowels transcribed as /e/ may sound longer, or some transcribed as /eɪ/ sound more steady (a sound like /eː/). In some words, /ʌ/ and /æ/ may also sound very similar to each other.


South African English As in…
b big /bɪɡ/
d dig /dɪɡ/
jet /dʒet/
ð then /ðen/
f fig /fɪɡ/
ɡ get /ɡet/
h head /hed/
j yes /jes/
k kit /kɪt/
l leg /leɡ/
ɬ ɬeg lekgotla /leˈɡɒtɬə/
m mud /mʌd/
n net /net/
ŋ thing /θɪŋ/
p pit /pɪt/
r red /red/
s sit /sɪt/
ʃ ship /ʃɪp/
t tip /tɪp/
chip /tʃɪp/
θ thin /θɪn/
v vet /vet/
w win /wɪn/
z zip /zɪp/
ʒ vision /ˈvɪʒ(ə)n/
x agterskot /ˈʌxtəskɒt/

The consonants l, m, and n can take on the function of a vowel in some unstressed syllables. It should generally be clear when this interpretation is intended, but in cases of potential ambiguity, the consonant symbol may appear with a diacritic, as in the British and U.S. pronunciations. A bracketed /(ə)/ indicates that some speakers may not pronounce the /ə/; in some cases this means the following consonant would take on the function of the vowel (e.g. U.S. saddle /ˈsæd(ə)l/).

Afrikaans uses a sound similar to /t/ and /k/ but made in the same part of the mouth as /j/, which may appear in some speakers’ pronunciations in English, but the OED reflects their common anglicized forms of /tʃ/ or /k/. Similarly, African click sounds are shown as their common anglicized forms, highly variable but often as /g/, /k/ and/or /h/.

Syllable-final /b/, /d/, /g/, /v/, /ð/, /z/, /ʒ/ and /dʒ/ may be often pronounced as their voiceless counterparts (/p/, /t/, /k/, /f/, /θ/, /s/, /ʃ/ and /tʃ/, respectively) and both options are usually given (e.g. baardman /ˈbɑːdmən, ˈbɑːtmən/, but baartman only /ˈbɑːtmən/).


The symbol ˈ at the beginning of a syllable indicates that that syllable is pronounced with primary stress. The symbol ˌ at the beginning of a syllable indicates that that syllable is pronounced with secondary stress. The symbol ˈˌ at the beginning of a syllable indicates that that syllable may be pronounced with either primary or secondary stress.