Spanish phonology

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Main article: Spanish language

By the 16th century the consonantal system of Castilian Spanish underwent the following important changes that differentiated it from such neighbouring Romance languages as Portuguese and Catalan:

  • The initial , which had evolved into a vacillating , was lost in most words (although this etymological h- has been preserved in spelling).
  • The voiced bilabial fricative (written u or v) merged with the bilabial oclusive (written b). Contemporary Spanish letters b and v do not correspond to different phonemes, nor to medieval-Spanish ones.
  • The voiced alveolar fricative (written s between vowels) merged with the voiceless (written s, or ss between vowels), now written s everywhere.
  • Voiced alveolar affricate (written z) merged with the voiceless (written ç, ce, ci), and then evolved into the interdental , now written z, ce, ci. But in Andalucia, the Canary Islands and the Americas these sounds merged with as well. Notice that the ç (c with cedilla) was in its origin a Spanish letter.
  • The voiced postalveolar fricative (written j, ge, gi) merged with the voiceless (written x, as in Quixote), and then evolved by the 17th century into the modern velar sound , now written j, ge, gi.

The consonantal system of Medieval Spanish has been better preserved in Ladino, the language spoken by the descendants of the Sephardic Jews, who were expelled from Spain in the 15th century.

Spanish has many allophones, so it is important here to distinguish phonemes (written in slashes / /) and corresponding allophones (written in brackets [ ]).

Phoneme Sound Spelling Allophones
voiceless bilabial plosive "p" (pipa)
voiced bilabial plosive "b" (burro) or "v" (vaca) appears initially and after nasals (tambor, envidia), approximant elsewhere (nube, la bodega). In rapid speech, can replace in the initial position. After , there is variation among speakers.
voiceless dental plosive "t" (tomate)
voiced dental plosive "d" (dedo) [l]}}, approximant elsewhere (nido, la deuda). In Spain it is usually omitted in the endings -ado, -ada, -ados, and -adas (manadas: ), and less frequently in endings -ido and -idos. In Latin America is omitted in final position: usted = or . In northern Spain and Madrid this phoneme in final position suffers lenition and devoicing, merging with .
voiceless velar plosive "c" (casa), "qu" (queso), "k" (kiosko)
voiced velar plosive "g" (gato), "gu" (guerra). appears initially or after nasals (ganga), approximant elsewhere (lago, la garganta).
voiceless alveolar fricative "s" (sapo) In Northern/Central Spain and Antioquia, Colombia it is apico-alveolar; in Southern Spain and most of Latin America it is lamino-alveolar (often called "dental") .

It becomes the approximant before a rhotic (israelita: ). In many places it is in final position (niños), or before another consonant (fósforo). In the Colombian Caribe produces gemination before or consonants (pescado: or , fósforo: ). In Spain is sometimes postulated a very-lightly-voiced allophone before voiced consonants (desde).

From an autosegmental point of view, the phoneme is defined only by its voiceless and fricative features in northern Spain and Madrid. This means that the point of articulation is not defined and is determined from the sounds following it in the word or sentence. In parts of southern Spain, the only feature defined for appears to be voiceless, adjusting point and mode of articulation to the surround. This explains the observed assimilations (: , : ) in northern and central Spain and (: ) in southern Spain (the 's in actually represent voiceless vowels).

voiceless dental fricative "z" (zorro) or "c" (cielo) This phoneme is heard only in central and northern Spain, where it has perhaps a slightly voiced allophone before voiced consonants (juzgado: or - not the same sound as the allophone). In other dialects it merges with .
voiceless labiodental fricative "f" (faro)
voiceless velar fricative "j" (jarro), "g" (general). In parts of Latin America and southern Spain it is . In parts of South America and Southern Spain it's not pronounced in final position (: )
voiced palatal fricative "y" (yo, yerro, yerba); See also below after it is affricate.

In Argentina and Uruguay it has a or sound.

voiceless postalveolar affricate "ch" (chino). In words of English origin it may be spelled "sh": show = Pronounced as a plosive in European Spanish, something like . In South American Spanish, on the other hand, there are mainly or pronunciations - like French that has also developed from .
In Latin-American Spanish there are five nasal sounds, but they have almost complementary distribution. The only case where there is a phonematic distinction (at least for three of them) is between vowels: como, cono, coño. Castilian Spanish tends to better preserve phonematic distinction, although in rapid or informal speech, it can tend toward the patterns below.
Here the interpretation that preconsonantal has all other sounds as allophones is used.
bilabial nasal "m" (mano) (1) It occurs only before vowels. Before consonants the sound is part of the archiphoneme

álbum: ; réquiem:

alveolar nasal "n" (noche, anterior), "m" (compadre). (2)Positional allophones: before (blanco, un queso), (angustia, un gato), (enjambre, un jarro) or semiconsonant (enhuesar, un huevo, but not nuevo); before (enfermo, un faro); before (inmerecido, un mono), (only on separate words, like in un perro), ("v", like in envolver, or "b" on separate words, like in un burro); before (cónyuge, un yeso), (conllevar, un llavero).

From an autosegmental point of view, , at least in Spain, has not defined the point of articulation. It assimilates to the following consonant.

palatal nasal "ñ" (niño) (3) In parts of Latin America it is pronounced like or (mañana: or ). It occurs only before vowels. Before consonants it is part of the archiphoneme.
Here the interpretation that and are separate phonemes is used.
bilabial nasal "m" (mano), "n" on separate words (un perro). See (1) above.
alveolar nasal "n" (noche, anterior). See (2) above.
palatal nasal "ñ" (niño), "n" (cónyuge, un llavero). See (3) above.
alveolar lateral approximant "l" (largo).
palatal lateral approximant "ll" (lluvia). This phoneme is almost extinct and , and have taken its place. survives in areas of bilingualism with Catalan, Quechua, or other languages that have preserved this phoneme in their inventories (like some places of Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, etc). It also survives in isolated places such as Chiloé, in Chile, and in not bilingual regions of northern Spain.
In Spanish there are two rhotic sounds, but they have an almost complementary distribution. Cases where there is a phonematic distinction is between vowels: caro and carro, and pero and perro. The apparent distinction after is not such; it becomes a trill only in the verbs subrayar and subrogar (and of course, their derivated words).
Here the interpretation that in initial position has an allophone is used.
alveolar flap "r" (loro, abrazar, ratón, enredo). (4) Positional allophones: A trill () in initial position (ratón: ), after (enredo: ), (alrededor: ), or (israelita: , see above).

(5) In Chile in colloquial speech it produces gemination before (carta: ), (carne: ) and (perla: ). In the Colombian Caribe, it produces gemination before almost every consonant (barco: , árbol: , arde: , etc.), and is replaced by in final position (saber: ). In Cuba and Puerto Rico it is replaced by (puerco: ).

alveolar trill "rr" (cerro) It occurs only between vowels, in all other positions it is part of the archphoneme.

(6) In some parts of Latin America, mainly in Ecuador and northern Argentina, it is pronounced similar to (arriba: ).

Here the interpretation that in initial position is a separate phoneme is used.
alveolar flap Spelled "r" (loro, abrazar). See (5) above.
alveolar trill "rr" (cerro), "r" (ratón, enredo, subrayar, israelita, alrededor) See (6) above.
Semivowels and/or Semiconsonants
palatal approximant "y" (muy), "i" (pieza, hierba, hierro) It can be considered an allophone of ; mi amigo: , pierna:
labio-velar approximant "u" (cuatro, guardia), "ü" (agüero), but destruir: , not . It can be considered an allophone of ; tu amigo: , cuanto: .

It's not allowed in initial position, where an epenthetic develops; huevo: , and derived from it deshueve: .

open front unrounded vowel "a", "á" In Andalucia final becomes .
close-mid front unrounded vowel "e", "é" In Andalucia final becomes .
close front unrounded vowel "i", "í" See above. In Andalucia final becomes .
close-mid back rounded vowel "o", "ó" In Andalucia final becomes .
close back rounded vowel "u", "ú", "ü" See semivowel above. In Andalucia final becomes .

See also


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