Spanish Phonology
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Spanish Phonology

This article is about the phonology and phonetics of the Spanish language. Unless otherwise noted, statements refer to Castilian Spanish, the standard dialect used in Spain on radio and television.[1][2][3][4] For historical development of the sound system see History of Spanish. For details of geographical variation see Spanish dialects and varieties.

Phonemes are written inside slashes (/ /) and allophones inside brackets ([ ]).


The phonemes /b/, /d/, and /?/ are realized as approximants (namely [, ð?, ], hereafter represented without the downtack) or fricatives[6] in all places except after a pause, after a nasal consonant, or--in the case of /d/--after a lateral consonant; in such contexts they are realized as voiced stops.[7]

The phoneme /?/ is realized as an approximant in all contexts except after a pause, a nasal, or a lateral. In these environments, it may be realized as an affricate .[8][9] The approximant allophone differs from non-syllabic /i/ in a number of ways; it has a lower F2 amplitude, is longer, can only appear in the syllable onset (including word-initially, where non-syllabic /i/ normally never appears), is a palatal fricative in emphatic pronunciations, and is unspecified for rounding (e.g. viuda 'widow' vs ayuda 'help').[10] The two also overlap in distribution after /l/ and /n/: enyesar ('to plaster') aniego ('flood').[9] Although there is dialectal and ideolectal variation, speakers may also exhibit other near-minimal pairs like abyecto ('abject') vs abierto ('opened').[11][12] There are some alternations between the two, prompting scholars like Alarcos Llorach (1950)[13] to postulate an archiphoneme /I/, so that ley would be transcribed phonemically as /'leI/ and leyes as /'leIes/.

In a number of varieties, including some American ones, a process parallel to the one distinguishing non-syllabic /i/ from consonantal /?/ occurs for non-syllabic /u/ and a rare consonantal /w?/.[9][14] Near-minimal pairs include deshuesar ('to bone') vs. desuello ('skinning'), son huevos ('they are eggs') vs son nuevos ('they are new'),[15] and huaca ('Indian grave') vs u oca ('or goose').[16]

Many young Argentinians have no distinct /?/ phoneme and use the /ni/ sequence instead, thus making no distinction between huraño and uranio (both [u'?anjo]).[17]

The phoneme /?/ (as distinct from /?/) is found in some areas in Spain (mostly northern and rural) and some areas of South America (mostly highlands).

Most varieties spoken in Spain, including those prevalent on radio and television, have both /?/ and /s/ distinción. However, speakers in parts of southern Spain, the Canary Islands, nearly all of Latin America have only /s/ (seseo). Some speakers in southernmost Spain (especially coastal Andalusia) have only (a consonant similar to /?/) and not /s/ (ceceo). This "ceceo" is not entirely unknown in the Americas, especially in coastal Peru. The phoneme /s/ has three different pronunciations ("laminal s", "apical s" or "apical dental s") depending on dialect. The word distinción itself is pronounced with /?/ in varieties that have it.

The phonemes /t/ and /d/ are laminal denti-alveolars ([t?, d?]).[7] The phoneme /s/ becomes dental [s?] before denti-alveolar consonants,[8] while /?/ remains interdental [] in all contexts.[8]

Before front vowels /i, e/, the velar consonants /k, ?, x/ (including the lenited allophone of /?/) are realized as post-palatal [k?, , x?, ].[18]

According to some authors,[19]/x/ is post-velar or uvular in the Spanish of northern and central Spain.[20][21][22][23] Others[24] describe /x/ as velar in European Spanish, with a uvular allophone appearing before /o/ and /u/ (including when /u/ is in the syllable onset as [w]).[8]

A common pronunciation of /f/ in nonstandard speech is the voiceless bilabial fricative , so that fuera is pronounced ['?we?a] rather than ['fwe?a].[25][26][27][28][29][30][31] In some Extremaduran, western Andalusian, and American varieties, this softened realization of /f/, when it occurs before /w/, is subject to merger with /x/; in some areas the homophony of fuego/juego is resolved by replacing fuego with lumbre or candela.[32][33]

/?/ is a marginal phoneme that occurs only in loanwords or certain dialects; many speakers have difficulty with this sound, tending to replace it with /t?/ or /s/. In a number of dialects (most notably, Northern Mexican Spanish, informal Chilean Spanish, and some Caribbean and Andalusian accents) occurs, as a deaffricated /t?/.[26] In addition, [?] occurs in Rioplatense Spanish as spoken across Argentina and Uruguay, where it is otherwise standard for the phonemes /?/ to be realized as voiced palato-alveolar fricative instead of [?], a feature called "zheísmo".[34] In the last few decades, it has further become popular, particularly among younger speakers from Buenos Aires, to de-voice /?/ to ("sheísmo").[35]

Consonant neutralizations

Some of the phonemic contrasts between consonants in Spanish are lost in certain phonological environments, and especially in syllable-final position. In these cases the phonemic contrast is said to be neutralized.


Nasals and laterals

The three nasal phonemes--/m/, /n/, and /?/--maintain their contrast when in syllable-initial position (e.g. cama 'bed', cana 'grey hair', caña 'sugar cane'). In syllable-final position, this three-way contrast is lost as nasals assimilate to the place of articulation of the following consonant[8]--even across a word boundary;[36] or, if a nasal is followed by a pause rather than a consonant, it is realized for most speakers as alveolar [n] (though in Caribbean varieties this may instead be or an omitted nasal with nasalization of the preceding vowel).[37][38] Thus /n/ is realized as [m] before labial consonants, and as before velar ones.

Similarly, /l/ assimilates to the place of articulation of a following coronal consonant, i.e. a consonant that is interdental, dental, alveolar, or palatal.[39][40][41]

+Assimilatory nasal and lateral allophones in Spanish
nasal lateral
word IPA gloss word IPA gloss
invierno 'winter'
ánfora 'amphora'
encía 'gum' alzar 'to raise'
antes 'before' alto 'tall'
ancha 'wide' colcha 'quilt'
nyuge 'spouse'
rincón 'corner'
enjuto 'thin'

The alveolar trill and the alveolar tap are in phonemic contrast word-internally between vowels (as in carro 'car' vs caro 'expensive'), but are otherwise in complementary distribution. Only the trill can occur after /l/, /n/, or /s/ (e.g. alrededor, enriquecer, Israel), and word-initially (e.g. rey 'king'). After a stop or fricative consonant (but not /s/), only the tap can occur (e.g. tres 'three', frío 'cold').

In syllable-final position, inside a word, the tap is more frequent, but the trill can also occur (especially in emphatic[42] or oratorical[43] style) with no semantic difference--thus arma ('weapon') may be either ['a?ma] (tap) or ['arma] (trill).[44]

In word-final position the rhotic is usually:

  • either a tap or a trill when followed by a consonant or a pause, as in amo[? ~ r] paterno ('paternal love'), the former being more common;[45]
  • a tap when followed by a vowel-initial word, as in amo[?] eterno ('eternal love').

When two rhotics occur consecutively across a word or prefix boundary, they result in one trill, so that da rocas ('s/he gives rocks') and dar rocas ('to give rocks') are either neutralized, or distinguished by a longer trill in the latter phrase.[46]

The tap/trill alternation has prompted a number of authors to postulate a single underlying rhotic; the intervocalic contrast then results from gemination (e.g. tierra /'tiea/ > ['tjera] 'earth').[47][48][49]


The phonemes /?/, /s/,[8] and /f/[50][51] become voiced before voiced consonants as in jazmín ('Jasmine') [xað'min], rasgo ('feature') ['raz?o], and Afganistán ('Afghanistan') [av?anis'tan]. There is a certain amount of free variation in this so that jazmín can be pronounced [xa?'min] or [xað'min].[52]

Both in casual and in formal speech, there is no phonemic contrast between voiced and voiceless consonants placed in syllable-final position. The merged phoneme is typically pronounced as a relaxed, voiced fricative or approximant,[53] although a variety of other realizations are also possible. So the clusters -bt- and -pt- in the words obtener and optimista are pronounced exactly the same way:

  • obtener /obte'ner/ > [o?te'ner]
  • optimista /obti'mista/ > [o?ti'mista]

Similarly, the spellings -dm- and -tm- are often merged in pronunciation, as well as -gd- and -cd-:

  • adminículo
  • atmosférico
  • amígdala
  • anécdota


Spanish vowel chart, from Ladefoged & Johnson (2010:227)

Spanish has five vowels, /i/, /u/, /e/, /o/ and /a/ (the same that are found in Asturian, Aragonese, Basque and Leonese). Each occurs in both stressed and unstressed syllables:[54]

Examples of Spanish vowels
stressed unstressed
word gloss word gloss
piso 'I step' pi 's/he stepped'
pujo 'I bid' (present tense) pu 's/he bid'
peso 'I weigh' pe 's/he weighed'
poso 'I pose' po 's/he posed'
paso 'I pass' pa 's/he passed'

Nevertheless, there are some distributional gaps or rarities. For instance, an unstressed close vowel in the final syllable of a word is rare.[55]

Because of substratal Quechua, at least some speakers from southern Colombia down through Peru can be analyzed to have only three vowel phonemes /i, u, a/, as the close [i, u] are continually confused with the mid [e, o], resulting in pronunciations such as [dol'so?a] for dulzura ('sweetness'). When Quechua-dominant bilinguals have /e, o/ in their phonemic inventory, they realize them as [?, ?], which are heard by outsiders as variants of /i, u/.[56] Both of those features are viewed as strongly non-standard by other speakers.


Phonetic nasalization occurs for vowels occurring between nasal consonants or when preceding a syllable-final nasal, e.g. cinco ['ko] ('five').[54]

Arguably, Eastern Andalusian and Murcian Spanish have ten phonemic vowels, with each of the above vowels paired by a lowered or fronted and lengthened version, e.g. la madre [la 'mað?e] ('the mother') vs. las madres [læ?: 'mæ?:ð:] ('the mothers').[57] However, these are more commonly analyzed as allophones triggered by an underlying /s/ that is subsequently deleted.

Exact number of allophones

There is no agreement among scholars on how many vowel allophones Spanish has; an often[58] postulated number is five [i, u, e?, o?, a?].

Some scholars,[59] however, state that Spanish has eleven allophones: the close and mid vowels have close [i, u, e, o] and open [i?, u?, ?, ?] allophones, whereas /a/ appears in front , central and back variants. These symbols appear only in the narrowest variant of phonetic transcription; in more broad variants, only the symbols [i, u, e, o, a] are used,[60] and that is the convention adopted in this article as well (save for this section, for the sake of clarity).

Tomás Navarro Tomás describes the distribution of said eleven allophones as follows:[61]

  • Close vowels /i, u/
    • The close allophones are phonetically close [i, u], and appear in open syllables, e.g. in the words libre ['lie] 'free' and subir [su'?ir] 'to raise'
    • The open allophones are phonetically near-close [i?, u?], and appear:
      • In closed syllables, e.g. in the word fin [fi?n] 'end'
      • In both open and closed syllables when in contact with /r/, e.g. in the words rico ['ri?ko] 'rich' and rubio ['rujo] 'blond'
      • In both open and closed syllables when before /x/, e.g. in the words hijo ['i?xo] 'son' and pu [pu?'xo] 's/he bid'
  • Mid front vowel /e/
    • The close allophone is phonetically close-mid , and appears:
      • In open syllables, e.g. in the word dedo ['deðo] 'finger'
      • In closed syllables when before /m, n, t, ?, s/, e.g. in the word Valencia [ba?'len?ja?] 'Valencia'
    • The open allophone is phonetically open-mid , and appears:
      • In open syllables when in contact with /r/, e.g. in the words guerra ['ra?] 'war' and reto ['r?to] challenge
      • In closed syllables when not followed by /m, n, t, ?, s/, e.g. in the word belga ['b?l?a?] 'Belgian'
      • In the diphthong /ei/, e.g. in the words peine ['p?ine] 'comb' and rey ['r?i] king
  • Mid back vowel /o/
    • The close allophone is phonetically close-mid , and appears in open syllables, e.g. in the word como ['komo] 'how'
    • The open allophone is phonetically open-mid , and appears:
      • In closed syllables, e.g. in the word con [k?n] 'with'
      • In both open and closed syllables when contact with /r/, e.g. in the words corro ['k?r?] 'I run', barro ['bar?] 'mud', and roble ['rle] 'oak'
      • In both open and closed syllables when before /x/, e.g. in the word ojo ['?xo] 'eye'
      • In the diphthong /oi/, e.g. in the word hoy [?i] 'today'
      • In stressed position when preceded by /a/ and followed by either /?/ or /l/, e.g. in the word ahora [?'a?] 'now'
  • Open central vowel /a/
    • The front allophone is phonetically front , and appears:
      • Before palatal consonants, e.g. in the word despacho [des'pat?o] 'office'
      • In the diphthong /ai/, e.g. in the word aire ['ai?e] 'air'
    • The back allophone is phonetically back , and appears:
      • Before the back vowels /u, o/, e.g. in the word flauta ['fl?uta?] 'flute'
      • In closed syllables before /l/, e.g. in the word sal [s?l] 'salt'
      • In both open and closed syllables when before /x/, e.g. in the word tajada [t?'xa?ða?] 'chop'
    • The central allophone appears in all other cases, e.g. in the word casa ['ka?sa?]

According to Eugenio Martínez Celdrán, however, systematic classification of Spanish allophones is impossible due to the fact that their occurrence varies from speaker to speaker and from region to region. According to him, the exact degree of openness of Spanish vowels depends not so much on the phonetic environment, but rather on various external factors accompanying speech.[62]

Diphthongs and triphthongs

Spanish diphthongs[54]
IPA Example Meaning
/ai/ aire air
/au/ pausa pause
/ei/ rey king
/eu/ neutro neutral
/oi/ hoy today
/ou/[63] bou seine fishing
/ja/ hacia towards
/je/ tierra earth
/jo/ radio radio
/ju/ viuda widow
/wa/ cuadro picture
/we/ fuego fire
/wi/[64] buitre vulture
/wo/ cuota quota

Spanish has six falling diphthongs and eight rising diphthongs. While many diphthongs are historically the result of a recategorization of vowel sequences (hiatus) as diphthongs, there is still lexical contrast between diphthongs and hiatus.[65] There are also some lexical items that vary amongst speakers and dialects between hiatus and diphthong: words like biólogo ('biologist') with a potential diphthong in the first syllable and words like diálogo with a stressed or pretonic sequence of /i/ and a vowel vary between a diphthong and hiatus.[66]Chi?oran & Hualde (2007) hypothesize that this is because vocalic sequences are longer in these positions.

In addition to synalepha across word boundaries, sequences of vowels in hiatus become diphthongs in fast speech; when this happens, one vowel becomes non-syllabic (unless they are the same vowel, in which case they fuse together) as in poeta ['po?eta] ('poet') and maestro ['mae?st?o] ('teacher').[67] Similarly, the relatively rare diphthong /eu/ may be reduced to [u] in certain unstressed contexts, as in Eufemia, [u'femja].[68] In the case of verbs like aliviar ('relieve'), diphthongs result from the suffixation of normal verbal morphology onto a stem-final /j/ (that is, aliviar would be |alibj| + |ar|).[69] This contrasts with verbs like ampliar ('to extend') which, by their verbal morphology, seem to have stems ending in /i/.[70] Spanish also possesses triphthongs like /wei/ and, in dialects that use a second person plural conjugation, /jai/, /jei/, and /wai/ (e.g. buey, 'ox'; cambiáis, 'you change'; cambiéis, '(that) you may change'; and averiguáis, 'you ascertain').[71]

Non-syllabic /e/ and /o/ can be reduced to [?], [w?], as in beatitud [b?ati'tuð] ('beatitude') and poetisa [pw?e'tisa] ('poetess'), respectively; similarly, non-syllabic /a/ can be completely elided, as in (e.g. ahorita [o'?ita] 'right away'). The frequency (though not the presence) of this phenomenon differs amongst dialects, with a number having it occur rarely and others exhibiting it always.[72]


Spanish is usually considered a syllable-timed language. Even so, stressed syllables can be up to 50% longer in duration than non-stressed syllables.[73][74][75] Although pitch, duration, and loudness contribute to the perception of stress,[76] pitch is the most important in isolation.[77]

Primary stress occurs on the penultima (the next-to-last syllable) 80% of the time. The other 20% of the time, stress falls on the ultima and antepenultima (third-to-last syllable).[78]

Nonverbs are generally stressed on the penultimate syllable for vowel-final words and on the final syllable of consonant-final words. Exceptions are marked orthographically (see below), whereas regular words are underlyingly phonologically marked with a stress feature [+stress].[79]

In addition to exceptions to these tendencies, particularly learned words from Greek and Latin that feature antepenultimate stress, there are numerous minimal pairs which contrast solely on stress such as sábana ('sheet') and sabana ('savannah'), as well as límite ('boundary'), limite ('[that] he/she limit') and limité ('I limited').

Lexical stress may be marked orthographically with an acute accent (ácido, distinción, etc.). This is done according to the mandatory stress rules of Spanish orthography, which are similar to the tendencies above (differing with words like distinción) and are defined so as to unequivocally indicate where the stress lies in a given written word. An acute accent may also be used to differentiate homophones, such as mi (my), and (me). In such cases, the accent is used on the homophone that normally receives greater stress when used in a sentence.

Lexical stress patterns are different between words carrying verbal and nominal inflection: in addition to the occurrence of verbal affixes with stress (something absent in nominal inflection), underlying stress also differs in that it falls on the last syllable of the inflectional stem in verbal words while those of nominal words may have ultimate or penultimate stress.[80] In addition, amongst sequences of clitics suffixed to a verb, the rightmost clitic may receive secondary stress, e.g. búscalo /'buska?lo/ ('look for it').[81]


A number of alternations exist in Spanish that reflect diachronic changes in the language and arguably reflect morphophonological processes rather than strictly phonological ones. For instance, a number of words alternate between /k/ and /?/ or /?/ and /x/, with the latter in each pair appearing before a front vowel:[82]

Examples of Spanish alternations
word gloss word gloss
opaco /o'pako/ 'opaque' opacidad /opa?i'dad/ 'opacity'
sueco /'sweko/ 'Swedish' Suecia /'swe?ja/ 'Sweden'
belga /'bel?a/ 'Belgian' Bélgica /'belxika/ 'Belgium'
análogo /a'nalo?o/ 'analogous' analogía /analo'xia/ 'analogy'

Note that the conjugation of most verbs with a stem ending in /k/ or /?/ does not show this alternation; these segments do not turn into /?/ or /x/ before a front vowel:

word gloss word gloss
seco /'seko/ 'I dry' seque /'seke/ '(that) I/he/she dry (subjunctive)'
castigo /kas'ti?o/ 'I punish' castigue /kas'ti?e/ '(that) I/he/she punish (subjunctive)'

There are also alternations between unstressed /e/ and /o/ and stressed /je/ and /we/ respectively:[83]

word gloss word gloss
he /e'lo/ 'it froze' hiela /'?ela/ 'it freezes'
tostó /tos'to/ 'he toasted' tuesto /'twesto/ 'I toast'

Likewise, in a very small number of words, alternations occur between the palatal sonorants /? ?/ and their corresponding alveolar sonorants /l n/ (doncella/doncel 'maiden'/'youth', desdeñar/desdén 'to scorn'/'scorn'). This alternation does not appear in verbal or nominal inflection (that is, the plural of doncel is donceles, not *doncelles).[84] This is the result of geminated /ll/ and /nn/ of Vulgar Latin (the origin of /?/ and /?/, respectively) degeminating and then depalatalizing in coda position.[85] Words without any palatal-alveolar allomorphy are the result of historical borrowings.[85]

Other alternations include /ks/ ~ /x/ (anexo vs anejo),[86]/kt/ ~ /t?/ (nocturno vs noche).[87] Here the forms with /ks/ and /kt/ are historical borrowings and the forms with /x/ and /t?/ forms are inherited from Vulgar Latin.

There are also pairs that show antepenultimate stress in nouns and adjectives but penultimate stress in synonymous verbs (vómito 'vomit' vs. vomito 'I vomit').[88]


Spanish syllable structure can be summarized as follows; parentheses enclose optional components:

  • (C1 (C2)) (S1) V (S2) (C3 (s))

Spanish syllable structure consists of an optional syllable onset, consisting of one or two consonants; an obligatory syllable nucleus, consisting of a vowel optionally preceded by and/or followed by a semivowel; and an optional syllable coda, consisting of one or two consonants. The following restrictions apply:

  • Onset
    • First consonant (C1): Can be any consonant, including a liquid (/l, r/).
    • Second consonant (C2): If and only if the first consonant is a stop /p, t, k, b, d, ?/ or a voiceless labiodental fricative /f/, a second consonant, always a liquid /l, r/, is permitted. Onsets /tl/ and /dl/ occur only in loanwords.
  • Nucleus
    • Semivowel (S1)
    • Vowel (V)
    • Semivowel (S2)
  • Coda
    • First consonant (C3): Can be any consonant
    • /s/. A coda combination of two consonants appears only in loanwords (mainly from Classical Latin) but never in words inherited from Vulgar Latin.
    • Medial codas assimilate place features of the following onsets and are often stressed.[89]

Maximal onsets include transporte /t?ans'por.te/, flaco /'fla.ko/, clave /'

Maximal nuclei include buey /buei/, Uruguay /u.?u'?uai/.

Maximal codas include instalar /ins.ta'lar/, perspectiva /pers.pek'

In many dialects, a coda cannot be more than one consonant (one of n, r, l or s) in informal speech. Realizations like /tras'por.te/, /is.ta'lar/, /pes.pek' are very common, and in many cases, they are allowed even in formal speech.

Because of the phonotactic constraints, an epenthetic /e/ is inserted before word-initial clusters beginning with /s/ (e.g. escribir 'to write') but not word-internally (transcribir 'to transcribe'),[90] thereby moving the initial /s/ to a separate syllable. The epenthetic /e/ is pronounced even when it is not reflected in spelling (e.g. the surname of Carlos Slim is pronounced /es'lin/). While Spanish words undergo word-initial epenthesis, cognates in Latin and Italian do not:

  • Lat. status /'sta.tus/ ('state') ~ It. stato /' ~ Sp. estado /es'
  • Lat. splendidus /'splen.di.dus/ ('splendid') ~ It. splendido /' ~ Sp. espléndido /es'
  • Fr. slave /slav/ ('Slav') ~ It. slavo /'sla.vo/ ~ Sp. eslavo /es'

Spanish syllable structure is phrasal, resulting in syllables consisting of phonemes from neighboring words in combination, sometimes even resulting in elision. The phenomenon is known in Spanish as enlace.[91] For a brief discussion contrasting Spanish and English syllable structure, see Whitley (2002:32-35).

Acquisition as a first language


Phonological development varies greatly by individual, both those developing regularly and those with delays. However, a general pattern of acquisition of phonemes can be inferred by the level of complexity of their features, i.e. by sound classes.[92] A hierarchy may be constructed, and if a child is capable of producing a discrimination on one level, he/she will also be capable of making the discriminations of all prior levels.[93]

  • The first level consists of stops (without a voicing distinction), nasals, [l], and optionally, a non-lateral approximant. This includes a labial/coronal place difference (for example, [b] vs [t] and [l] vs [?]).
  • The second level includes voicing distinction for oral stops and a coronal/dorsal place difference. This allows for distinction between [p], [t], and [k], along with their voiced counterparts, as well as distinction between [l] and the approximant [j].
  • The third level includes fricatives and/or affricates.
  • The fourth level introduces liquids other than [l], [?] and [?]. It also introduces [?].
  • The fifth level introduces the trill [r].

This hierarchy is based on production only, and is a representation of a child's capacity to produce a sound, whether that sound is the correct target in adult speech or not. Thus, it may contain some sounds that are not included in the adult phonology, but produced as a result of error.

Spanish-speaking children will accurately produce most segments at a relatively early age. By around three-and-a-half years, they will no longer productively use phonological processes[clarification needed] the majority of the time. Some common error patterns (found 10% or more of the time) are cluster reduction, liquid simplification, and stopping. Less common patterns (evidenced less than 10% of the time) include palatal fronting, assimilation, and final consonant deletion.[94]

Typical phonological analyses of Spanish consider the consonants /b/, /d/, and /?/ the underlying phonemes and their corresponding approximants [?], [ð], and [?] allophonic and derivable by phonological rules. However, approximants may be the more basic form because monolingual Spanish-learning children learn to produce the continuant contrast between [p t k] and [? ð ?] before they do the lead voicing contrast between [p t k] and [b d ?].[95] (In comparison, English-learning children are able to produce adult-like voicing contrasts for these stops well before age three.)[96] The allophonic distribution of [b d ?] and [? ð ?] produced in adult speech is not learned until after age two and not fully mastered even at age four.[95]

The alveolar trill [r] is one of the most difficult sounds to be produced in Spanish and as a result is acquired later in development.[97] Research suggests that the alveolar trill is acquired and developed between the ages of three and six years.[98] Some children acquire an adult-like trill within this period and some fail to properly acquire the trill. The attempted trill sound of the poor trillers is often perceived as a series of taps owing to hyperactive tongue movement during production.[99]

The trill is also very difficult for those learning Spanish as a second language, sometimes taking over a year to produce properly.[100]


One research study found that children acquire medial codas before final codas, and stressed codas before unstressed codas.[101] Since medial codas are often stressed and must undergo place assimilation, greater importance is accorded to their acquisition.[89]Liquid and nasal codas occur word-medially and at the ends of frequently used function words, so they are often acquired first.[102]


Research suggests that children overgeneralize stress rules when they are reproducing novel Spanish words and that they have a tendency to stress the penultimate syllables of antepenultimately stressed words, to avoid a violation of nonverb stress rules that they have acquired.[103] Many of the most frequent words heard by children have irregular stress patterns or are verbs, which violate nonverb stress rules.[104] This complicates stress rules until ages three to four, when stress acquisition is essentially complete, and children begin to apply these rules to novel irregular situations.

Dialectal variation

Some features, such as the pronunciation of voiceless stops /p t k/, have no dialectal variation.[105] However, there are numerous other features of pronunciation that differ from dialect to dialect.


One notable dialectal feature is the merging of the voiced palatal fricative (as in ayer) with the palatal lateral approximant (as in calle) into one phoneme (yeísmo), with /?/ losing its laterality. While the distinction between these two sounds has traditionally been a feature of Castilian Spanish, this merger has spread throughout most of Spain in recent generations, particularly outside of regions in close linguistic contact with Catalan and Basque.[106] In Spanish America, most dialects are characterized by this merger, with the distinction persisting mostly in parts of Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, and northwestern Argentina.[107] In the other parts of Argentina, the phoneme resulting from the merger is realized as ;[8] and in Buenos Aires the sound has recently been devoiced to among the younger population; the change is spreading throughout Argentina.[108]

Seseo, ceceo and distinción

Most dialects in Spanish from Spain have [s] / [?] contrast (distinción), while [?] is absent in Latin America and parts of Spain (seseo).

Speakers in northern and central Spain, including the variety prevalent on radio and television, have both /?/ and /s/ (distinción, 'distinction'). However, speakers in Latin America, Canary Islands and some parts of southern Spain have only /s/ (seseo), which in southernmost Spain is pronounced [?] and not [s] (ceceo).[8]

Realization of /s/

The phoneme /s/ has three different pronunciations depending on the dialect area:[8][40][109]

  1. An apical alveolar retracted fricative (or "apico-alveolar" fricative) [s?] sounds a bit like English /?/ and is characteristic of the northern and central parts of Spain and is also used by many speakers in Colombia's Antioquia department.[110][111]
  2. A laminal alveolar grooved fricative [s], much like the most common pronunciation of English /s/, is characteristic of western Andalusia (e.g. Málaga, Seville, and Cádiz), Canary Islands, and Latin America.
  3. An apical dental grooved fricative [s?] (ad hoc symbol), which has a lisping quality and sounds something like a cross between English /s/ and /?/ but is different from the /?/ occurring in dialects that distinguish /s/ and /?/. It occurs in eastern Andalusia like in Granada, Huelva, Córdoba, Jaén and Almería. It occurs only in dialects with ceceo.

Obaid describes the apico-alveolar sound as follows:[112]

There is a Castilian s, which is a voiceless, concave, apicoalveolar fricative: the tip of the tongue turned upward forms a narrow opening against the alveoli of the upper incisors. It resembles a faint /?/ and is found throughout much of the northern half of Spain.

Dalbor describes the apico-dental sound as follows:[113]

[s?] is a voiceless, corono-dentoalveolar groove fricative, the so-called s coronal or s plana because of the relatively flat shape of the tongue body ... To this writer, the coronal [s?], heard throughout Andalusia, should be characterized by such terms as "soft," "fuzzy," or "imprecise," which, as we shall see, brings it quite close to one variety of /?/ ... Canfield has referred, quite correctly, in our opinion, to this [s?] as "the lisping coronal-dental," and Amado Alonso remarks how close it is to the post-dental [], suggesting a combined symbol ⟨⟩ to represent it.

In some dialects, /s/ may become the approximant [?] in the syllable coda (e.g. doscientos [do?'?jentos] 'two hundred').[114] In many places, it debuccalizes to [h] in final position (e.g. niños ['ni?oh] 'children'), or before another consonant (e.g. fósforo ['fohfo?o] 'match') so the change occurs in the coda position in a syllable.

From an autosegmental point of view, the /s/ phoneme in Madrid is defined only by its voiceless and fricative features. Thus, the point of articulation is not defined and is determined from the sounds following it in the word or sentence. In Madrid, the following realizations are found: /pes'kado/ > [pex'kao] and /'fosfo?o/ > ['fof:o?o]. In parts of southern Spain, the only feature defined for /s/ appears to be voiceless;[115] it may lose its oral articulation entirely to become [h] or even a geminate with the following consonant (['mihmo] or ['mim:o] from /'mismo/ 'same').[116] In Eastern Andalusian and Murcian Spanish, word-final /s/, /?/ and /x/ (phonetically [h]) regularly weaken, and the preceding vowel is lowered and lengthened:[117]

/is/ > [i?:] e.g. mis [mi?:] ('my' pl)
/es/ > [?:] e.g. mes [m?:] ('month')
/as/ > [æ?:] e.g. más [mæ?:] ('plus')
/os/ > [?:] e.g. tos [t?:] ('cough')
/us/ > [u?:] e.g. tus [tu?:] ('your' pl)

A subsequent process of vowel harmony takes place so lejos ('far') is ['l?x?], tenéis ('you [plural] have') is [t?'n?i] and tréboles ('clovers') is ['t?l?] or ['tol?].[118]

Coda simplification

Southern European Spanish (Andalusian Spanish, Murcian Spanish, etc.) and several lowland dialects in Latin America (such as those from the Caribbean, Panama, and the Atlantic coast of Colombia) exhibit more extreme forms of simplification of coda consonants:

  • word-final dropping of /s/ (e.g. compás [kom'pa] 'musical beat' or 'compass')
  • word-final dropping of nasals with nasalization of the preceding vowel (e.g. ven [b?] 'come')
  • /r/ in the infinitival morpheme (e.g. comer [ko'me] 'to eat')
  • the occasional dropping of coda consonants word-internally (e.g. doctor [do'to(r)] 'doctor').[119]

The dropped consonants appear when additional suffixation occurs (e.g. compases [kom'pase] 'beats', venían [be'ni.ã] 'they were coming', comeremos [kome'?emo] 'we will eat'). Similarly, a number of coda assimilations occur:

  • /l/ and /r/ may neutralize to [j] (e.g. Cibaeño Dominican celda/cerda ['sejða] 'cell'/'bristle'), to [l] (e.g. Caribbean Spanish alma/arma ['alma] 'soul'/'weapon', Andalusian Spanish sartén [sal't?] 'pan'), to [r] (e.g. Andalusian Spanish alma/arma ['arma]) or, by complete regressive assimilation, to a copy of the following consonant (e.g. pulga/purga ['pu?:a] 'flea'/'purge', carne ['kan:e] 'meat').[119]
  • /s/, /x/, (and /?/ in southern Peninsular Spanish) and /f/ may be debuccalized or elided in the coda (e.g. los amigos [lo(h) a'mi?o(h)] 'the friends').[120]
  • Stops and nasals may be realized as velar (e.g. Cuban and Venezuelan étnico ['e?niko] 'ethnic', himno ['i?no] 'anthem').[120]

Final /d/ dropping (e.g. mitad [mi'ta] 'half') is general in most dialects of Spanish, even in formal speech.[]

The deletions and neutralizations show variability in their occurrence, even with the same speaker in the same utterance, so nondeleted forms exist in the underlying structure.[121] The dialects may not be on the path to eliminating coda consonants since deletion processes have been existing for more than four centuries.[122]Guitart (1997) argues that it is the result of speakers acquiring multiple phonological systems with uneven control like that of second language learners.

In Standard European Spanish, the voiced obstruents /b, d, ?/ before a pause are devoiced and laxed to [, ð, ], as in club [klu] ('[social] club'), sed [seð?] ('thirst'), zigzag [?i?'?a].[123] However, word-final /b/ is rare, and /?/ even more so. They are restricted mostly to loanwords and foreign names, such as the first name of former Real Madrid sports director Predrag Mijatovi?, which is pronounced ['p?eða]; and after another consonant, the voiced obstruent may even be deleted, as in iceberg, pronounced [i?e'?e?].[124]

Loan sounds

The fricative /?/ may also appear in borrowings from other languages, such as Nahuatl[125] and English.[126] In addition, the affricates and also occur in Nahuatl borrowings.[125]


This sample is an adaptation of Aesop's "El Viento del Norte y el Sol" (The North Wind and the Sun) read by a man from Northern Mexico born in the late 1980s. As usual in Mexican Spanish, /?/ and /?/ are not present.

Orthographic version

El Viento del Norte y el Sol discutían por saber quién era el más fuerte de los dos. Mientras discutían, se acercó un viajero cubierto en un cálido abrigo. Entonces decidieron que el más fuerte sería quien lograse despojar al viajero de su abrigo. El Viento del Norte empezó, soplando tan fuerte como podía, pero entre más fuerte soplaba, el viajeró más se arropaba. Entonces, el Viento desistió. Se llegó el turno del Sol, quien comenzó a brillar con fuerza. Esto hizo que el viajero sintiera calor y por ello se quitó su abrigo. Entonces el Viento del Norte tuvo que reconocer que el Sol era el más fuerte de los dos.

Phonemic transcription

/el 'biento del 'no?te i el 'sol disku' po? sa'be? 'kien 'e?a el 'mas 'fue?te de los 'dos ? mient?as disku' se ase?'ko un bia'xe?o ku'bie?to en un 'kalido a'b?i?o | en'tonses desi'die?on ke el 'mas 'fue?te se'?i.a kien lo'ase despo'xa? al bia'xe?o de su a'b?i?o ? el 'biento del 'no?te empe'so so'plando tan 'fue?te komo po'di.a | pe?o ent?e 'mas 'fue?te so'plaba el bia'xe?o 'mas se aro'paba | en'tonses el 'biento desis'tio | se ?e'?o el 'tu?no del 'sol kien komen'so a b?i'?a? kon 'fue?sa | 'esto 'iso ke el bia'xe?o sin'tie?a ka'lo? i po? 'e?o se ki'to su a'b?i?o ? en'tonses el 'biento del 'no?te 'tubo ke rekono'se? ke el 'sol 'e?a el 'mas 'fue?te de los 'dos/

Phonetic transcription

[el '?jento ðel 'no?te j?el 'sol disku' por sa'?e? 'kjen e?a?e?l 'mas 'fwe?te ðe los 'ðos ? 'mjent?as ðisku' ?sease?'ko?u?m bja'xe?o ku'?je?toen u? 'kaliðoa'i?o | en'tonses ðesi'ðje?o? k?el 'mas 'fwe?te se'?i.a kjen lo'ase ðespo'xa? al ?ja'xe?o ðe swa'i?o ? el '?jento ðel ?no?t?empe'so so'plando ta? 'fwe?te ?komo po'ði.a | 'pe?oent?e 'mas 'fwe?te so'pla?a el ?ja'xe?o 'mas ?searo'pa?a | en'tonses el '?jento ðesis'tjo | se ?e'?oel 'tu?no ðel sol ?kje? komen'soa i'?ar ko? 'fwe?sa | 'esto?i?so k?el ?jaxe?o sin'tje?a ka'lo? i po? e?o se ki'to swa'i?o ? en'tonses el '?jento ðel 'no?te 'tu?o ke rekono'se? ?kel 'sol 'e?a?e?l 'mas 'fwe?te ðe los 'ðos]

See also


  1. ^ Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Random House Inc., 2006
  2. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.), Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006
  3. ^ Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, MICRA, Inc., 1998
  4. ^ Encarta World English Dictionary. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. 2007. Archived from the original on 2009-11-09. Retrieved .
  5. ^ Martínez-Celdrán, Fernández-Planas & Carrera-Sabaté (2003:255)
  6. ^ The continuant allophones of Spanish /b, d, ?/ have been traditionally described as voiced fricatives (e.g. Navarro Tomás (1918), who (in §100) describes the air friction of [ð] as being "tenue y suave" ('weak and smooth'); Harris (1969); Dalbor & 1969/1997; and Macpherson (1975:62), who describes [?] as being "...with audible friction"). However, they are more often described as approximants in recent literature, such as D'Introno, Del Teso & Weston (1995); Martínez Celdrán, Fernández Planas & Carrera Sabaté (2003); and Hualde (2005:43). The difference hinges primarily on air turbulence caused by extreme narrowing of the opening between articulators, which is present in fricatives and absent in approximants. Martínez Celdrán (2004) displays a sound spectrogram of the Spanish word abogado showing an absence of turbulence for all three consonants.
  7. ^ a b Martínez Celdrán, Fernández Planas & Carrera Sabaté (2003:257)
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Martínez Celdrán, Fernández Planas & Carrera Sabaté (2003:258)
  9. ^ a b c Trager (1942:222)
  10. ^ Martínez Celdrán (2004:208)
  11. ^ Saporta (1956:288)
  12. ^ Bowen & Stockwell (1955:236) cite the minimal pair ya visto [(?)?a '?isto] ('I already dress') vs y ha visto [ja '?isto] ('and he has seen')
  13. ^ cited in Saporta (1956:289)
  14. ^ Generally /w?/ is [] though it may also be [] (Ohala & Lorentz (1977:590) citing Navarro Tomás (1961) and Harris (1969)).
  15. ^ Saporta (1956:289)
  16. ^ Bowen & Stockwell (1955:236)
  17. ^ Coloma (2018:245)
  18. ^ Canellada & Madsen (1987:20-21)
  19. ^ For example Chen (2007), Hamond (2001) and Lyons (1981)
  20. ^ Chen (2007:13)
  21. ^ Hamond (2001:?), cited in Scipione & Sayahi (2005:128)
  22. ^ Harris & Vincent (1988:83)
  23. ^ Lyons (1981:76)
  24. ^ such as Martínez Celdrán, Fernández Planas & Carrera Sabaté (2003)
  25. ^ Boyd-Bowman (1953:229)
  26. ^ a b Cotton & Sharp (1988:15)
  27. ^ Flórez (1951:171)
  28. ^ Kany (1960:236)
  29. ^ Lenz (1940:92 et seq.)
  30. ^ Zamora Vicente (1967:413)
  31. ^ Zapata Arellano (1975)
  32. ^ Mott (2011:110)
  33. ^ Penny (2000:122)
  34. ^ Chang (2008), p. 54.
  35. ^ Chang (2008), p. 55.
  36. ^ Cressey (1978:61)
  37. ^ MacDonald (1989:219)
  38. ^ Lipski (1994:?)
  39. ^ Navarro Tomás (1918:§111)
  40. ^ a b Dalbor (1980)
  41. ^ D'Introno, Del Teso & Weston (1995:118-121)
  42. ^ D'Introno, Del Teso & Weston (1995:294)
  43. ^ Canfield (1981:13)
  44. ^ Harris (1969:56)
  45. ^ Hualde (2005:182-3)
  46. ^ Hualde (2005:184).
  47. ^ Bowen, Stockwell & Silva-Fuenzalida (1956)
  48. ^ Harris (1969)
  49. ^ Bonet & Mascaró (1997)
  50. ^ Harris (1969:37 n.)
  51. ^ D'Introno, Del Teso & Weston (1995:289)
  52. ^ Cotton & Sharp (1988:19)
  53. ^ Navarro Tomás (1918, §98, §125)
  54. ^ a b c Martínez Celdrán, Fernández Planas & Carrera Sabaté (2003:256)
  55. ^ Harris (1969:78, 145). Examples include words of Greek origin like énfasis /'enfasis/ ('emphasis'); the clitics su /su/, tu /tu/, mi /mi/; the three Latin words espíritu /es'pi?itu/ ('spirit'), tribu /'t?ibu/ ('tribe'), and ímpetu /'impetu/ ('impetus'); and affective words like mami /'mami/ and papi /'papi/.
  56. ^ Cotton & Sharp (1988:182)
  57. ^ Zamora Vicente (1967:?). The first /a/ in madres also undergoes this fronting process as part of a vowel harmony system. See #Realization of /s/ below.
  58. ^ See e.g. Martínez Celdrán, Fernández Planas & Carrera Sabaté (2003)
  59. ^ Such as Navarro Tomás (1918)
  60. ^ Nowikow (2012:16)
  61. ^ Navarro Tomás (1918), cited on Joaquim Llisterri's site
  62. ^ Martínez Celdrán (1984:289, 294, 301)
  63. ^ /ou/ occurs rarely in words; another example is the proper name Bousoño (Saporta 1956, p. 290). It is, however, common across word boundaries as with tengo una casa ('I have a house').
  64. ^ Harris (1969:89) points to muy ('very') as the one example with [ui?] rather than [wi]. There are also a handful of proper nouns with [ui?], exclusive to Chuy (a nickname) and Ruy. There are no minimal pairs.
  65. ^ Chi?oran & Hualde (2007:45)
  66. ^ Chi?oran & Hualde (2007:46)
  67. ^ Martínez Celdrán, Fernández Planas & Carrera Sabaté (2003:256-257)
  68. ^ Cotton & Sharp (1988:18)
  69. ^ Harris (1969:99-101).
  70. ^ See Harris (1969:147-148) for a more extensive list of verb stems ending in both high vowels, as well as their corresponding semivowels.
  71. ^ Saporta (1956:290)
  72. ^ Bowen & Stockwell (1955:237)
  73. ^ Navarro Tomás (1916)
  74. ^ Navarro Tomás (1917)
  75. ^ Quilis (1971)
  76. ^ Cotton & Sharp (1988:19-20)
  77. ^ García-Bellido (1997:492), citing Contreras (1963), Quilis (1971), and the Esbozo de una nueva gramática de la lengua española. (1973) by the Gramática de la Real Acedemia Española
  78. ^ Lleó (2003:262)
  79. ^ Hochberg (1988:684)
  80. ^ García-Bellido (1997:473-474)
  81. ^ García-Bellido (1997:486), citing Navarro Tomás (1917:381-382, 385)
  82. ^ Harris (1969:79)
  83. ^ Harris (1969:26-27)
  84. ^ Pensado (1997:595-597)
  85. ^ a b Pensado (1997:608)
  86. ^ Harris (1969:188)
  87. ^ Harris (1969:189)
  88. ^ Harris (1969:97)
  89. ^ a b Lleó (2003:278)
  90. ^ Cressey (1978:86)
  91. ^ [1]
  92. ^ Cataño, Barlow & Moyna (2009:456)
  93. ^ Cataño, Barlow & Moyna (2009:448)
  94. ^ Goldstein & Iglesias (1998:5-6)
  95. ^ a b Macken & Barton (1980b:455)
  96. ^ Macken & Barton (1980b:73)
  97. ^ Carballo & Mendoza (2000:588)
  98. ^ Carballo & Mendoza (2000:589)
  99. ^ Carballo & Mendoza (2000:596)
  100. ^ Leibowitz, Brandon. "Spanish Phonology". Fluency Fox. Retrieved 2016.
  101. ^ Lleó (2003:271)
  102. ^ Lleó (2003:279)
  103. ^ Hochberg (1988:683)
  104. ^ Hochberg (1988:685)
  105. ^ Cotton & Sharp (1988:55)
  106. ^ Coloma (2011:110-111)
  107. ^ Coloma (2011:95)
  108. ^ Lipski, John (1994). Latin American Spanish. New York: Longman Publishing. p. 170.
  109. ^ Obaid (1973)
  110. ^ Flórez (1957:41)
  111. ^ Canfield (1981:36)
  112. ^ Obaid (1973).
  113. ^ Dalbor (1980:9).
  114. ^ Recasens (2004:436) citing Fougeron (1999) and Browman & Goldstein (1995)
  115. ^ Isogloss map for s aspiration in the Iberian Peninsula
  116. ^ Obaid (1973:62)
  117. ^ Zamora Vicente (1967:?)
  118. ^ Lloret (2007:24-25)
  119. ^ a b Guitart (1997:515)
  120. ^ a b Guitart (1997:517)
  121. ^ Guitart (1997:515, 517-518)
  122. ^ Guitart (1997:518, 527), citing Boyd-Bowman (1975) and Labov (1994:595)
  123. ^ Wetzels & Mascaró (2001:224) citing Navarro Tomás (1961)
  124. ^ The Oxford Spanish Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1994).
  125. ^ a b Lope Blanch (2004:29)
  126. ^ Ávila (2003:67)


Further reading

External links

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