Spanish Phonology (The Basics)

Before I get into this post, I'd like to say that I'm not a native Spanish speaker. I'm not even fluent yet, actually. But I have lived in Texas pretty much all my life and El Paso for a couple of years (so far). Also, most of my wife's family speaks Spanish (some only Spanish). So I have had some exposure to the language besides just textbooks and movies.

Still, if you speak Spanish, you'll probably be taken aback by the following table. (Be sure to read the notes that follow.) My method isn't particularly orthodox, but it still resembles the traditional segmental model of phonological analysis. There's nothing actually false about this mode of analysis; it's just a little imprecise and muddy. I'm working on a new model, but (for now at least) this should give you a good overview of the sound system of Spanish.

labialdentalcoronalpalatalguttural
stopsptsck
slowsbdrLg
fricativesfTscH
nasalsmnNn
lateralslL
close vowelsuiu
mid vowelsoeo
open vowelsa
  • Stops are voiceless and unaspirated. In coda position, they are generally realized as fricatives.
  • Slows are typically realized as voiced stops when serving as onsets, fricatives or glides intervocalically, and devoiced or otherwise weakened as codas. /r/ is unusual in that it never takes the form of a stop; it is instead realized as a trill when serving as an onset. Intervocalically, /r/ can serve as either a coda (generally a flap) or an onset (generally a trill).
  • /c/ and /L/ differ from the others of their respective types in that they are generally realized as affricates or fricatives, not as simple stops.
  • In Spain, /L/ is typically lateral. In much of Latin America, /L/ is merged with /i/ (as a glide).
  • /T/ and /s/ are the only fricatives allowed in coda position, and they often weaken significantly. In Latin America, these sounds are merged.
  • /n/ is the only nasal allowed in coda position, and it typically assimilates to the following consonant's place of articulation.
  • When occurring in the same syllable as another vowel, close vowels are realized as glides. If either /u/ or /i/ is in position to become a glide, /i/ will weaken first.

If, after having read the entire post, you still disagree with my analysis, please let me know by posting a comment. And of course, feel free to post any questions you have as well. I know the table isn't so easy to grasp without any example vocabulary. I'll get to that soon. I promise!

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