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. 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 /ɡ/ are realized as approximants (namely [β̞, ð̞, ɣ˕], hereafter represented without the downtacks) or fricatives 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. [In one region of Spain, the area around Madrid, word-final /d/ is sometimes pronounced [θ] especially in a colloquial pronunciation of its name, Madriz ([maˈðɾiθ])].
The phoneme /ʝ/ is realized as an approximant [ʝ˕] in all contexts except after a pause, a nasal, or a lateral. In these environments, it may be realized as an affricate ([ɟʝ]). 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 fricative [ʝ] in emphatic pronunciations, and is unspecified for rounding (e.g. viuda [ˈbjuða] 'widow' vs ayuda [aˈʝʷuða] 'help'). The two also overlap in distribution after /l/ and /n/: enyesar [eɲɟʝeˈsaɾ] ('to plaster') aniego [aˈnjeɣo] ('flood'). Although there is dialectal and ideolectal variation, speakers may also exhibit other near-minimal pairs like abyecto ('abject') vs abierto ('opened'). There are some alternations between the two, prompting scholars like Alarcos Llorach (1950) to postulate an archiphoneme /I/, so that ley [lej] would be transcribed phonemically as /ˈleI/ and leyes [ˈleʝes] as /ˈleIes/.
In a number of varieties, including some American ones, a process parallel to the one distinguishing non-syllabic /i/ from consonantal /ʝ/ occurs for non-syllabic /u/ and a rare consonantal /w̝/. Near-minimal pairs include deshuesar [dezw̝eˈsaɾ] ('to debone') vs. desuello [deˈsweʎo] ('skinning'), son huevos [ˈsoŋ ˈw̝eβos] ('they are eggs') vs son nuevos [ˈso(n) ˈnweβos] ('they are new'), and huaca [ˈ(ɡ)w̝aka] ('Indian grave') vs u oca [ˈwoka] ('or goose').
Many young Argentinians have no distinct /ɲ/ phoneme and use the /ni/ sequence instead, thus making no distinction between huraño and uranio (both [uˈɾanjo]).
The phoneme /ʎ/ (as distinct from /ʝ/) 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 /θ/ and /s/ (distinción). However, speakers in parts of southern Spain, the Canary Islands, and nearly all of Latin America have only /s/ (seseo). Some speakers in southernmost Spain (especially coastal Andalusia) have only [s̄] (a consonant similar to /θ/) 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 /θ/ in varieties that have it.
The phonemes /t/ and /d/ are laminal denti-alveolar ([t̪, d̪]). The phoneme /s/ becomes dental [s̪] before denti-alveolar consonants, while /θ/ remains interdental [θ̟] in all contexts.
Before front vowels /i, e/, the velar consonants /k, ɡ, x/ (including the lenited allophone of /ɡ/) are realized as post-palatal [k̟, ɡ˖, x̟, ɣ˕˖].
According to some authors, /x/ is post-velar or uvular in the Spanish of northern and central Spain. Others describe /x/ as velar in European Spanish, with a uvular allophone ([χ]) appearing before /o/ and /u/ (including when /u/ is in the syllable onset as [w]).
A common pronunciation of /f/ in nonstandard speech is the voiceless bilabial fricative [ɸ], so that fuera is pronounced [ˈɸweɾa] rather than [ˈfweɾa]. In some Extremaduran, western Andalusian, and American varieties, this softened realization of /f/, when it occurs before the non-syllabic allophone of /u/ ([w]), is subject to merger with /x/; in some areas the homophony of fuego/juego is resolved by replacing fuego with lumbre or candela.
In native Spanish words, the trilled /r/ does not appear after a glide. That said, it does appear after [w] in some Basque loans, such as Aurrerá, a grocery store, Abaurrea Alta and Abaurrea Baja, towns in Navarre, aurresku, a type of dance, and aurragado, an adjective referring to poorly tilled land.
/ʃ/ is a marginal phoneme that occurs only in loanwords or certain dialects; many speakers have difficulty with this sound, tending to replace it with /tʃ/ or /s/. In a number of dialects (most notably, Northern Mexican Spanish, informal Chilean Spanish, and some Caribbean and Andalusian accents) [ʃ] occurs, as a deaffricated /tʃ/. In addition, [ʃ] occurs in Rioplatense Spanish as spoken across Argentina and Uruguay, where it is otherwise standard for the phonemes /ʝ/ to be realized as voiced palato-alveolar fricative [ʒ] instead of [ʝ], a feature called "zheísmo". In the last few decades, it has further become popular, particularly among younger speakers in Argentina and Uruguay, to de-voice /ʒ/ to [ʃ] ("sheísmo").
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.
The three nasal phonemes—/m/, /n/, and /ɲ/—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—even across a word boundary; 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 [ŋ] or an omitted nasal with nasalization of the preceding vowel). Thus /n/ is realized as [m] before labial consonants, and as [ŋ] before velar ones. Additionally, word-final /m/ and /ɲ/ in stand-alone loanwords or proper nouns are substituted with [n], e.g. álbum [ˈalβun] ('album').
Similarly, /l/ assimilates to the place of articulation of a following coronal consonant, i.e. a consonant that is interdental, dental, alveolar, or palatal. In dialects that maintain the use of /ʎ/, there is no contrast between /ʎ/ and /l/ in coda position, and syllable-final [ʎ] appears only as an allophone of /l/ in rapid speech.
The alveolar trill [r] and the alveolar tap [ɾ] are in phonemic contrast word-internally between vowels (as in carro 'car' vs caro 'expensive'), but are otherwise in complementary distribution, as long as syllable division is taken into account: the tap occurs after any syllable-initial consonant, while the trill occurs after any syllable-final consonant.
Only the trill can occur word-initially (e.g. el rey 'the king', la reina 'the queen') or at the start of a word-internal syllable when the preceding syllable ends with a consonant, which is always the case after /l/, /n/, /s/ (e.g. alrededor, enriquecer, Israel).
Only the tap can occur after a word-initial obstruent consonant (e.g. tres 'three', frío 'cold').
Either a trill or a tap can be found after the word-medial obstruent consonants /b/, /d/, /t/, depending on whether the rhotic consonant is pronounced in the same syllable as the preceding obstruent (forming a complex onset cluster) or in a separate syllable (with the obstruent in the coda of the preceding syllable). For example, the words subrayar, ciudadrealeño, postromántico have a trill. Each of these words has a morpheme boundary coinciding with the syllable division before the rhotic consonant; the trills correspond to the word-initial trills found in raya 'line', Ciudad Real "Ciudad Real", and romántico "Romantic". The tap is found in words where there is no syllable boundary between the obstruent and the following rhotic consonant, such as sobre 'over', madre 'mother', ministro 'minister'.
In syllable-final position inside a word, the tap is more frequent, but the trill can also occur (especially in emphatic or oratorical style) with no semantic difference—thus arma ('weapon') may be either [ˈaɾma] (tap) or [ˈarma] (trill). In word-final position the rhotic is usually:
Morphologically, a word-final rhotic always corresponds to the tapped [ɾ] in related words. Thus the word olor 'smell' is related to olores, oloroso 'smells, smelly' and not to *olorres, *olorroso.
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.
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 /ˈtieɾɾa/ > [ˈtjera] 'earth').
The phonemes /θ/, /s/, and /f/ become voiced before voiced consonants as in jazmín ('Jasmine') [xaðˈmin], rasgo ('feature') [ˈrazɣo], and Afganistán ('Afghanistan') [avɣanisˈtan]. There is a certain amount of free variation in this so that jazmín can be pronounced [xaθˈmin] or [xaðˈmin].
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, 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:
Similarly, the spellings -dm- and -tm- are often merged in pronunciation, as well as -gd- and -cd-:
Spanish has five phonemic vowels, /i/, /u/, /e/, /o/ and /a/ (the same ones that are found in Asturian-Leonese, Aragonese, and also Basque). There is no phonemic distinction between the close-mid and open-mid vowels that is found in Catalan, French, Italian and Portuguese. There is, however, an alternation between the plain mid vowels /e, o/ and the opening diphthongs /ie, ue/ (with /ʝe/ occurring instead of /ie/ in the word-initial position) that is similar to the distinction between the close /e, o/ and the open /ɛ, ɔ/ in the aforementioned languages; compare heló /eˈlo/ 'it froze' and tostó /tosˈto/ 'he toasted' with hiela /ˈʝela/ 'it freezes' and tuesto /ˈtuesto/ 'I toast'. The diphthongal /ie, ue/ regularly correspond to the open /ɛ, ɔ/ in Portuguese cognates; compare siete /ˈsiete/ 'seven' and fuerte /ˈfuerte/ 'strong' with the Portuguese cognates sete /ˈsɛtɨ/ and forte /ˈfɔɾtɨ/, meaning the same.
Each of the five vowels in both stressed and unstressed syllables:
|piso||/ˈpiso/||'I step'||pisó||/piˈso/||'s/he stepped'|
|pujo||/ˈpuxo/||'I bid' (present tense)||pujó||/puˈxo/||'s/he bid'|
|peso||/ˈpeso/||'I weigh'||pesó||/peˈso/||'s/he weighed'|
|poso||/ˈposo/||'I pose'||posó||/poˈso/||'s/he posed'|
|paso||/ˈpaso/||'I pass'||pasó||/paˈso/||'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.
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 [dolˈsoɾa] for dulzura ('sweetness'). When Quechua-dominant bilinguals have /e, o/ in their phonemic inventory, they realize them as [ɪ, ʊ], which are heard by outsiders as variants of /i, u/. 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 [ˈθĩŋko] ('five') and mano [ˈmãno] ('hand').
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 ˈmaðɾe] ('the mother') vs. las madres [læː ˈmæːðɾɛː] ('the mothers'). However, these are more commonly analyzed as allophones triggered by an underlying /s/ that is subsequently deleted.
There is no agreement among scholars on how many vowel allophones Spanish has; an often postulated number is five [i, u, e̞, o̞, a̠].
Some scholars, however, state that Spanish has eleven allophones: the close and mid vowels have close [i, u, e, o] and open [ɪ, ʊ, ɛ, ɔ] allophones, whereas /a/ appears in front [a], central [a̠] and back [ɑ] variants. These symbols appear only in the narrowest variant of phonetic transcription; in broader variants, only the symbols ⟨i, u, e, o, a⟩ are used, and that is the convention adopted in the rest of this article.
Tomás Navarro Tomás describes the distribution of said eleven allophones as follows:
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.
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. 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. Chițoran & 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 [ˈpo̯eta] ('poet') and maestro [ˈmae̯stɾo] ('teacher'). Similarly, the relatively rare diphthong /eu/ may be reduced to [u] in certain unstressed contexts, as in Eufemia, [uˈfemja]. 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|). This contrasts with verbs like ampliar ('to extend') which, by their verbal morphology, seem to have stems ending in /i/.
Non-syllabic /e/ and /o/ can be reduced to [j], [w], as in beatitud [bjatiˈtuð] ('beatitude') and poetisa [pweˈtisa] ('poetess'), respectively; similarly, non-syllabic /a/ can be completely elided, as in (e.g. ahorita [oˈɾita] '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.
Spanish also possesses triphthongs like /uei/ and, in dialects that use a second person plural conjugation, /iai/, /iei/, and /uai/ (e.g. buey, 'ox'; cambiáis, 'you change'; cambiéis, '(that) you may change'; and averiguáis, 'you ascertain').
Spanish is usually considered a syllable-timed language. Even so, stressed syllables can be up to 50% longer in duration than non-stressed syllables. Although pitch, duration, and loudness contribute to the perception of stress, pitch is the most important in isolation.
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).
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].
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 mí (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. In addition, amongst sequences of clitics suffixed to a verb, the rightmost clitic may receive secondary stress, e.g. búscalo /ˈbuskaˌlo/ ('look for it').
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 /θ/ or /ɡ/ and /x/, with the latter in each pair appearing before a front vowel:
Note that the conjugation of most verbs with a stem ending in /k/ or /ɡ/ does not show this alternation; these segments do not turn into /θ/ or /x/ before a front vowel:
|seco||/ˈseko/||'I dry'||seque||/ˈseke/||'(that) I/he/she dry (subjunctive)'|
|castigo||/kasˈtiɡo/||'I punish'||castigue||/kasˈtiɡe/||'(that) I/he/she punish (subjunctive)'|
There are also alternations between unstressed /e/ and /o/ and stressed /ie/ (or /ʝe/, when initial) and /ue/ respectively:
|heló||/eˈlo/||'it froze'||hiela||/ˈʝela/||'it freezes'|
|tostó||/tosˈto/||'he toasted'||tuesto||/ˈtuesto/||'I toast'|
Likewise, in a very small number of words, alternations occur between the palatal sonorants /ʎ ɲ/ 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). This is the result of geminated /ll/ and /nn/ of Vulgar Latin (the origin of /ʎ/ and /ɲ/, respectively) degeminating and then depalatalizing in coda position. Words without any palatal-alveolar allomorphy are the result of historical borrowings.
Other alternations include /ɡs/ ~ /x/ (anexo vs anejo), /ɡt/ ~ /tʃ/ (nocturno vs noche). Here the forms with /ɡs/ and /ɡt/ are historical borrowings and the forms with /x/ and /tʃ/ 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').
Spanish syllable structure can be summarized as follows; parentheses enclose optional components:
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:
Maximal onsets include transporte /tɾansˈpor.te/, flaco /ˈfla.ko/, clave /ˈkla.be/.
Maximal nuclei include buey /buei/, Uruguay /u.ɾuˈɡuai/.
Maximal codas include instalar /ins.taˈlar/, perspectiva /pers.peɡˈti.ba/.
In many dialects, a coda cannot be more than one consonant (one of n, r, l or s) in informal speech. Realizations like /tɾasˈpor.te/, /is.taˈlar/, /pes.peɡˈti.ba/ 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'), 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 /esˈlin/). While Spanish words undergo word-initial epenthesis, cognates in Latin and Italian do not:
In addition, Spanish adopts foreign words starting with pre-nasalized consonants with an epenthetic /e/. Nguema, a prominent last name from Equatorial Guinea, is pronounced as [eŋˈɡema].
When adapting word-final complex codas that show rising sonority, an epenthetic /e/ is inserted between the two consonants. For example, al Sadr is typically pronounced [al.sa.ðeɾ].
Occasionally Spanish speakers are faced with onset clusters containing elements of equal or near-equal sonority, such as Knoll (a German last name, common in parts of South America). Assimilated borrowings usually delete the first element in such clusters, for example (p)sicología 'psychology'. When attempting to pronounce such words for the first time without deleting the first consonant, Spanish speakers insert a short, often devoiced, schwa-like svarabhakti vowel between the two consonants.
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. For a brief discussion contrasting Spanish and English syllable structure, see Whitley (2002:32–35).
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. A hierarchy may be constructed, and if a child is capable of producing a discrimination on one level, they will also be capable of making the discriminations of all prior levels.
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.
Typical phonological analyses of Spanish consider the consonants /b/, /d/, and /ɡ/ the underlying phonemes and their corresponding approximants [β], [ð], and [ɣ] 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 [β ð ɣ] before they do the lead voicing contrast between [p t k] and [b d ɡ]. (In comparison, English-learning children are able to produce adult-like voicing contrasts for these stops well before age three.) The allophonic distribution of [b d ɡ] and [β ð ɣ] produced in adult speech is not learned until after age two and not fully mastered even at age four.
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. Research suggests that the alveolar trill is acquired and developed between the ages of three and six years. 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.
The trill is also very difficult for those learning Spanish as a second language, sometimes taking over a year to produce properly.
One research study found that children acquire medial codas before final codas, and stressed codas before unstressed codas. Since medial codas are often stressed and must undergo place assimilation, greater importance is accorded to their acquisition. Liquid and nasal codas occur word-medially and at the ends of frequently used function words, so they are often acquired first.
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. Many of the most frequent words heard by children have irregular stress patterns or are verbs, which violate nonverb stress rules. 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.
Some features, such as the pronunciation of voiceless stops /p t k/, have no dialectal variation. However, there are numerous other features of pronunciation that differ from dialect to dialect.
Main article: Yeísmo
One notable dialectal feature is the merging of the voiced palatal approximant [ʝ] (as in ayer) with the palatal lateral approximant [ʎ] (as in calle) into one phoneme (yeísmo), with /ʎ/ 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. In Spanish America, most dialects are characterized by this merger, with the distinction persisting mostly in parts of Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, and northwestern Argentina. In the other parts of Argentina, the phoneme resulting from the merger is realized as [ʒ]; and in Buenos Aires the sound has recently been devoiced to [ʃ] among the younger population; the change is spreading throughout Argentina.
Main article: Phonological history of Spanish coronal fricatives
Speakers in northern and central Spain, including the variety prevalent on radio and television, have both /θ/ 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 [θ] and not [s] (ceceo).
The phoneme /s/ has three different pronunciations depending on the dialect area:
Obaid describes the apico-alveolar sound as follows:
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 /ʃ/ and is found throughout much of the northern half of Spain.
Dalbor describes the apico-dental sound as follows:
[s̄] 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 [s̄], 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 /θ/ ... Canfield has referred, quite correctly, in our opinion, to this [s̄] as "the lisping coronal-dental," and Amado Alonso remarks how close it is to the post-dental [θ̦], suggesting a combined symbol ⟨θˢ̣⟩ to represent it.
In some dialects, /s/ may become the approximant [ɹ] in the syllable coda (e.g. doscientos [doɹˈθjentos] 'two hundred'). In southern dialects in Spain, lowland dialects in the Americas, and in the Canary Islands, it debuccalizes to [h] in final position (e.g. niños [ˈniɲoh] 'children'), or before another consonant (e.g. fósforo [ˈfohfoɾo] 'match') so the change occurs in the coda position in a syllable. In Spain, this was originally a southern feature, but it is now expanding rapidly to the north.
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: /pesˈkado/ > [pexˈkao] and /ˈfosfoɾo/ > [ˈfofːoɾo]. In parts of southern Spain, the only feature defined for /s/ appears to be voiceless; it may lose its oral articulation entirely to become [h] or even a geminate with the following consonant ([ˈmihmo] or [ˈmimːo] from /ˈmismo/ 'same'). In Eastern Andalusian and Murcian Spanish, word-final /s/, /θ/ and /x/ regularly weaken, and the preceding vowel is lowered and lengthened:
A subsequent process of vowel harmony takes place so lejos ('far') is [ˈlɛxɔ], tenéis ('you [plural] have') is [tɛˈnɛj] and tréboles ('clovers') is [ˈtɾɛβɔlɛ] or [ˈtɾɛβolɛ].
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:
The dropped consonants appear when additional suffixation occurs (e.g. compases [komˈpase] 'beats', venían [beˈni.ã] 'they were coming', comeremos [komeˈɾemo] 'we will eat'). Similarly, a number of coda assimilations occur:
Final /d/ dropping (e.g. mitad [miˈta] 'half') is general in most dialects of Spanish, even in formal speech.
The neutralization of syllable-final /p/, /t/, and /k/ is widespread in most dialects (with e.g. Pepsi being pronounced [ˈpeksi]). It does not face as much stigma as other neutralizations, and may go unnoticed.
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. The dialects may not be on the path to eliminating coda consonants since deletion processes have been existing for more than four centuries. 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, ɡ/ before a pause are devoiced and laxed to [β̥˕, ð̥˕, ɣ̊˕], as in club [kluβ̥˕] ('[social] club'), sed [seð̥] ('thirst'), zigzag [θiɣˈθaɣ̊˕]. However, word-final /b/ is rare, and /ɡ/ even more so. They are restricted mostly to loanwords and foreign names, such as the first name of former Real Madrid sports director Predrag Mijatović, which is pronounced [ˈpɾeð̞ɾaɣ̊˕]; and after another consonant, the voiced obstruent may even be deleted, as in iceberg, pronounced [iθeˈβeɾ]. In Madrid and its environs, sed is alternatively pronunced [seθ], where the aforementioned alternative pronunciation of word-final /d/ as [θ] coexists with the standard realization, but is otherwise nonstandard.
The fricative /ʃ/ may also appear in borrowings from other languages, such as Nahuatl and English. In addition, the affricates /t͡s/ and /t͡ɬ/ also occur in Nahuatl borrowings. That said, the onset cluster /tl/ is permitted in most of Latin America, the Canaries, and the northwest of Spain, and the fact that it is pronounced in the same amount of time as the other voiceless stop + lateral clusters /pl/ and /kl/ support an analysis of the /tl/ sequence as a cluster rather than an affricate in Mexican Spanish.
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, /θ/ and /ʎ/ are not present.
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 viajero 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.
/el ˈbiento del ˈnoɾte i el ˈsol diskuˈti.an poɾ saˈbeɾ ˈkien ˈeɾa el ˈmas ˈfueɾte de los ˈdos ‖ mientɾas diskuˈti.an se aseɾˈko un biaˈxeɾo kuˈbieɾto en un ˈkalido aˈbɾiɡo | enˈtonses desiˈdieɾon ke el ˈmas ˈfueɾte seˈɾi.a kien loˈɡɾase despoˈxaɾ al biaˈxeɾo de su aˈbɾiɡo ‖ el ˈbiento del ˈnoɾte empeˈso soˈplando tan ˈfueɾte komo poˈdi.a | peɾo entɾe ˈmas ˈfueɾte soˈplaba el biaˈxeɾo ˈmas se aroˈpaba | enˈtonses el ˈbiento desisˈtio | se ʝeˈɡo el ˈtuɾno del ˈsol kien komenˈso a bɾiˈʝaɾ kon ˈfueɾsa | ˈesto ˈiso ke el biaˈxeɾo sinˈtieɾa kaˈloɾ i poɾ ˈeʝo se kiˈto su aˈbɾiɡo ‖ enˈtonses el ˈbiento del ˈnoɾte ˈtubo ke rekonoˈseɾ ke el ˈsol ˈeɾa el ˈmas ˈfueɾte de los ˈdos/
[el ˈβjento ðel ˈnoɾte j‿el ˈsol diskuˈti.am por saˈβeɾ ˈkjen eɾa‿e̯l ˈmas ˈfweɾte ðe los ˈðos ‖ ˈmjentɾas ðiskuˈti.an ˌse̯‿aseɾˈko‿wm bjaˈxeɾo kuˈβjeɾto̯‿en uŋ ˈkaliðo̯‿aˈβɾiɣo | enˈtonses ðesiˈðjeɾoŋ k‿el ˈmas ˈfweɾte seˈɾi.a kjen loˈɣɾase ðespoˈxaɾ al βjaˈxeɾo ðe swaˈβɾiɣo ‖ el ˈβjento ðel ˌnoɾt‿empeˈso soˈplando taɱ ˈfweɾte ˌkomo poˈði.a | ˈpeɾo̯‿entɾe ˈmas ˈfweɾte soˈplaβa el βjaˈxeɾo ˈmas ˌse̯‿aroˈpaβa | enˈtonses el ˈβjento ðesisˈtjo | se ʝeˈɣo̯‿el ˈtuɾno ðel sol ˌkjeŋ komenˈso̯‿a βɾiˈʝar koɱ ˈfweɾsa | ˈesto‿jso k‿el βjaxeɾo sinˈtjeɾa kaˈloɾ i poɾ eʝo se kiˈto swaˈβɾiɣo ‖ enˈtonses el ˈβjento ðel ˈnoɾte ˈtuβo ke rekonoˈseɾ ˌkel ˈsol ˈeɾa‿e̯l ˈmas ˈfweɾte ðe los ˈðos]
Many studies have shown that within the last 70 to 80 years, there has been a strong transition towards the voiceless [ʃ] in both Argentina and Uruguay, with Argentina having completed the change by 2004 and Uruguay following only recently [...]
The distribution of nasals, however, is somewhat deficient in Spanish. In word-final position only the alveolar nasal is present. So borrowings that end in /ɲ/ or /m/ are generally adopted into Spanish with a final n, e.g. Adam -> Adán, champagne -> champán.