Wednesday, 2 September 2009

muchas gratsias

Who pronounces the Spanish for ‘thank you’, gracias, as [ˈɡʁatsi̯as]?
Having flown to and from Argentina with the German airline Lufthansa, I can tell you: it’s Germans speaking Spanish as a foreign language.
In native-speaker Spanish, of course, the word is pronounced [ˈɡɾaθjas] or, in Latin America, [ˈɡɾasjas, ˈɡɾasjah].
This is a straightforward case of foreign learners being misled by the spelling. In German the letter c when followed by i or e stands for [ts], as in Circe [ˈtsɪrtsə]. So the mispronunciation [ˈɡʁatsi̯as] is a bit like French speakers of EFL saying structure with [y], using a vowel that plays no part in the English phonetic system but is what the French letter u typically stands for.

The most striking phonetic feature of Argentinian Spanish to my ears is the use of [ʃ, ʒ] for Spanish /j/, spelt y or ll. The voiceless variant is what one hears all around — for example, for Callao (street) you hear [kaˈʃao]. But all the Argentinians I spoke to claimed themselves always to use the voiced variant, [kaˈʒao], judged more elegant. That’s still not very like Castilian [kaˈʎao, kaˈjao].

18 comments:

  1. The difficulty to keep Spanish and Italian apart might play a role. Non-native speakers seem to have a mysterious rate of 60 to 40 of getting it wrong. And here's a connection to the Argentine: dulce de leche, more often than not pronounced as dulche &c..

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  2. Although the main point of today's blog is a different one:
    The German letter sequence ci_ in initial position is indeed most often pronounced as [ts];
    more frequent examples are Circus, Cis-Dur or Citrusfrucht.

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  3. Pronouncing gracias as [ˈɡʁatsi̯as] could also be a confusion with Italian grazie, couldn't it?

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  4. More specifically, the [ʃ, ʒ] realization is a "rioplatense" (River Plate) phenomenon, typical of Buenos Aires, Rosario and Montevideo, Uruguay and their areas of influence. Speakers from some Argentinian provinces do not use it. As a Uruguayan, I use [ʃ] invariably and I am /j - ʎ/ merged.
    I went to school in the 80s and teachers would drill us (in vain) in the use of [ʎ] for an artificially preserved /ʎ/, still perceived as "correct" (more likely an attempt to influence spelling). Nowadays, [ʒ] strikes me as a somewhat formal variant, [j] as a rural or foreign pronunciation, and [ʎ] as particularly marked and unusual.

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  5. My L2 is Argentinian Spanish. I left there in 1958. In the half century since then the pronunciation of the "LL" (as in "lluvia")is in my opinion the most pronounced(!)change that has occured in "Porteño".
    As a non linguist I don't know the correct symbols to use but:
    It used to be "lyooveeah" and now it's "shooveeah".
    Frank Baarda

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  6. Frank, I wonder in what circles you grew up or whether your schoolmasters brainwashed you. :-) There certainly was a change in the period you mention, but it was from [ʒ] to [ʃ]. Furthermore, even before it was [ʒ], it wasn't [ʎ] but [j]. [ʎ] never really left Europe.

    Personally, I still find the voiceless variant strange, and associate a Porteño with [ʒ]. Also personally, I find something between [dj], [ʝ], [ɟ] and [d̠ʑ] most normal.

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  7. Gracias Lipman- Again, without being familiar with the use of these symbols I think you're right... In my attempt to make a point I exagerated the difference... it was never leeyouveeah... more like jooveeah, but there has definitely been a pronounced change to shoeveeah. As for what circles I grew up in, it was Palomar where many of the adults indeed would say "gratsias" much to us children's amusement. My brother and I never forgot the lady that was in a German speaking shop and asked for : "Ein kilo puta"
    Frank Baarda

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  8. The pronunciation varies according to the different regions.

    While the use of postalveolar fricatives is typical of the "rioplatense" area. The voiced one is common among posh speakers, especially in the Capital city and immediate surroundings, such as San Isidro - while the voiceless counterpart is heard everywhere, most commonly in the province's interior.

    On the other hand, a palatal approximant is used in the northern areas on the country. Former president Carlos Menem is a clear example of this. Born in La Rioja, he produced a j where a postalveolar fricative would be expected by porteños and people from central provinces.

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  9. Thanks for coming Mr. Wells!

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  10. mind you, our gracias does not start with a plosive /g/, rather it's an approximant of the fricative version, ooops, cant provide the symbol!

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  11. Maybe someone can explain to me the following curious phenomenon. I used to know a native of Barcelona. He was bilingual in Castilian and Catalan, but Castilian was his first language and he spoke Catalan with a Castilian accent. Now in the Castilian pronunciation of my friend, "ll" and "y" are both pronounced as [j] -- an increasingly common assimilation known in Spanish as "yeseo." But Catalan has not undergone yeseo: "ll" in Catalan is still [ʎ]. My friend, however, could not make this sound. What I found perplexing, though, was that he would use [ʒ] in its place, at least in pre-vocalic position: he pronounced the Catalan name Lluis as [ʒuis]. (I think that he used [j] for post-vocalic "ll," so that the name "Llull" was [ʒuj]; I am not sure of this, though.) I find this very perplexing. First of all, [ʒ] would not have occurred in my friend's native Castilian; so, if he was going to acquire a foreign consonant, why not [ʎ]? Second, [ʒ] seems to me a poor approximation to [ʎ]; the consonant [j], which was part of my friend's native speech, seems to me much closer. Can anyone explain why he would introduce [ʒ]?

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  12. Thank you for coming to Argentina, Prof. Wells. Even though I could not make it to your talks, I got all sorts of "updates" by my colleagues and I sent my queries to you through them.
    As to our [sh, zh] pronunciation, the voiced variant seems to be more common in Capital. It is a typical feature of Riverplate Spanish (as surveyed by García Jurado, 2005), although the voiceless variant is commonly heard as well. I myself use the voiceless sound though I sometimes hear myself produce the voiced one for emphatic purposes.

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  13. To Baritonobasso: your friend's choice of sound could have been no more than a personal idiosyncracy. And since this is a phonetic blog, "yeismo" (not "yeseo") is not a result of assimilation, which has an entirely different meaning in phonology, but of a merger.

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  14. In Castilian Spanish, orthographic y is pronounced as a voiced palatal affricate after a pause or a nasal. In the zheístas of Argentina I have noted an analogical tendency to pronounce "zh" as (a fully voiced) "j" in the same environments.
    I have also noted "sibilated" tokens of this phoneme, where "sh/zh" sounds like "s/z". I'm not sure if this variant is phonetically identical to their /s/. For me, it certainly had a tendency to confuse itself with /s/. I note this variant in speakers of all ages so it's difficult to determine any sociolinguistic evaluation that might be attached to it. I have yet to note any individual who uses this variant to the exclusion of unassibilated tokens.

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  15. I'm not entirely sure Lipman's claim that a lateral realization of "ll" didn't really cross the Atlantic is really true, at least regarding Argentina. An Argentinian from the Province of Buenos Aires once told me that in some northern parts of Argentina such as Corrientes, "ll" is pronounced as "l" plus "i", so that calle is pronounced "calie", which she pronounced for me as literally that. While I'm not so sure that such a lleísta would pronounce like that (without a palatal place of articulation in the lateral) it does seem to clearly indicate that phonetically lateral realizations are found amongst those Argentinians that still distinguish "ll" and "y".

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  16. My first reaction would have been to dismiss residues of any ʎ j distinction in Argentina. I went looking in youtube for actual accent samples and without searching much, I found this clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=neqm2v-TL4A
    There are several accents in the clip, but at 1:18, you hear a native of Corrientes pronounce "batalla" as [βataʎa](maybe even [βatalja]). Compare at 2:34 "proyectiles" [pɾoʒektileh] and "allí" [aʎi] in the same sentence.

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  17. Yes, that was a tad over-simplified.

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  18. David Marjanović3 October 2009 at 20:08

    Didn't [ʎ] survive in Peru (where Quechua just so happens to conveniently possess the same sound as a phoneme)?

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