Spanish language

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Spanish or Castilian (in its own language: español, castellano) is one of the Romance languages. It began as a variety of Latin in what is now northern Spain, and has since become one of the world's most widely-spoken languages. Its is nowadays the first spoken language and the state language of Spain, as well as of a majority of Latin American countries which are, from north to south, Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile. In most of these countries, however, Spanish coexists with several minority languages. Spanish is also used by an important part of the population of the United States, has an official status in Equatorial Guinea and enjoys some diffusion in the Philippines, in Morocco and in Western Sahara.

Spanish is closely related to the following Romance languages:

Ladino (djudeo-espanyol, sefardí) is a Spanish dialect.

Phonology

Due to a Basque substratum (which can also occur in the Gascon dialect of Occitan), but in all positions, Latin initial f- mutated into h- before a non-diphthongised vowel.

Writing system

Letters

Spanish uses a variant of the Roman alphabet containing twenty-seven letters, that is, the typical twenty-six letters plus Ñ:

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N Ñ O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Between 1754 and 2010, the graphemes CH and LL were considered as letters of the alphabet, CH being located after C and LL after L. For instance, cuyo with c (“whose”) was followed by chacal with ch (“jackal”). In 1994, CH and LL were still considered as letters but had to respect the typical, international, alphabetical order, that is, chacal was set before cuyo. In 2010, CH and LL were no longer considered as letters.[1]

The letters bear the following names:

A (a), B (be), C (ce), D (de), E (e), F (efe), G (ge), H (hache), I (i), J (jota), K (ka), L (ele), M (eme), N (ene), Ñ (eñe), O (o), P (pe), Q (cu), R (erre), S (ese), T (te), U (u), V (uve,[2] ve), W (uve doble,[3] doble ve), X (equis), Y (ye,[4] i griega), Z (zeta).

The two graphemes which are no longer letters still bear letter names: CH (che), LL (elle).

Diacritics

The Spanish diacritic marks are:

  • The acute accent on á, é, í, ó, ú. It indicates the place of the stress.
  • The tilde on ñ. It distinguishes ñ (which resembles English ny in canyon) from n.
  • The dieresis on ü, but only used in the groups güe, güi. It indicates that ü is pronounced [w]. Without the dieresis, u would be silent in such a position.

Pronunciation rules

Spanish spelling is quite simple and easy to learn, since each grapheme has to be read in a precise way and most phonemes can be represented by only one grapheme. Exceptions exist but are few.

Graphemes

Here are the main, standard pronunciation rules.

Grapheme Pronunciation
(IPA)
Pronunciation
(rough English equivalent)
a, á [a] Resembles English a in car.
b [β~b]
(variation depending on the nearby phonemes)
[β] is between English b and v.
[b] is like English b.
c in general [k] k
c before e, i [θ] English th in think.
NOTE — In some Spanish-speaking territories, [θ] has evolved to [s]: this is also accepted in standard speech.
ch [tʃ] ch
d [ð~d]
(variation depending on the nearby phonemes)
[ð] resembles English th in mother.
[d] is like English d in dad.
e, é [e] Resembles English e in get.
f [f] f
g in general [ɣ~g]
(variation depending on the nearby phonemes)
[ɣ] is between English g and h.
[g] is like English g in get.
g before e, i [x] Scottish English ch in loch.
gu before e, i [ɣ~g]
(variation depending on the previous phoneme)
[ɣ] is between English g and h.
[g] is like English g in get.
gu before a, o [ɣw~gw]
(variation depending on the previous phoneme)
[ɣw] is between English gw and wh.
[gw] is like English gw in penguin.
gu at syllable ending [ɣu~gu]
(variation depending on the previous phoneme)
[ɣu] is between English goo and hoo.
[gu] is like English goo.
(always before e or i) [ɣw~gw]
(variation depending on the previous phoneme)
[ɣw] is between English gw and wh.
[gw] is like English gw in penguin.
h silent
i [i] Resembles English i in kick.
i after or before another vowel [j] Resembles English y in yet, boy.
í [i] Resembles English i in kick.
j [x] Scottish English ch in loch.
k [k] k
l [l] l
ll [ʎ] Resembles English li in million.
NOTE — In some Spanish-speaking territories, [ʎ] has evolved to [j] (sounding like English y in yes, boy): this is also accepted in standard speech.
m [m] m
n [n] n
ñ [ɲ] Resembles English ny in canyon.
o, ó [o] Resembles English o in more.
p [p] p
qu (always before e or i) [k] k
r in general short [r]
(also transcribed [ɾ] by certain phoneticians)
Resembles Scottish English r.
r at word beginning and after n long [rr]
(also transcribed [r] by certain phoneticians)
Resembles Scottish English r, but long.
rr (always between two vowels) long [rr]
(also transcribed [r] by certain phoneticians)
Resembles Scottish English r, but long.
s [s] (never [z]) Resembles English ss in kiss.
t [t] t
u [u] Resembles English oo in look.
u after or before another vowel [w] Resembles English w in wet, how.
ú [u] Resembles English oo in look.
v [β~b]
(variation depending on the nearby phonemes)
[β] is between English b and v.
[b] is like English b.
w in certain words [β~b]
(variation depending on the nearby phonemes)
[β] is between English b and v.
[b] is like English b.
w in certain words [w] Resembles English w in wet, how.
x in general [ks] Resembles English x in box.
x in some proper names such as México, Oaxaca [x] Scottish English ch in loch.
y in general [j] Resembles English y in yet, boy.
y in the single-letter word y “and”. [i] English i in kick.
z [θ] English th in think.
NOTE — In some Spanish-speaking territories, [θ] has evolved to [s]: this is also accepted in standard speech.

Grapheme alternations

One can notice that, sometimes, a same sound (or a same sound sequence) is written in different ways, depending on its environment:

  • [θ] is written z in general, but often c before e, i. Hence the written alternation for the same [θ]-sound: z, za, zo, zu ~ ce, ci.
  • [x] is written j in general, but often g before e, i. Hence the written alternation for the same [x]-sound: j, ja, jo, ju ~ ge, gi.
  • [k] is written c in general, but qu before e, i. Hence the written alternation for the same [k]-sound: c, ca, co, cu ~ que, qui.
  • [ɣ~g] is written g in general, but gu before e, i. Hence the written alternation for the same [ɣ~g]-sounds: g, ga, go, gu ~ gue, gui.
  • [ɣw~gw] is written gu before a, o, but before e, i. Hence the written alternation for the same [ɣw~gw]-sounds: gua, guo ~ e, i.
  • Long [rr] is written rr between two vowels but r at word beginning and after n.

Stress

The stress may fall on the last syllable, on the last but one syllable or on the antepenult. The way a word is spelled permits to predict where the stress is.

  • The stress falls on the last but one syllable in words ended by -a -e -i -o -u, by -as -es -is -os -us and by -an -en -in -on -un: bueno “good (singular)”, buenos “good (plural)”, habla “he/she talks”, hablan “they talk”.
  • The stress falls on the last syllable in words that have other endings: añadir “to add”, español “Spanish”, Uruguay “Uruguay”.
  • The stress falls on any vowel that bears a written, acute accent (this written accent often indicates that the stress is not located in a regular place): café “coffee”, inglés “English”, común “common”, nación “nation”, catálogo “catalog”, política “politics”.
  • Words ended by -io, -ia, -ie are stressed on the previous syllable (necesario, necesaria “necessary”, justicia “justice”, nadie “nobody”), unless an acute accent indicates another place (tío “uncle”, rocío “dew”, policía “police”, día “day”).

Punctuation

A typical feature of Spanish punctuation is the visible limits of questions and exclamations. They are framed between double questions marks (¿...?) and double exclamation marks (¡...!), the first mark being inverted:

Y ahora, ¿donde están los niños?
(And now, where are the children?)
¿Qué tal?
(What's up?)
¡Bueno!
(Well!)

Quotation marks have the following shapes: «...» or ... (more rarely: ...).

Spanish around the world

The term 'Castilian' (castellano) may be used to refer to the pronunciation, typical of Spain, that uses the unvoiced, lisping, th sound instead of the s sound for the letter c before vowels i and e.

The Philippines

In 2007, the Instituto Cervantes in Manila requested of the Philippine government to reinstate the status of Spanish as an official language, prior to current president's Gloria Arroyo's state visit to Spain in December 2007.

References

  1. See the explanations of the Royal Spanish Academy.
  2. Uve is preferred by the Royal Spanish Academy (2010).
  3. Uve doble is preferred by the Royal Spanish Academy (2010).
  4. Ye is preferred by the Royal Spanish Academy (2010).