LINGUIST List 10.1521

Thu Oct 14 1999

Disc: The Palatal Plosive in Galician

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Celso Alvarez Caccamo, Re: The palatal plosive in Galiza

Message 1: Re: The palatal plosive in Galiza

Date: Thu, 14 Oct 1999 00:04:03 +0200
From: Celso Alvarez Caccamo <>
Subject: Re: The palatal plosive in Galiza

Xos� L. Regueira (XLR) replies to my previous message about
the "palatal plosive" in Galiza speech. I obviously appreciate
his disposition to dialogue, but some clarifications are needed,
as I believe XLR misconstrues the intention of my message.

1) XLR confuses criticisms with "attacks". XLR implies that
my intention was to "discredit" his work on the basis of
linguistic ideological differences as to the delimitation of
Galizan as a "language" (his view) or as a set of urban and
rural varieties within the Galizan-Portuguese system (my
view). If that were my objective, I would have claimed that
XLR should have found a speaker showing the palatal lateral
/L/, which is characteristic of the Galizan-Portuguese domain.
I did not argued for that. I argued against the phonemic
interpretation of a segment which in Galiza is variably
[L], [j] or other realizations.

2) I objected to XLR's decision to include the palatal plosive
segment as phonemic. A quick perusal through the University
of Victoria Phonetic Database, version 3 (1994), confirms that
the range of actual sounds represented by the symbol for the
"voiced palatal plosive" (dotless-barred j symbol, hereafter [J])
in samples from Hungarian, Gugu Yalanji, Kazakh, Bulgarian,
or Kirghiz is widely varied. Only a few samples resemble what
can be found (variably) for orthographic "lh" in Galiza (or "ll",
in XLR's Spanish-based spelling system). Kirghiz, for
example, has a "palatal plosive" which sounds to me as a
distinct [g]. Samples included in the CLS IPA Tutorial are even
more strikingly different. In the absence of palatograms, or of
"further explanation" about the articulation of the segment, as
XLR concedes, I don't know what exact sound XLR is
referring to. A plosive means total closure of the air channel
with sudden release. All colleagues I have asked about agree
that characterizing the phonemic segment in question as a
plosive is rather odd. To me, it is more logical to interpret the
segment as an approximant which may undergo some sort of
fortitio in emphatic speech than as a plosive that undergoes lenitio
in totally unspecified environments and registers. The
emphatic pronunciation is characteristic, for example, of
phonetically Castilianized "network speech", and it is this
plosive sound which strikes me as "odd" in native Galizan

3) This lack of "further explanation" about phonetic variability
of the segment is crucial, particularly when in the sample text
read by the speaker the segment in question appears only once,
in the form "fazer-lhe". In fact, there appears to be a flaw in
XLR's decision to include the plosive segment as characteristic
of a "colloquial Galician" or "informal variety" based on the
speaker's monitored speech (reading word lists and texts). XLR
states the goals of his description:

"The language variety described here is that of a colloquial
Galician as spoken by a middle-aged male speaker whose
speech may be considered representative of an informal variety
used by educated urban speakers" (p. 119).

For the same reason, all vowel nasalizations registered in
monitored speech should be "phonemic". In short, I believe
XLR did not do his full homework regarding the necessary
adequacy between goals, data, method and criteria for his
description. Notice that XLR does not speak of a phonetically
conditioned distribution for the segment such as that obtaining
for /b d g/, since the "palatal plosive" is also claimed to appear
between vowels ([`aJo] "alho" `garlic'), unlike /b d g/. That is,
perhaps XLR postulates the existence of the plosive series /b d
J g/ in an unnecessary search for symmetry. However, this
supposed /J/ would behave very differently from the other
members in the series.

3) Joaquim Brand�o de Carvalho anticipates one more
argument for the interpretation of the segment: that the
approximant [j] is also found in other Portuguese varieties
(such as Caipira, where I've read it represented as "i" -- "mui�"
[mu'je] for "mulher" 'woman'). Since in Galiza the approximant
is also found in realizations of vocalic "i" ("maio" [']
'May') the puzzle is complicated further. XLR has opted for
characterizing the segment in "maio" as consonantic /j/ (even
though in colloquial speech it may be articulated as a syllabic
segment, ['ma.i.o], as alternations "hist�ria ~ hist�rea", "c�dia
~ c�dea" 'bark' show), and hence the slot is already occupied
for the segment in the first term of the pair, "malho", even
when XLR states that the speaker alternated between the
plosive and the approximant in forms like "malho".

4) XLR states:

>In his message, Celso �lvarez-C�ccamo (henceforth, CAC)
>repeats the statements of the traditional phonetic descriptions
>of Spanish ("The most common range of sounds for this
>segment in urban dialects is perhaps a palato-alveolar
>approximant, fricative or even affricate"), and he finds the
>palatal plosive "odd". CAC shows no evidence of his

In my message I do not refer to these segments in Spanish, but
to the Galizan-Portuguese varieties spoken in Galiza as
phonetically influenced by Spanish, as XLR agrees. It is hard
to believe that a range of sounds so frequent in Spanish like the
palatal approximant - fricative - affricate "y" or "ll" are alien to
de-lateralization in Galiza. The central palatal is found in such
common Spanish words as "yo, ya, all�, llegar, llamar, calle". It
is particularly noteworthy that the segment occurs in
word-initial and sentence-initial position, where it undergoes
fortitio, while in Galizan-Portuguese /L/ is word-initial only in
a few cases ("lhe, lhama"), hardly susceptible to be sentence-initial.

Interestingly, again, the [L] sound is most frequent among the
*older* speakers, that is, the least Castilianized.

5) XLR states:

> Furthermore, CAC accuses me of describing the language of
> a "Spanish speaker who has acquired Galizan as a second
> tongue through formal instruction", "undoubtedly a
> bilingual". I have to make clear that the speaker of the
> Galician Illustration is a native monolingual speaker (that
> stands for a speaker with L1 Galician, with Galician as
> familiar, informal and also formal language in his everyday
> life, although he can also speak Spanish and other
> languages), who actually teachs at a Galician university.

That is not what I had stated. I wrote:

CAC> Further, "educated urban speaker", in the Galizan
CAC> context, has a clear sociolinguistic meaning that
CAC> Regueira does not make explicit. The expression
CAC> translates most commonly as an urban native Spanish
CAC> speaker who has acquired Galizan as a second
CAC> tongue through formal instruction.

So, the speaker had Galizan as his native variety
(monolingually?). But my stating that the speaker chosen
was "undoubtedly a bilingual" is hardly an
"accusation". In fact, the speaker chosen is not monolingual, as
it couldn't be otherwise in the Galizan urban context. I believe
XLR has overstepped his boundaries and offered a quite
peculiar and self-contradictory description of a "monolingual"
speaker: one who is a native speaker of Galizan (L1), but who
"can also speak Spanish and other languages" -- that is, a
multilingual person, and, if you press me, very likely someone
who has Spanish as an L2!. Anyone who is minimally familiar with
the Galizan sociolinguistic situation knows that no educated
person in his fifties can be said to be "monolingual" in Galizan
in terms of competence and usages (unless he never travels to
other parts of the Spanish state), as the immense majority of his
elementary, secondary, and probably university studies (unless
he is a professor of Galizan Philology) were carried out in
Spanish, in a context where Spanish is the socially dominant
language. In other words: in Galiza, Spanish cannot be placed as "one
more" among several "foreign" languages in an
"educated speaker"'s competence. This is a fact, and any
attempt to present Spanish as "just another language" in Galiza
or Catalunya is as of now simply a (very respectable)
ideological desideratum, but is not the real picture.

This is not to say that Spanish should necessarily be
phonetically dominant in this speaker's performance. But, if the
de-lateralization process of /L/ is claimed to be a Spanish
phenomenon, AND if the "palatal plosive" has also been
described for Spanish in Galiza, as I had stated and XLR
confirms, AND if the speaker is "urban" (Spanish is the
dominant language in all Galizan towns), AND if he is
"educated" and hence went through an educational system in
Spanish, then it is very logical to think that the PLOSIVE may
very well have a Spanish basis.

6) XLR implies that my criticism to his work has to do with the
fact that I do not consider Galizan a separate language from

> This discussion can only be understood in the
> language-ideologically context of Galicia. CAC supports the
> idea that the Galician language is a (rather rural) variety
> of the Portuguese language (hence the name
> "Galizan-Portuguese"), and therefore he is against the
> current process of standardisation of the Galician language.
> Contrary, I am a native Galician speaker and I support
> and work for the standardisation and the social spread of
> my language.

This is, indeed, also an ideological debate, but I believe XLR's
reasoning in the paragraph above exceeds logical academese:

- First, it is inaccurate to say that I believe "Galizan" to be just
one variety: "Galizan", as anyone knows, is a set of varieties --
some rural, some urban.

- Second, thinking that a given construct like "Galizan" is a set of
varieties which are a part of the larger construct
"Portuguese" does not necessarily preclude someone from
supporting standardization of the former. I do support aspects
of the standardization of Galizan by means of the adoption of
the Portuguese spelling system and by its study and teaching
as a part of the larger Galizan-Portuguese linguistic system --
the traditional, most coherent view for me, as I also speak
of large monsters such as "Spanish" or "English" as "languages".

- Thirdly, XLR's statement about his own native linguistic
competence ("I am a native Galician speaker") is not and
cannot be logically "contrary" (sic) to my characterization of
Galizan as part of the Galizan-Portuguese system -- it's like
opposing pears and apples.

- Finally, the implication that, by constrast, I would not be
working for the "social spread" of Galizan simply because I
disagree with the dominant institutional views which XLR
represents is another non-sequitor.

> In this context, CAC, ignoring the facts, understands
> my work as a spurious move to "separate" the Galician
> language from Portuguese, and he attempts to discredit
> it based only on his own suppositions about a "wrong
> speaker". This is absolutely false. CAC does not give
> any valid argument, but rather what appears to
> be only an ideological attack.

It is hard to me to understand how a given criticism about a
research decision such as the choice of a "representative"
speaker and the choice of the phonemic representation of a set
of sounds can count as a move to gratuitously "discredit"
someone's work for the sake of it. (Fortunately, my own,
modest work has been "discredited" a few times by criticisms.
Most of the times -- even more fortunately! -- it has simply
gone unnoticed.)

But, it is obvious that there are linguistic-ideological
underpinnings to XLR's work -- the one under discussion here
- as it couldn't be otherwise. Since XLR starts from the
assumption that Galizan is a separate language, it is simply
logical to think that his choice of a "representative" speaker
was mediated by his conception. There is no magic here, as the
times of good-old-objective-Descriptivism are gone (see,
in this regard, the various, contradictory accounts of Galizan
as a "language", a "dialect of Portuguese spoken in Spain",
or "a dialect spoken in Galiza and Northern Portugal" given
in the _Ethnologue_ catalogue). In this sense, it is illustrative
to note how, in his reply, XLR has somehow felt the need to
insist on the expression "the Galician language" instead of
simply "Galician" in no less than 7 out of 14 references to it,
whereas Spanish was labelled "the Spanish language" only once.
I've counted because I work on discourse. Just repeating something
is a "language" doesn't make it so -- unless one has the political
power. Just describing phonemes doesn't, either. Were I to
argue for or against "languagehood" for Galizan on the basis of
the inventory of phonemic segments alone, I would agree with
XLR that it is a separate language -- like "Puerto Rican",
"Andalusian", "Jamaican", "Northern Irish" or "Alabaman".


Celso Alvarez C�ccamo Tel. +34 981 167000 ext. 1888
Lingu�stica Geral, Faculdade de Filologia FAX +34 981 167151
Universidade da Corunha
15071 A Corunha, Galiza (Espanha)
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