LINGUIST List 14.2017

Sat Jul 26 2003

Sum: Voicing in Spanish

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Carol L. Tenny, Re: Linguist 14.271 Spanish voicing

Message 1: Re: Linguist 14.271 Spanish voicing

Date: Sat, 26 Jul 2003 15:30:09 -0400 (EDT)
From: Carol L. Tenny <>
Subject: Re: Linguist 14.271 Spanish voicing

SUMMARY: Voicing in Spanish

Some months ago I put out the following query on Linguist List about
voicing in Spanish:
	After working through a problem demonstrating [s] and [z] were
allophonic in a dialect of colloquial Spanish, one of my students
asked me about two verb forms pronounced [has] and [haz] in
Spanish. Can anyone tell me about these? Is the contrastive [s] and
[z] due to morphophonetics, or dialect differences? or something else?

	Carol Tenny in Pittsburgh PA

FIRST let me thank all the people who wrote to straighten me out:

Francisco Dubert Garc�a, Larissa Chen, Ignasi-Xavier Adiego, Lee
Hartman, Travis Bradley, Stephan Schmid, Barbara Herrarte, Mike
Maxwell, Earl Herrick, Karl Reinhardt, Clyde Hankey, Miguel
Rodriguez-Mondonedo, Timothy L. Face, Melanie Fox, David Eddington,
Irene Moyna, Fernanda Allegro

SECOND, let me reassure the experts who wrote to me in alarm; the
student was not a native Spanish speaker but a beginning
English-speaking student of Spanish. I did conclude, as many of you
wrote, that he had confused writing with pronunciation, an apparently
common mistake for beginning students of Spanish. I include a message
from David Eddington which summarizes the mistake:

The two verbs are 'has' you have, and 'haz' make/do (command). In
most dialects, these are homophones, [as], and the /s/ would undergo
voicing for both words when followed by a voiced consonant. However,
in northern Spain they are not homophones, the 'z' being an
interdental voiceless fricative, which also may be voiced if followed
by a voiced consonant. David Eddington.

THIRD, I garnered a lot of fascinating information about regional
variation in dialects of Spanish, which I shall include below. I think
this information will make a great lesson for an intro linguistics
class, on phonetic variation in regional dialects of another language
besides English, a language that a number of them will speak.


Here where I teach, in Kingsville TX a hundred miles from the Rio
Grande, one of the indigenous languages is Spanish. What the books say
is that Spanish /s/ is normally [s] but has a voiced allophone [z]
before a voiced consonant (or before one that is phonetically voiced,
even if not functionally so; and it is not voiced before a vowel,
counterindictively though that might be).

Here, in what is in effect one of the fringes of the Spanish-speaking
world, there is considerable variation. There are some villages (or
ranches) of old (pre 1846 war) settlement where /s/ is never voiced,
not even in _mismo_ which is often said to be a prime example of an
environment that will produce [z]. And from one of those villages I
once had a student who said that she had a brother and a
brother-in-law both named "Israel", and that one of them pronounced
his name with [s] and one pronounced his name with [z]. (Presumably
the one who said it with [s] would also say [mismo], but she didn't
report.) Earl Herrick


I think the student is just confused. The two verb forms would be 'has' 
[as], the present of the auxiliary 'haber' which we use to make perfect 
tenses, 'has comido' 'you have eaten' etc. etc. The second one is 'haz' 
[as] in the dialects of Spanish that don't distinguish /s/ from /theta/, 
and [ath] in the dialects that do (northern and central peninsular
Spanish), and it means 'make-imperative 2 person.' In the dialects where 
there is no /s/ - /theta/ distinction, there is no difference between the 
last segment of the two forms. The forms are not phonetically identical 
because the first one, 'has' is an auxiliary verb and as such is 
obligatorily unstressed, a clitic. The second form is a lexical verbs and
 is therefore stressed. But as far as the last segment is concerned,
no distinction. In the dialects of northern Peninsular Spanish, the
two forms are indeed different in their last segment, but the
difference is not one of /s/ voicing/devoicing; there are differences
of place of articulation as well.

In the dialects that voice syllable final s (Mexican, for instance), both 
forms would be affected in the same way if they were in the right 
context. That is, you would hear 'has dado' 'you have given' pronounced
as [azdado] (sorry, I can't get the eth, the [d] will have to do) and you
would also hear 'haz diez' 'make ten' as [azdjes] (again, no eth). In the
 other dialects, well, there might be several solutions, such as deletion,
 aspiration, and /s/, but that's another story that you might want to tell
 your students a little later.... Irene Moyna


In Spanish HAZ means "do (it)!", it is an order to do something. HAS
means "(you) have", it is the second person of verb HABER. In
Castillian Spanish there is a contrast between HAS and HAZ because
there is a contrast between "s" and "z", where "z" is a voiceless
interdental fricative, no [z]. In Latinamerican Spanish there is not
such contrast, that is, both HAS and HAZ are pronunced [as].

However in both dialects the final fricative could be voiced in some
context. For instance, in the Spanish of some regions of the North of
Peru, where the auxiliar HAS becomes one word with the main verb (they
share the same stress: HASGANADO "you have won"), the fricative [s] is
voiced---as in [razgo]. In other dialects, where the auxiliar has an
independent stress: HAS GANADO, the voicing tends to not happen.

Miguel Rodriguez-Mondonedo


I'm assuming (1) that the forms you list as [has] and [haz] are
actually [as] and [az] of underlying /as/ 'you have' (2nd person
singular present of the auxiliary haber), respectively, since
orthographic <h> is unpronounced, and furthermore (2) that [az] is not
the 2nd person singular imperative form of hacer 'to do' (which is
written haz).

Given these assumptions, the case of word-final [s] vs. [z] that your
student mentioned seems to be part of a more general trend in certain
Spanish varieties involving other patterns of morpheme- and/or
word-final onsonantism. The data in (1-3) show some relevant minimal
pairs from highland Ecuadorian Spanish (Arg�ello 1978, Lipski 1989,
Moya 1981, Robinson 1979, and Toscano Mateus 1953). In (1), word-final
/s/ undergoes voicing when resyllabified postlexically to the
following onset in (a), while /s/ remains voiceless if it is already
in onset position at the lexical level in (b):

(1) Word-final /s/-voicing
a. [a.zi.Do] has ido 'you have gone'
b. [] ha sido 's/he has been'

In the subdialect of Cuenca in southern highland Ecuador, /s/-voicing
has been extended to morpheme-final position as well, specifically
with the prefix /des-/:

(2) Morpheme-final /s/-voicing (Cuenca subdialect)
a. [] des+alar 'to remove the wings'
b. [] de+salar 'to desalinate'

Finally, the data in (3) show that word-final /n/ becomes velarized
[N] (or perhaps just placeless) both when parsed as a coda in (3a) and
when resyllabified as an onset in (3c). However, /n/ surfaces as it
normally would in non-word-final position, either homorganic with the
following consonant in (3b) or faithfully as [n] in onset position in

(3) Word-final /n/-velarization
a. [koN.pla.ser] con placer 'with pleasure'
b. [kom.pla.ser] complacer 'to please'

c. [] Don Aldo 'Sir Aldo'
d. [] Donaldo 'Donaldo'

What's interesting about the differences in (1-3) is that they all
involve contrasts at the phrasal level between segments that are never
contrastive at the lexical level within the morpheme. The voicing
distinction in Old Spanish sibilants was lost long ago, and the
contrasts in (3) are also absent at the lexical level: nasal place
distinctions are always neutralized in coda position, and the only
distinctive nasal phones in onset position are the bilabial, alveolar,
and velar. One way to think of these patterns is that they represent
cases of emergent phrasal contrasts whose function is to clarify the
morphological affiliation of the segments involved. In each case, a
segmental difference is being used to avoid the neutralization of two
forms that are otherwise identical with respect to syllabification.


Arg�ello, Fanny. 1978. The zhe�sta Dialect of Spanish Spoken in
Ecuador: A Phonetic and Phonological Study. Ph.D. dissertation,
Pennsylvania State University.

Lipski, John. 1989. "/s/-voicing in Ecuadoran Spanish: patterns and
principles of consonantal modification". Lingua 79.49-71.

Moya, Ruth. 1981. El quichua en el espa�ol de Quito. Otavalo, Ecuador:
Instituto Otaval�o de Antropolog�a.

Robinson, Kimball. 1979. "On the voicing of intervocalic /s/ in the
Ecuadorian highlands". Romance Philology 33.137-143.

Toscano Mateus, Humberto. 1953. El espa�ol del Ecuador. Madrid:
Consejo Superior de Investigaci�n Cient�fica.

Travis Bradley

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