LINGUIST List 14.3468

Sun Dec 14 2003

Qs: Spanish Phonetic Notation; Romance Vowels

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  1. Ben Wing, fricative symbols used in spanish-language writing
  2. Ben Wing, romance mid-vowel alternations in verbs

Message 1: fricative symbols used in spanish-language writing

Date: Sat, 13 Dec 2003 00:33:41 -0500 (EST)
From: Ben Wing <>
Subject: fricative symbols used in spanish-language writing

i have a very interesting book on spanish dialects which i picked up
in spain -- ''dialectologia espanola'' by alonso zamora
vicente. unfortunately, it uses all sorts of strange symbols for
different sounds, esp. for fricatives -- circumflex on top of s, c, y,
z; diamond on top of s and z; hacek on some letters, dot under others,
etc. there is no key anywhere describing these usages or indicating
their IPA correspondences, and the descriptions of the sounds are not
always very helpful -- e.g. various different sounds are described as
post-alveolar affricates, with vague additional comments like ''de
timbre grave''. there also seems to be ambiguity in some of the sounds
-- e.g. the s with ^ seems to correspond to at least two different
sounds, one of them used in leonese and something like a retroflex
affricate (maybe?), and the other something like /ts/. [not to mention
a persistent confusion between pseudo-spanish orthography and proper
phonetic representation, which makes it nearly impossible to figure
out what the letters x and j are referring to in various
circumstances.] can someone help sort this out for me?

also, the book makes reference to at least three pronunciations of
's', described as 'apical', 'coronal', and 'pre-dorsal', used
respectively in northern and central spain, northern andalucia, and
southern andalucia -- in addition to two pronunciations in ''ceceo''
speech, one of them similar to english 'th' and the other somewhere
between s and th. evidently all five of these sounds are noticeably
different from each other -- but when i was in seville a couple of
years ago i don't recall hearing any sounds other than the familiar
english s ('pre-dorsal', i gather) and th (plus the aspirated s, of
course). to this day i have no idea what even the apical s sounds
like. are there any internet sites with recordings of these different
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Message 2: romance mid-vowel alternations in verbs

Date: Sat, 13 Dec 2003 03:23:48 -0500 (EST)
From: Ben Wing <>
Subject: romance mid-vowel alternations in verbs

i have gathered that most romance languages stem from a system with 7
vowels in stressed syllables but only 5 in unstressed ones. in verbs,
this creates an imbalance between the forms where the root is stressed
and where the ending is stressed -- esp. the infinitive, the form in
which verbs are normally cited. in spanish this results in the
well-known verb diphthongizations -- recordar vs. recuerdo, etc. these
same alternations occurred in old french and old italian, but have
apparently been levelled since then. BUT ... the exact same
alternations are still going to occur, even if the spelling doesn't
indicate it.

e.g. in italian, despite the levelling of diphthongs, the alternation
of closed and open mid-vowels persists, both in closed syllables
[where no levelling ever happened] and in open syllables:

detto/dettare [closed] vs. getto/gettare [open] 
tocco/toccare [closed] vs. blocco/bloccare [open] 
pelo/pelare [closed] vs. gelo/gelare [open] 
commento/commentare [closed] vs. contento/contentare [open] 
ascolto/ascoltare [closed] vs. volto/voltare [open] 


[these are guesses, based on related words, since my dictionary
doesn't correctly indicate the pronunciation of the stressed forms]

further sound changes in portuguese and french have eliminated any
remaining mid-vowel contrasts in normal verbs, but they persist in
italian, occitan [where it's reflected in the spelling] and catalan.

i would like to find further references/discussions on this. because
the spelling of italian does not show these unpredictablities, the
problem has been almost completely ignored, while mountains of
literature have been written on spanish diphthongization, even though
the two are almost entirely parallel. i have not seen one dictionary
that lists anything other than the infinitive form for verbs [hence,
not showing the quality of mid-vowel verbs in -are, and also not
showing the position of stress, which is not predictable]. i have not
seen one textbook that addresses this problem at all, giving lists of
common verbs with the quality of the stressed vowel and location of
stress, like you see all the time for spanish. i have not found one
paper on the internet that gives more than passing reference to this;
nor for catalan or occitan, even though for teachers of occitan at
least this is a real problem since you need to spell the verbs

any ideas? any references? 
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