Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Debunking Language Stereotypes: Spanish

In the last of our series on debunking the language stereotypes of EFIGS languages, we're covering Spanish.

A while ago we explained why Spaniards lisp, but there's more to Spanish than just that. Just like the stereotypes behind Italian and French, the Spanish language does not feature the phoneme for the letter "i" as in English. This means native Spanish speakers often struggle with the pronunciation of words such as bit, fit, hit and the rude one that rhymes with those words.

The Spanish countryside near Medellín, Extremadura.
Spanish, much like French and Italian, features a silent "h". The language does, however, feature an approximate sound which is used for the letter "j", /x/. It sounds a lot more like clearing your throat, which will often come across when native Spanish speakers attempt to say English words beginning with "h".

In certain dialects of Spanish, the sound for the letter "y" can also pose problems. There is no perfect approximation since the phoneme for the letter "y" as in the English word "yes" is /j/. Spanish has both /ʝ/, which sounds more like a blend between a "y" and a "j" sound, as well as /ʎ/, which sounds more more like an English letter "y".

There are also only five vowel sounds in Spanish. English, depending on how you count vowels and whether you speak American English or British English, can feature nearly twenty vowel phonemes. Imagine how difficult it would be to have to learn almost 15 new vowel sounds in order to speak a new language!