James Craik: loans, voseo and K-dropping

There is a town in Argentina called James Craik. The locals pronounce it as if it were a Spanish word written Jamescrái or Jamescray, that is, xamexˈkɾai̯. This is the reason for the joke some people tell about the place:

-Vengo de Jamescrái.
-¡Que bien que lo pronunciái!

Several things come to my mind when I think about this joke. The first one is how people adopt loanwords. In this case it’s a place name derived from a person’s name, but in this regard it’s not different from any other loan. When people adopt a loan from hearing it, they adapt their pronunciation based on what they hear, producing the closest thing they can manage based on what they heard and on what they can pronounce; both factors strongly related to the sound system of their own language, especially if they have no knowledge of the other language. On the other hand, when people adopt a loan from reading it, their pronunciation can go in two different directions. If they are familiar with the spelling-to-reading rules, their approximation will come closer to that of a “heard” loan. If they are only partly familiar, the pronunciation will be somewhere in the middle (cases in point: the American pronunciation of the LL in Cabrillo and Amarillo as English /l/, and the Argentinian pronunciation of cd-rom as cd-room (siðiˈrum)). If they are totally unfamiliar, they will apply the spelling-to-reading rules of their native language whole cloth, as in the case of Jamescrái.

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Cambio por etapas

En mi primer proof of concept de mi propuesta de reforma ortográfica del castellano Gloria, en un comentario, mencionó el tema de las colisiones con los valores tradicionales de GE/GI.

En mi respuesta, mencioné la posibilidad de un cambio por etapas que en las primeras evite el tema de las colisiones. Acá resumo esa propuesta.

La primera etapa solamente implementaría el cambio 1: eliminación de los tildes diacríticos. Este es el cambio más implementable, es muy sutil, y no causa ninguna colisión.

La segunda etapa implementaría el cambio 2 y los cambios 5 a 18; es decir, todos los otros cambios salvo GUE GUI -> GE GI y GÜE GÜI -> GUE GUI, que causarían posibles colisiones.

La tercera y última etapa implementaría aquellos cambios omitidos en la segunda etapa, completando la reforma.

Para poner mi granito de arena y apostar al cambio, de ahora en adelante todo lo escrito en castellano en este blog (incluso los ejemplos aislados dentro de textos en inglés) van a aplicar el cambio 1 y no van a tener tildes diacríticos.

More about Spanish R

This post is an answer to Herman’s comment on my Spanish accents post.

Let’s start with some basics: Spanish has two rhotic sounds, which are usually called vibrantes in Spanish dialectology. The one called vibrante simple is an alveolar tap ɾ, and the one called vibrante múltiple is an alveolar trill r. The first sound is found in English, for example in American English data. However the first vowel is pronounced, the T is not a plosive t, aspirated or unaspirated (like in time or stop), or a glottal stop (like in but). It is an alveolar tap. The trill r is not found in English, but you can hear it when people try to imitate, say, the sound of a motorcycle engine.

The trill r appears word-initially and syllable-initially after another consonant, where it is spelled R (rato, Enrique). The tap ɾ appears syllable-initially in consonant clusters and syllable-finally, where it is spelled R (brazo, mar). These sounds are only phonemically contrastive when intervocallically; consequently, this is the only place where they are spelled differently: RR for r and R for ɾ (perro, pero).

Because of the phonemic neutralization I mentioned above, syllable-final ɾ can be pronounced r without any risk of misunderstanding. A good example of a situation where this is done for dramatic effect is the narrating style of radio soccer commentators in Spanish-speaking countries.

The syllable-initial consonant clusters in which ɾ can appear are /pɾ bɾ tɾ dɾ kɾ gɾ fɾ/ (prisa, brazo, tres, madre, cruz, grasa, frase). It can also form a cluster when syllable-final before another syllable-initial consonant (arma, arnés, arlequín, arcángel, ardiente, artículo). Likewise, r can form a cluster with a preceding syllable-final consonant, like for example /l n s/ (alrededor, enriquecerse, Israel).

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Common mistakes of Spanish-speaking English learners

AKA Annals of English learners: the blog post

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, most of my employment consisted of teaching English to Spanish speakers in corporate environments in Buenos Aires. I did my best to teach them English, considering the circumstances, but they also taught me a lot of Spanglish. Those mistakes, common in Spanish speaking learners, were the subject of a video series on my youtube channel that I called Annals of English learners. This is a bit of a companion piece to it. This post is mostly intended for teachers, but maybe learners can benefit from it too.

1- Wait me; explain me

Saying wait me or explain me instead of wait for me and explain (it) to me. The reason is Spanish, of course: in Spanish esperar can take a person as its object without the need for a preposition, so that esperame = wait for me; the same is true of explicar: explicame = explain (it) to me. An historical aside: the use explain with me, which reminds me of the still current visit with me, used to be acceptable in English.

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A primer of accents of Spanish

1- Pronunciation of /x/

The sound written with J (and G before E and I) can be pronounced a number of different ways depending on accent. In the northern and central part of Spain, this sound is pronounced χ, a voiceless uvular fricative, also found in French in croissant. In Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, central Mexico, it’s pronounced x, a voiceless velar fricative, before /a o u/, and ç, a voiceless palatal fricative, before /e i/. These sounds are also found in German in ach and ich respectively. (You can also find a uvular χ variant in Argentina, especially before back vowels /o u/. Personally, I’m guessing this is either due to the influence of northern-central Spanish immigrants, Arabic speaking immigrants, or both.) In the south of Spain, the Canary Islands, the Caribbean (islands and coasts) and Central America, you find a h pronunciation, a voiceless glottal fricative, like in English hot.

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Other people on English spelling reform

The following links are some further reading for anyone interested in English spelling reform.

English accents and their implications for spelling reform by John Wells
English spelling problems and Improving English spelling by Masha Bell
Casting a last spell by Anatoly Liberman (the comments below are also very recommendable)
Spelling reform and the real reason it’s impossible by Justin B Rye (satirical, but hilarious and truer than I would like)
Wyrdplay.org’s Spelling reform files
The English Spelling Society

About reading problems in English-speaking children: Children of the code

Wikipedia: English spelling reform
– About historical changes in English pronunciation:
Great vowel shift
Trisyllabic laxing
Phonological history of English vowels
Phonological history of English consonants

Finally, at this link, a clip from the BBC Radio 4 show “Fry’s English delight” with Stephen Fry and linguist David Crystal. It starts with 8 minutes of interesting historical trivia, then continues on with some more conservative arguments about (and against) spelling reform.

Proof of concept: abowt Inglish spelling

The folloeing paragraf iz taakn from the Inglish Wikipedia. It iz speld akording too mi reformd Inglish spelling propoezl.


Partly bekawz Inglish haz nevver had enny forml regulating awthority for spelling, such az the Spannish Real Academia Española or the French Académie française, Inglish spelling, kompaard too menny uther langwijes, iz kwiit ireguler and komplex. Oltho French, amung uther langwijes, prezents a similer degre ov difikulty when enkoding (riting), Inglish iz mor difikult when dekoding (reding), az thaar ar kleerly menny mor posibl pronunsyaashns ov a groop ov letters. For exampl, in French the /u/ sownd (az in food), kan be speld ou, ous, out, or oux (ou, nous, tout, choux), but the pronunsyaashn ov eech ov theez seekwenses iz olwaaz the saam. In Inglish, the /u/ sownd (az in GOOS) kan be speld in up too 18 difrnt ways, inklooding oo, u, ui, ue, o, oe, ou, ough, and ew (food, truth, fruit, blues, to, shoe, group, through, grew), but ol ov theez hav uther pronunsyaashns az wel (e.g. az in flood, trust, build, bluest, go, hoe, grout, rough, sew). Thus, in unfamillyer wurds and propper nowns the pronunsyaashn ov sum seekwenses, OUGH beeing the priim exampl, iz unprediktabl too eevn ejukated nativ Inglish spekers.

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