Como se lee el italiano


A la hora de empezar a aprender un idioma una de las primeras cosas que hago es aprender como se lee en voz alta, para poder empezar a decirlo mientras lo leo. En este post les voy a mostrar como leer el italiano partiendo del idioma en que escribo este post: el castellano.

El italiano usa el alfabeto básico latino de 26 letras, es decir, idéntico al castellano menos la Ñ; con la salvedad de que las letras J K W X Y solo se usan en préstamos y nombres propios. Empecemos por lo básico: las vocales.

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Segundas impresiones del guaraní paraguayo


La última vez que escribí sobre el curso de Duolingo de guaraní paraguayo tenía hechas 10 unidades (la primera sección del curso). Ahora ya tengo completadas las primeras tres secciones y ando por la cuarta, que es la mas larga. Las notas explicativas siguen brillando por su ausencia, por lo cual se me ocurrió escribir una segunda parte de mis impresiones. (También es porque el idioma es realmente fascinante y me hace pensar mucho.) En este post va a haber un poco de todo, como en el otro, pero va a haber un poco mas de morfología que la otra vez. Específicamente, voy a hablar mas sobre los verbos.

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Primeras impresiones del guaraní paraguayo


Duolingo acaba de abrir al público el curso de guaraní paraguayo para hablantes de español en versión beta. Es la primera vez que pruebo una versión beta, y es claro que al curso todavía le hacen falta bastantes mejoras. Sin embargo, es claro que me ha picado el bichito, y ya tengo hechas las primeras 10 unidades. Siendo que hace rato que no escribo algo nuevo, y que el curso prácticamente no tiene notas explicativas, voy a contarles un poco mis impresiones sobre el curso y sobre lo poco que se sobre la estructura del guaraní.

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Thoughts on the Swedish sound system and orthography

The orthography of Swedish is pretty similar to that of German. Swedish uses your basic 26-letter Latin alphabet like English, with the addition of the letters å, ä and ö. The latter two have values close to German, and it also shares with German the practice of using double consonants to show the preceding vowel is short and only one consonant to show the preceding vowel is long. Like in German, and unlike in Dutch, in Swedish a word can end with two consonant letters and vowel letters are not doubled to show length; and because of this a word like bok has a long O, while a word like mitt has a short I. Swedish spelling also shares with English and German the use of CK as the doubled version of K; and with German and Dutch the use of J for / j.

W, Q, Z, the digraph CH and C are rarely used outside of proper names and loanwords, except for the word och – more on C later. The pronunciations of the letters b d f h l m n p s t v x and the digraph ng are pretty self explanatory if you already know English. Swedish, like English and unlike German and Dutch, does not have syllable final devoicing of consonants, and like English and German but unlike standard Dutch, aspirates p t k in certain environments.

The pronunciation of R should not be difficult to anyone who can already pronounce Spanish – it can either be pronounced r or ɾ depending on its position in the word. The distribution of these realizations is very reminiscent of Spanish. Like in Spanish, they are only contrastive intervocalically. One of the interesting things about R in Swedish is that the clusters rd rl rn rs rt, in which you’d expect ɾd ɾl ɾn ɾs ɾt, simplify to the retroflex consonants ɖ ɭ ɳ ʂ ʈ. If you’re learning Swedish and the thought of this is already giving you a headache, you could always learn the Scanian accent instead, which pronounces R as ʁ, otherwise known as the French R.

Let’s move on to the really interesting part as far as I’m concerned: vowels.

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Spanish R for non natives

AKA Spanish Rs for non natives

This post is for learners, and is targeted to native English speakers. But hopefully it can also be of use to teachers hoping to explain this to their students, and to speakers of other languages as well.

I’m sure this is gonna ring a bell. You’re learning Spanish. Everybody told you it would be a breeze, what with the cognates (thank William the Conqueror for that), the similar word order (…sort of) and the general openness of the Spanish speaking peoples. Then you met Spanish pronunciation. Maybe the JA-JO-JU-JE/GE-JI/GI thing was a little hard – until you realized that you could do an English H sound and everybody understood, and that’s how Caribbean native speakers (among others) pronounce it anyway. You carried on, and then, oh dear, your Spanish speaking friend told you you had to learn to pronounce your Rs more like they did it, or else it’d be like carrying around a banner with the words SOY EXTRANJERO Y HABLO INGLÉS on it.

So you got it into your head you had to learn to “roll your Rs”, whatever that meant. You watched a bunch of Youtube videos, you asked said friend to help you, you bought a copy of Zen and the Art of Rolling your Damn Rs. People told you to “relax your tongue” (not a bad piece of advice, actually), to “say drdrdr a lot really fast”, and other such arcane formulas. Finally, thanks to, or in spite of, those recommendations, you learned how to do the long rolling motorcycle-like sound otherwise technically known as an alveolar trill.

So there you go! You know how to pronounce a Spanish R! Or do you? You’re still having trouble getting people to know whether you just said “dog” (perro) or “but” (pero), and it’s so confusing maybe you don’t even know for sure which spelling corresponds to which. You don’t know how long your “roll” ought to go on for on any given word. And your friend is still telling you something isn’t working.

This is where you need to stop, take a breather, and actually analyze the situation. Here’s the rub: there are actually two different R sounds in Spanish. Here’s the good news: one of them is going to be relatively easy for you to pronounce right off the bat, especially if you speak American, Canadian, Australian or New Zealand English.

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Vowel reduction in Spanish

Spanish does not have the kind of vowel reduction that many Germanic languages (like English) have, but it does have vowel reduction. The difference is that English has the kind of vowel reduction that neutralizes differences between vowel phonemes, and Spanish has a kind of vowel reduction that still maintains the differences of the five vowel phonemes found in most accents of Spanish.

In other words, the stressed allophones of /a o u e i/ are distinct from each other, and so are their unstressed allophones.

To go into a bit more detail, the fact is the pronunciation of vowels in any language is influenced to some degree by the other sounds adjacent to it (as well as other paralinguistic factors affecting the vocal organs – smiling, for instance, tends to spread the lips). Because of this, when discussing a vowel phoneme, we have to consider the different allophones; we can also think of a vowel as occupying a “vowel space” containing its different allophones. In a language like English, with more vowels and a higher degree of neutralization of vowels in certain environments, the vowel spaces will be smaller and have more overlap. In Spanish, the vowel spaces are bigger, and do not overlap. In other words, in Spanish, vowels allow for more allophonic variation, and are less likely to be misheard as other vowels by native speakers.

First off, some facts about stress in Spanish. In Spanish, stress is mainly indicated by three factors: tone, volume and vowel length. Syllables carrying stress have a higher volume and a higher tone, and vowels in stressed syllables are longer. However, Spanish being a syllable-timed language, the difference in length between a stressed and an unstressed vowel is not quite so pronounced as in English.

Let’s talk about the stressed and unstressed allophones (the Spanish vowel space) in more detail.

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Un detalle mas

Cuando ya pensaba que mi esquema de reforma ortográfica del castellano ya estaba terminado, el otro día alguien me preguntó como se escribía escena, después de haberla yo pronunciado eˈsena.

Es una buena pregunta. ¿Debería escribirse ecena en una ortografía reformada? Todo depende de como la pronuncien los hablantes de distintos acentos del español. Si aquellos con acentos sin distinción la pronuncian eˈsena y los que tienen acentos con distinción la pronuncian eˈθena, entonces la ortografía debería escribirla ecena. Así de simple.

Pero la pregunta es si ese es siempre el caso o no. A mi me parecería que si, pero no lo he estudiado tanto, entonces no estoy seguro. Existen otras posibilidades. La primera es que los hablantes con distinción la pronuncien esˈθena. Pero una sucesión de sibilantes como esa me parece poco plausible en castellano.

Algo si mas probable es que los hablantes con distinción la pronuncien eˈθːena y que los hablantes sin distinción la pronuncien eˈsːena. Pero, como muestra mi pronunciación en el primer ejemplo, el castellano es propenso a la simplificación de las geminadas (consonantes largas). Por lo que deberíamos reflejar en la transcripción la opcionalidad de la geminación y transcribir eˈθ(ː)ena y eˈs(ː)ena.

Si esa es la forma en que los hablantes pronuncian la palabra (a veces con geminación y a veces no), entonces no nos queda otra opción que mantener la ortografía tradicional escena en esta palabra y otras como esta. Un cambio a ezcena no tendría mucha justificación.

La pregunta entonces es como investigar esto, si es que ya no se ha estudiado. Yo propondría un experimento de elicitación o de lectura en voz alta, pero con frases o textos completos. Una prueba con palabras aisladas tiende a veces a elicitar pronunciaciones demasiado cuidadas (fieles a la ortografía) y no naturales. Si la geminación es solo visible (escuchable) en estilos muy enfáticos (como el dictado), tiene mas conexión con la ortografía que con la lengua hablada, y no tiene mucho sentido reflejarla en la ortografía. En este sentido, sería un caso parecido al de la B y la V.