Sobre el español paraguayo

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Mientras hago el curso de guaraní de Duolingo, estoy participando en el foro, y entre otras cosas, escribí dos posts sobre el castellano en Paraguay. Como el tema tiene mucho que ver con este blog, voy a compartir el contenido de esos posts con ustedes a continuación.

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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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Criteking yor oen ideas

When coming up with a skeme for spelling reform, i fined it useful to go bak on previos drafts and look for things that mite be improoved on.

Wun ov the things that came to mined was the spelling ov wurds like tradittional initially. I spelled it inittially, but then i thought, why not inittialy? Why not systematticaly? This reformed spelling does not concern itself too much with keeping the spelling ov the basic lexical units constant ennyway, as yoo can see from choices like different but diferentiate.

Anuther thing where i cood hav gon further is the use ov silent E to indicate sylabbic consonants, as in double -> duble. Why not go the extra step and spel it dubbel? It wood certanly make things mor consistent, what with wurds like subtle -> suttle and satchel. It wood also make it so silent E oenly indicates a previos long vowel or lexical /s/ or /z/. Maybe this is sumthing that cood be implemented in a second stage ov reform. To lay the groundwurk for that, perhaps we shood spel double -> dubble as wel.

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Allophony of aspirated S

In my first post about accents of Spanish, I said I’d go into more detail about aspirated S. This post breaks it down and provides examples.

To recap, “S aspiration” has to do with the pronunciation of /s/ when it is syllable final, especially when followed by another consonant sound, and, in most S-aspirating accents, also when followed by another vowel sound.

To start getting into specifics, /s/ is pronounced h when followed by most plosives (namely /p b t d g/), the affricate /tʃ/, a nasal (/m n ɲ/), /l/ and /r/; and in accents that do so, also before a vowel. Examples:

esperar / los pibes ehpeˈɾaɾ / loh ˈpiβ̞es
esbirro / las buenas ehˈbiro / lah ˈβ̞u̯enas
esto / los tipos ˈehto / loh ˈtipos
desdecirse / los dados dehð̞eˈsiɾse / loh ˈð̞að̞os
esgrima / los guantes ehˈɣ̞ɾima / loh ˈɣ̞u̯antes
tres chicas tɾeh ˈtʃikas
mismo / los mismos ˈmihmo / loh ˈmihmos
desnudo / los nenes dehˈnuð̞o / loh ˈnenes
los ñudos loh ˈnjuð̞os
isla / dos limones ˈihla / doh liˈmones
es raro eh ˈraɾo
los otros loh ˈotɾos

To make things more interesting, this h often becomes a voiced ɦ when both preceded and followed by voiced sounds. So, this happens before a vowel and before /b d g m n ɲ l/. In my experience, for some reason, it is less likely to happen before /r/.

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A mor moddest proposal

What if we cood put into place a spelling reform that concerned itself oenly, or mainly, with reading, aiming at a French-style transparency where the langwej wood stil be difficult to spel, but easy to read?

Inittially, the usual suspects wood come under atack: silent letters. Debt, biscuit, salmon, knife wood become det, biskit, sammon, nife, and so on. Sum restraint wood be exercised: light wood remain as is, as wood come; the first because of so menny wurds folloeing that same pattern, the seccond to avoid the uther implications of a cum spelling. Knight, acordingly, wood become night. Uther certan glaring exeptions to the regularity of the system cood also remain, like of, is, etc*. Final E wood be remooved unless it shows the previos vowel is long or it is part of an -SE ending indicating that S is a part of the wurd and not a plural morpheme; or to indicate a previos sylabbic consonant, like in double -> duble.

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