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Recently, I learned that there is at least one Spanish word that can be pronounced but not written.

It is the imperative form of 'salirle'. It is prononunced as 'sal-le' and the written form should be 'salle'. But according to pronunciation rules, that word must be pronounced as 'sá-lle'. So the word can't be written at all (more details here).

Are there other words that can't be written? Has this phenomena a name?

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The question about whether it happens in other languages is very interesting, but off-topic here. However, I'm sure it would be quite on topic over at Linguistics.SE. – Flimzy Mar 1 '12 at 21:29
Can anyone give an example of a sentence in which sal-le would actually come up? I can't think of one. And I feel like, since there are Academies, if it were a usable word they would have figured out how to write it already. – Garrigus Carraig Mar 2 '12 at 0:59
Two examples: "salirle al paso" or "salirle caro" in their imperative forms ("sal-le al paso", "sal-le caro"). The imperative form is not very usual, but certainly not extremely rare. Please note that the explanation about sal-le in the external link is an actual response from RAE. – Sergio Cinos Mar 2 '12 at 7:42
I'm pasting a comment on the same article you linked: “Salir al encuentro DE alguien” no puede ser reemplazada por “Sal-le al encuentro”, pues “de alguien” no es objeto y por lo tanto no puede sustituirse por el pronombre “le”. Sería “Sal a su encuentro”. Para que existiese “Sal-le al encuentro” la frase debería ser “Sal al encuentro a María”, y dicha frase no es correcta." – Laura Mar 2 '12 at 8:18
Catalan / valenciano has a way of distinguishing between ll and a double-l, and the standard Spanish keyboard layout allows typing sal·le with shift-3. Whether that would be understood outside north-eastern Spain, I'm not sure. – Peter Taylor Mar 2 '12 at 11:00

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Si tu coche tiene una baca (esa estructura metálica en forma de parrilla que puedes colocar sobre el techo de un automóvil, para llevar encima equipajes) mal atornillada, encima de la baca llevas una vaca (cosa difícil, pero lingüísticamente posible), y en una curva pierdes ambas, imagino que puedes decir (oralmente) "salieron despedidas las [b/v]acas" (los sonidos [b] y [v] son idénticos en castellano), pero no puedes escribirlo.

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Very creative indeed. – CesarGon Apr 13 '12 at 1:02
This phenomenon is common in English-language humor, where. Example. I imagine the same is true of many languages, including Spanish. And IMHO, it's a different phenomenon than the one the question is asking about. – Flimzy May 25 '13 at 19:51
Excelente respuesta. – Rodrigo Apr 15 at 23:59

La clase zoológica de los mamíferos se divide en varias familias, que en lenguaje corriente se designan con palabras esdrújulas. Por ejemplo los bóvidos, cánidos, cérvidos, félidos y camélidos.

Los cerdos y jabalíes se agrupan en la familia de los suidos.

Esta palabra, en concordancia con el resto de las familias, se pronuncia como si tuviera tres sílabas y el acento se marca en la u. El problema es que por norma de la RAE la combinación de dos vocales cerradas siempre es diptongo.

Traspasar la pronunciación de la palabra a su ortografía es imposible, porque súidos con tilde es ilegal. No queda otra que escribirla sin tilde, de modo que quien la lea por primera vez va a pensar que se pronuncia como ruidos.

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No habría, como lo veo, nada ilegal con súido porque sin la tilde, la i quedaría como la vocal nuclear. El hablante tendría que saber que hay hiato, que solo no se marcar siempre en castellano. Aislar y enviar parecen tener dos sílabas, pero tienen tres para muchos hablantes. Si envio existiera, habría dos formas posibles de pronunciarlo /', /'en.bjo/ igual que hay dos formas para enviar: /'ar/, /en'bjar/. Hay que saber si hace hiato o no. – guifa Apr 16 at 0:04
Pero en aislar, enviar y "envio" el acento va lejos del par de vocales. En cambio en suido la vocal tónica de la palabra es la que no se puede marcar. Del mismo modo si existiera la palabra rúido no se podría escribir. – Rodrigo Apr 16 at 0:13
Ruido tiene dos posibilidades de lectura: /ru' y /' Rúido, en cambio, ofrecería /' y /' Pero no sería mala idea consultar con la RAE para aclararlo, pero creo que súido sería la forma preferida – guifa Apr 16 at 0:21
Bueno, me equivoco. Prefieren sin tilde, aunque el diccionario nota que por etimología su naturaleza trisilábica – guifa Apr 16 at 0:31

Not an answer, rather a comment. The 'sal-le' example, quite known, does not seem very impressive to me. Not only because it's rather a rare-artificial word, but also because "can't be written" is a too strong expression: it's just that the normal rules for spanish phonetic rules (which are almost totally rigid) would have an exception. But the context could enough hints to this.

This is not exactly another example, but a related case: the 'sh' sound. In Spanish, we don't have that sound at the end of words (as in 'spanish') and so we can't write that (the 'y' at the end of the word is pronounced as 'i'). However, by the influence of english and also by the need of write the interjection 'sh' (the sound we make to ask for silence), we are quite used to read/write the digraph 'sh' to mean that sound. You could say that this pronunciation is an 'extended rule' to the standard Spanish rules. In spite of this, we don't have any problem when the 'sh' group appears 'accidently' in normal Spanish, as in 'deshonesto' 'deshabilitado'.

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Sorry, this doesn't make any sense. "Sal-le" is a perfectly valid word in Spanish; how do you suggest we should write it? Also, "sh" is not a digraph but a sequence of two letters. – CesarGon Mar 7 '12 at 18:31
@CesarGon, one meaning of "digraph" is two successive letters, not necessarily with one sound. – dainichi Jul 11 '12 at 1:50
@dainichi: I'm afraid you are wrong, at least in Spanish: A digraph must represent a single sound. – CesarGon Jul 11 '12 at 15:55
I think an answer explaining the false premise of the question is a valid answer. Although I agree the bit about 'sh' really isn't relevant. – Flimzy May 25 '13 at 19:54

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