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What is meant in Spanish phonology by the debuccalization of /s/ to [h]? What dialects does this phenomenon primarily occur in? In those dialects, does it take place in all cases or only in some environments?

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Are you asking what the word means? It sounds like it from "What is meant in Spanish phonology by" but the rest of your question makes it sound like you might know what it means and just want to know how it applies to Spanish. Can you clear that up for us? – hippietrail Dec 2 '11 at 15:02
@hippietrail: For completeness's sake, both. What the term refers to and where it happens. – jrdioko Dec 3 '11 at 21:27
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Debuccalization is a sound change that consists in a consonant losing its original place of articulation becoming [h] o [ʔ].

Saying place of articulation, we mean one of these:

1. Exo-labial, 2. Endo-labial, 3. Dental, 4. Alveolar, 5. Post-alveolar, 6. Pre-palatal, 7. Palatal, 8. Velar, 9. Uvular, 10. Pharyngeal, 11. Glottal, 12. Epiglottal, 13. Radical, 14. Postero-dorsal, 15. Antero-dorsal, 16. Laminal, 17. Apical, 18. Sub-apical

To see what and where are these "places", check this scheme on Wikipedia; (the numbers on this list correspond to the numbers in that scheme.)

In most places of South America (except Mexico, guatemalan plateau, Costa Rica, andean Venezuela, Quito and ecuadorian plateau1, bolivian plateau and Bogotà) and in half of the southern Spain, the s in the last position of a syllable is an aspirated (a voiceless glottal fricative, /h/, that is, debuccalization) or sometimes not pronounced at all in some variants of the current language. For example, see the following sentence:

Todos los cisnes son blancos.

It can be pronounced as [todɔh lɔh sihnɛh sɔm blankɔh] or as [todɔ lɔ sinɛ sɔm blankɔ]

Standard Spanish pronunciation: [ˈto̞ðo̞z lo̞s ˈθizne̞s sõ̞m ˈblãŋko̞s]

In the eastern Andalusia and in the Murcia region, the distinction between syllables with silent s and those originally without s has been preserved in the pronunciation of syllables ending in s with open vowels (that is, the contrast between open and closed syllable turned into a tense/lax vowel contrast. This typically affects the vowels /a/, /e/ and /o/, but in some areas even /i/ and /u/ have, in effect, a double set of phonemes.

Source: italian and english wikipedia page.

1. plateau: upland, mesa.

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Wich is the symbol you used for the O? – Laura Nov 30 '11 at 15:16
@LauraMoyàAlcover which symbol are you referring to? – Alenanno Nov 30 '11 at 15:17
The one you used on the phonetical translation for Standard Spanish pronunciation. – Laura Nov 30 '11 at 15:28
It's a mid back rounded vowel. If you go the this IPA vowels chart with audio, you can see what position it is, although I'm not sure you can hear that vowel and not the simple [o]. – Alenanno Nov 30 '11 at 15:34
Thank you! I'm totally useless with phonetics :( – Laura Nov 30 '11 at 15:52

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