Note: I am not asking about about seseo vs distinción, /s/ vs /θ/, or how "ce/ci/z" is pronounced in Spain vs Latin America. This question is about the letter s and the sound /s/, as in ser, español, es, and of course "ce/ci/z" in dialects that lack distinción.

Someone already asked this question, but none of the answers there (including the accepted one) actually answer it - instead they talk about /s/ vs /θ/. My question is how is /s/ pronounced in Spain that's different from how it's pronounced in other Spanish-speaking areas, and different from how it's pronounced in English?

I've read that the Iberian Spanish "s" is pronounced "halfway between the english s (/s/) and the english sh /ʃ/", and also that it's "retracted" (/s̺/), or that it's "shorter" than the English /s/ - but none of those explanations are very helpful, nor is the Wikipedia entry on retracted alveolar fricatives.

Let me describe as precisely as possible how I pronounce /s/ and /ʃ/ (I'm a native speaker of British English):

/s/: My tongue is spread wide; the edges of my tongue are below my molars. My tongue is mostly flat and is forward in my mouth; the tip is slightly below and behind my top teeth, and air escapes through a gap a couple of millimetres wide between my tongue and my incisors.

/ʃ/: My tongue is much narrower and taller - it's narrower than my top teeth all the way to the back. The tip is maybe a centimetre behind my top teeth, and my tongue points slightly upwards before curling down again at the tip. Air escapes across and down the tip of my tongue behind my top gums.

Can someone give me a similarly precise description for the Iberian Spanish /s̺/? And is the Latin American /s/ exactly the same as the English /s/ I've described above?

  • 5
    Huh? My answer in that question talks exactly about the pronunciation of /s/. As per my answer and in your question, it is [s̺] (be careful with /…/ and […] when talking pronunciation). That is like an English S with the tip of the tongue slightly raised to obstruct the air rather than laying flat. With [ʃ] the friction comes more from the roof of the mouth and the middle of the tongue. It is also found in some parts of Latin America, such as in Antioquia, Colombia. These is no single realization of /s/ in Latin America Sep 15 '15 at 7:33
  • I agree with OP that the answer of the mentioned question is not really answering it. And I also agree with @guifa that his answer (at least the first paragraph) relates to this question. It is a good explanation of the Spanish 's' sound.
    – makeMonday
    Sep 17 '15 at 15:41

I'm Spanish, and I pronounce the letter 's' by putting the the sides of my tongue below the molars and the tip right behind my front upper teeth (without actually touching them), so all gaps are closed except for that one, and air can just escape from there. I hope that made sense

  • WOW, I finally can say the Spanish S! haha
    – Jaume
    Sep 23 '15 at 5:14

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