According to the Wikipedia article on Spanish phonology, the phonemes /b/, /d/, and /g/ are realized as approximants or fricatives instead of plosives in all but certain contexts (after a pause, nasal consonant, or a lateral consonant followed by /d/). Where or when are they realized as approximants, and when as fricatives?

  • Yes in fact even the IPA symbols chosen for these sounds often are not those of the plosives but rather /β/, /ð/, and /ɣ/ respectively. Nov 16 '11 at 16:05
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    Well close, /β/, /ð/, and /ɣ/ don't exist, [β], [ð], and [ɣ] do. Phonemes are realized as allophones.
    – jrdioko
    Nov 16 '11 at 23:25
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    Well that depends on the analysis and the linguist, etc. Just as with English, not everybody uses IPA the same way for a given language. I'll try to keep an eye out for places that use the fricative symbols rather than the stop symbols so I can provide a reference. Nov 17 '11 at 6:27
  • @hippietrail: I'd be curious to see that. For the fricatives to be phonemes, you'd need a minimal pair between the fricative and the plosive, and I've never heard of that existing in Spanish, even regionally.
    – jrdioko
    Nov 17 '11 at 17:41
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    No I'm not saying that there are six phonemes but that the three phonemes are sometimes represented with the other three symbols. Nov 17 '11 at 18:16

If you look at the reference on Wikipedia, you'll see that it's not a matter of sometimes they're fricatives and sometimes they're approximants, but rather it's that scholars seem to be in disagreement as to whether they are fricatives or approximants (altogether). In the past, they were called fricatives, but new analyses seem to indicate that they are actually approximants because of the lack of turbulence.

In any case, the spirantized versions [β, ð, ɣ] are realized intervocalically.

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