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Are there any dialects of modern Spanish which preserve a phonemic distinction between b and v?

I understand that by the 1600s it was largely gone from Castillian Spanish, but since some other Iberian languages preserve the distinction, it wouldn't be at all surprising to me if regional varieties of Spanish kept it for long enough to propagate that change to some Latin American dialects, for example.

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    @Faerindel Portuguese also makes the distinction, and I believe Aranese does as well. – guifa Jan 6 '17 at 1:58
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    @guifa But those aren't Spanish dialects. – Faerindel Jan 7 '17 at 1:00
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    @Faerindel neither is Catalan. – guifa Jan 7 '17 at 1:31
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    I'm specifically interested if any first language Spanish speakers, in or outside Spain, still make this distinction. From what I understand, other than with some second language speakers of Spanish, this distinction is completely absent in Spain. But is this also true in all of Latin America? – Some_Guy Jan 8 '17 at 20:07
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    @Faerindel, I would have said that only some Catalan speakers do some sort of distinction, because some Catalan dialect speakers make no distinction between b and v. – Jdamian Apr 4 '18 at 6:46
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Short answer: no.

Long answer: it is possible to hear the sound [v] as an allophone (that is, alternate) for /b/, but you won't hear it in any way systematically between the written letters b and v. There are a number of reasons for that. For speakers in areas where Spanish is the only Romance language around, the emergence of [v] will be dictated by certain linguistic rules/precepts other than etymology, but is relatively spontaneous in speech. For speakers in areas with other Romance languages, it is possible that they will borrow pronunciation from their other language, but the catch there is that the orthography of b/v is inconsistent in Spanish and the development of u/b/v is somewhat inconsistent from Latin to the Neolatin languages: as a result, such speakers may pronounce certain b's as [v] and certain v's as [b]. An obvious example is the imperfect -aba-, which in Latin was also -aba- but for speakers of Catalan (and Italian and Portuguese), for instance, it changed into -ava-.

So basically, etymologically, no native Spanish-speaker preserves the distinction. Likewise, based on how Spanish is written today, no native actually distinguishes the two letters, even if, due to another language they speak, they perceive [b] and [v] as two different phonemes — /b/ and /v/. It is possible (and common) for a [v] phone to emerge, but it's not dictated by etymology or spelling, and is merely an allophone of /b/ (and of /f/, actually), rather than a phoneme unto itself.

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    Yes, that is correct. The phoneme is /b/, which is realized as [b] or [v] (I should correct my conventions in the answer) – guifa Jan 10 '17 at 12:24
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    Actually /b/ is [β] (voiced bilabial fricative) between vowels and after some consonants, which of course makes it even easier for it to turn into [v], or even into an approximant. Spanish /b/ is only [b] initially and after stops and /m/, I think, though that may depend on dialect and idiolect. – pablodf76 Jan 10 '17 at 13:54
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    On a separate note: depending on where you look, you will find Spanish speakers who insist b and v are to be pronounced differently, only "everybody speaks badly". This is a form of hypercorrection which was taught in schools. Not a quarter of a century ago I was still told by an elderly professor that v is to be called "ve labiodental" and pronounced as such. – pablodf76 Jan 10 '17 at 13:58
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    @pablodf76 Indeed, /b/ is normally [β] (even more specifically, [β̞]), but I figured that'd be overkill for the answer. I'm aware of the insistence by some to distinguish. I believe that was most common in the Rioplatense area, although it of course wasn't grounded in anything natural. I hope those same professors insisted on aspirating the H in words like albahaca but not in words like huevo :-) – guifa Jan 10 '17 at 14:10
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    @Dgaleano I don't see a map on ukemi's answer. But in Spain, the difference is not phonemic and even if it were, it's by pure interference from, e.g., Catalonian. The letter S (and Z in Latin America) in Spanish may be pronounced variably as [s], [z], [h], or even elided with or without lengthening the previous vowel [ø] ~ [:ø], but everyone recognizes it as /s/, but we don't say that Spanish distinguishes the [s] and [z] sound. In Ladino, the situation is quite different (and so its orthography is different), but whether we should consider it alongside modern Spanish is another question. – guifa Apr 3 '18 at 16:00
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1. Puerto Rican Spanish

As mentioned in this Linguistics SE question, a study on Puerto Rican Spanish speakers showed that they pronounce orthographic "v" /b/ as [v] more than half the time, but never pronounce orthographic "b" /b/ as [v]. The author suggests it may be an effect of hypercorrection:

Native Spanish speaking college students in San Juan, Puerto Rico that are bilingual in English to some degree are interviewed to perform audio-recorded speaking tasks. Results show that labiodentals are undoubtedly produced for Spanish phoneme /b/, but are done so exclusively for orthographic v. On average, grapheme v was pronounced as a labiodental 56% of the time. Grapheme b was never pronounced as a labiodental. In addition to orthography, the results speculate that labiodentals are also conditioned by speech style or formality, as labiodental frequency reduced when tasks became more informal. Variables such as cognate status, phonetic context, and English language contact and abilities did not prove to be substantial linguistic and social factors. Ultimately, the results suggest little to no correlation between labiodental production and English language contact and abilities. Instead, labiodentals in this study appear to be a case of hypercorrectness.


2. Judeo-Spanish

Judeo-Spanish, a sister language of modern Spanish also descended from Old Spanish, maintains a distinction between /b/ and /v/:

"b" [b]

  • boca, bever, blanco
  • basho, abashar

"v" [v]

  • vaca, ver, viaje
  • devda, bivda, sivdad (Sp. deuda, viuda, cuidad)

"-v-" [v ~ ß]

  • avlar, alavar, luvia (Sp. hablar, alabar, lluvia)
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That's funny. I usually do distinguish them a bit when I speak. "El burro vago." (The lazy donkey.)

I don't pronounce the b in burro the same as the v in viene. I don't make it a point to exaggerate the distinction, but I don't pronounce both like the b in burro - I use my lips for the b and use my teeth a bit for the v. Mom taught me that way for some reason.

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    Where are you from, if you don't mind me asking? – Some_Guy May 18 '17 at 13:54

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