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I noticed, in a Chilean speaker, that she palatalised /x/ before /e/ and /i/ (e.g. inteligente sounding like [inteliˈxʲente]). According to wikipedia, this phenomenon is distinctive of Chilean Spanish and extends to /k/, /ɡ/ and /ɣ/:

The velar consonants /k/, /ɡ/, and /x/ are fronted or palatalized before front vowels. Thus, queso 'cheese', guía 'guide', and jinete 'rider/horseman' are pronounced respectively [ˈceːso], [ˈɟi.a], and [çiˈn̪eːt̪e].

Las plosivas y fricativas velares áfonas y sonoras (/k/, /g/, /x/ y /ɣ/) se transforman en plosivas y fricativas palatales áfonas y sonoras ([c], [ɟ], [ç] y [ʝ], respectivamente) delante de e e i:

«queso», ['ce.so]
«guitarra», [ɟi't̪a.ɹa]
«jefe», ['çe.fe]
«mi guitarra», [mi.ʝi't̪a.ɹa].

En este último caso, la g intervocálica en las sílabas gue y gui, al pronunciarse fuertemente con el paladar, se parece mucho a la y común castellana.

Does this phenomenon occur in any other dialects of Spanish?

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  • Wikipedia makes this bold claim that this palatalization occurs in the Spanish language in general: "Before front vowels /i, e/, the velar consonants /k, ɡ, x/ (including the lenited allophone of /ɡ/) are realized as post-palatal [k̟, ɡ˖, x̟, ɣ˕˖]." Canellada, María Josefa; Madsen, John Kuhlmann (1987), Pronunciación del español: lengua hablada y literaria, Madrid: Castalia, ISBN 978-8470394836
    – jacobo
    Apr 28, 2018 at 13:39
  • I think it is probably a common phenomenon because of the previous high or middle vowels, i and e as you say, but if it's too notorious in this person it is probably an idiolectal variety due to a possible physiological issue. May 4, 2018 at 12:19
  • @ukemi I front my velars for sure, though I'm not sure to what extent. I think I've heard velar or postvelar fricatives before /e/ or /i/ only in European Spanish, but I might be imagining things.
    – pablodf76
    May 31, 2018 at 20:59
  • @ukemi: In relation to your comment, I do not pronounce Spanish that way (I'm from Barcelona, Spain), so I don't understand this Wikipedia assertion.
    – Charo
    Mar 21, 2020 at 14:42
  • Brazofuerte, Besides the palatalization of the velar consonants, which is widely recognized, in the particular sequence you illustrate with 'inteligencia' there seems to be the insertion of a mid-palatal glide /j/, between /x/ and /e/. I've observed this distinctly in (some) Chilean Spanish speakers in this unique context (e.g. ag(j)encia, g(j)ente. Sorry, I don't have a font for phonetic symbols. Does this resonate with your observation?
    – cuevero
    Aug 19, 2020 at 16:29

3 Answers 3

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Being a Chilean myself and living in Spain for 20 years, I think your appreciation is motivated by the fact that in the rest of Hispano America the pronunciation of the sounds you point out is much more relaxed, specially in the Caribbean Area. Probably the countries closest to Chile have similar pronunciation in this respect.

That being said, you can find both phenomena in the Iberic Peninsula.

I would dare to say that this trait in Chile is inherited from Spaniards; in Mapudüngun, the most extended aborigin language in Chile, there was no sound similar to /x/ for instance; a language where you could have found that trait, even glotalization was Selknam, but this language hardly could have influenced Chilean Spanish as Mapudüngun did because Selknam Speakers lived in the extreme South of the country and there was not real contact with them until early 1900, when they come to be nearly exterminated, their last descendant died in the 1990's.

Finally, I would add that none of the phenomena you describe is familiar to me, except for the first one [inteliˈxʲente] which is not common but not strange neither...

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Estás en lo correcto. Desconozco las reglas de fonética al respecto. Pero siendo hablante de lengua hispana, puedo decirte que la construcción de las sílabas que incluyen a esas consonantes velares con las vocales e, i, las convierte en las palatales que observas.

Yo lo veo como un silbido (en inglés hissing) que es inherente a la construcción de las sílabas con vocales débiles (aquellas con e, i). De hecho el español latino está subordinado a reglas en las que los sonidos de algunas consonantes como la g, la q particularmente tienen la opción de cambiar su fonética agregando la u, pero aún ahí, permanece el sonido palatal.

Ejemplos: Nigeria/Miguel Página/Aguinaldo

Prevalece en una y otra forma. Es totalmente una consecuencia del hecho de que son combinaciones con las vocales débiles e/i. Dudo que sea regionalismo de ciertos dialectos del español, es un fundamento del mismo. No había llamado mi atención hasta que vi tu pregunta.

Sin duda alguna cualquier dialecto del español va a tener dicho fenómeno por la forma en la que se construye el sonido de esas sílabas de manera palatal. Es más bien un aspecto de construcción de esos sonidos. Y a menos que cambie radicalmente la pronunciación entre uno y otro dialecto español (cosa que me parece improbable), será una situación presente en todos ellos.

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Although in Spain (and other countries) /k, g, x/ are pronounced a little more advanced [k̟, ɡ˖~ɣ˕˖, x̟] when they precede /e, i, jV/ they are not as palatalized as what can be heard in many speakers of Chilean. So the [c, ɟ~ʝ, ç] relaizations of Chilean Spanish, as far as I know, are very infrequent outside of Chile.

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