39

ENGLISH

I have heard y/ll pronounced in two different ways:

  • [j] (like 'y' in "yellow")
  • [ʒ] (like 's' in "measure")

Do native speakers use both interchangeably? Or is it pronounced [j] in some regions and [ʒ] in others?

For people learning Spanish, is there one pronunciation that would be preferred over the other?


ESPAÑOL - ¿Cómo pronunciar las consonantes "y" y "ll"?

He oído pronunciar y/ll de dos maneras diferentes:

  • [j] (como la 'y' en "yellow")
  • [ʒ] (como la 's' en "measure")

¿Usan los hablantes nativos indistintamente ambas formas? ¿O se pronuncia [j] en algunas regiones y [ʒ] en otras?

Para la gente que está aprendiendo español, ¿hay una pronunciación que se prefiera sobre la otra?

15 Answers 15

29

See the Wikipedia article on yeísmo, which includes maps of the pronunciations. To summarize:

  • in some regions, ll /ʎ/ and y /ʝ/ are distinct
  • in other regions, ll and y have merged to /ʝ/ (yeísmo)
  • in very few areas, ll and y have merged to /ʎ/ (lleísmo)

Note that some specific dialects, like Rioplatense, pronounce their merged /ʝ/ as [ʒ] or [ʃ].

  • 2
    The Wikipedia article seems to indicate that "lleísmo" is when ll /ʎ/ and y /ʝ/ are distinct. Am I confused when reading that? – wbyoung Nov 22 '13 at 19:00
  • 4
    @wbyoung Yes, you are confused, but because the article itself is not correct. "lleismo" specifically means "using ll always", like "seseo" means "using s always" and "leismo" means "using the pronoun 'le' always". – Envite Dec 5 '13 at 21:24
14

The RAE's Diccionario Panhispánico de Dudas explains the pronunciation of ll is:

  • The voiced palatal fricative /ʝ/ (e.g. English yeast, close to English j) in the majority of Spanish speaking regions. This pronunciation is identical to the recommended pronunciation for y and this merger is called yeísmo.
  • The palatal lateral approximant /ʎ/ (e.g. Portuguese olho) in some zones and among polished speakers.

  • The incorrect /li/ (e.g. pronouncing caballo as cabalio) mostly among those who practice yeísmo and artificially try to differentiate the pronunciation of ll.

On the other hand, the consonant pronunciation of y is:

Rioplatense Spanish pronounces both y and ll as a voiced palato-alveolar sibilant /ʒ/ (e.g. English vision) or voiceless palato-alveolar sibilant /ʃ/ (e.g. English sheep).

I recommend using the voiced palatal fricative /ʝ/ for both y and ll. The RAE accepts yeísmo as proper and its use is widespread.

  • 1
    Leaving the IPA madness aside, my dialect (Paisa, a variant of Colombian Spanish) relates more strongly to the J as in Jello than the y as in yellow for the pronunciation of both ll and y. However, other dialects lean more towards y as in yellow. That is why I dislike the most common U.S. English pronunciation of Medellín (Me-de-YEEN) vs. the one I would have preferred (Me-de-JEAN). – Jaime Soto Nov 20 '11 at 7:04
12

The second pronunciation you mention is almost exclusively used in the Argentina / Uruguay region and Ecuador. Any other country in Latin America uses the first pronunciation.

  • and in Paraguay it sounds closer to a 'j'. – snumpy Nov 15 '11 at 21:02
  • I've also heard this pronunciation used by some speakers in Mexico. Perhaps from a certain area or perhaps affected. – hippietrail Nov 15 '11 at 23:15
  • I've never heard that pronunciation from a Mexican... That is interesting. – reno812 Nov 16 '11 at 15:01
5

How y, ll are pronounced

In >90% of Spanish dialects1, ⟨ll⟩ and ⟨y⟩ represent the same sound /ʝ/ (like an English y) 2. This is probably the sound most learners of Spanish will want to use, unless you want to emulate a specific accent.

These are the various ways the letters are pronounced around the Spanish-speaking world (along with examples of the sounds in English):

  • ll, y = /ʝ/ (i.e. yellow) most of Latin America; Southern Spain "yeísmo"
  • ll, y = /ʒ/ (i.e. seizure) much of Central, Western Rioplatense "zheísmo"
  • ll, y = /ʃ/ (i.e. sheep) Buenos Aires; Río de Plata; Uruguay "sheísmo"

  • ll = /ʎ/ (i.e. million)
    y = /ʝ/ (i.e. yellow) Much of Northern Spain 3


Maps of regional pronunciations

Note, these images do not distinguish between yeísmo/zheísmo/sheísmo.

enter image description here enter image description here

Regions with the merger in dark blue, and regions with distinction in pink.



Notes & sources

1. Valoración socioeconómica de los rasgos fonéticos dialectales de la lengua española, German Coloma (2011)

2, In emphatic speech, word initially, or after an n, m or l, the y sound in Spanish can affricate, sounding as [ɟʝ] (similar to a less 'forceful' version of an English j e.g. jug).
This is analogous to /b/, /d/, /ɡ/ being realized as approximants [β], [ð], [ɣ] in all but these contexts in Spanish.

3. Also found in areas of:
Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, the central Andes, Andean and Northeastern regions of Argentina, southern Chile and the Philippines
• in some rural areas of Castille and León, Castilla-La Mancha, Murcia and Extremadura,
• in some bilingual speakers of la Comunidad Valenciana,​ Cataluña, Asturias, Galicia, Navarra and the Basque Country

  • Good summary of the wikipedia article, however if I understand correctly the pink areas do not have yeismo so they pronounce different the Y form the Ll and that is not correct at least for the half of Colombia shown in pink. Anyway +1 – DGaleano Dec 28 '17 at 13:35
3

Also, to complete what others have said, it's worth pointing out that the /ʝ/ phoneme can be voiced as either an approximant or an affricate /ɟʝ/ (at the beginning of a word or after /n/ or /m/).

3

Ll is usually pronounced like the "y" in "yellow." There are some regional variations, however.

In parts of Spain it has the sound of the "ll" in "million," and in parts of Argentina it has the "zh" sound of "azure."

Examples: llama, calle, Hermosillo. See here.

  • 5
    Actually, in Argentina and Uruguay it's more common to pronounce it like sh. – Javier Nov 15 '11 at 21:40
  • 1
    When you say "usually" you NEED to specify where – Envite Dec 5 '13 at 21:25
3

My Salvadorian friends pronounce both as y as in "yo", as did my Spanish teacher (from Spain).

My Colombian food vendors pronounce both as "zh or j".

In cuba i hear y for the most part for both but have heard "j" for y and in a sportscast I heard one guy pronounce it "bee-ya clara" and the other guy "bee-ja clara" for Villa Clara, so i guess it depends on how their parents spoke.

2

Here in Guadalajara, Mexico, it's often a combination of the two, but tends toward the [j]/yellow pronunciation. Although there are speakers who make a much harder sound.

And it often depends on the word. The name of the town Saltillo is often pronounced (at least here--don't know how they actually pronounce it in Saltillo) with a harder sound than the words ella or amarillo.

2

It's definitely a regional thing. I was taught that it sounded like the "Y" in Yellow, but I've noticed that people who learned Spanish in Mexico City, sometimes make it sound more like the "J" in Jello. This is especially true for the word, "Yo". To me that pronunciation sounds pretentious and I avoid it.

In general, "When in Rome..." Listen to the people around you and copy the sound they make. If you are going to a particular region, get a hold of recordings of speakers in that area and listen to them before you go.

My bias is to just use your first option for general learning of Spanish. I don't think you'll be misunderstood even by people who use the second option.

  • To my ear neither "ll" nor "y" sound like English "j" except when somebody is trying to sound like a Spanish speaker. I'm familar with the other sounds "ly", "y", "zh", and "sh". I learned my Spanish in Mexico but have also travelled all around Spain and Central America, but I haven't been to any South American or Caribbean countries and I'm not familiar with the Spanish around the US/Mexico border region. – hippietrail Nov 16 '11 at 13:30
  • @hippietrail: I spent 2 months in the Summer of 2001 in Mexico City. My Spanish went from basic to "can carry a conversation on the street" there. For the longest time, I couldn't figure out why people were talking about a guy named "Joe". It seemed most prevalent in the center of the city, but I can't be sure. I hear it very occasionally around Los Angeles. My South and Central American amigos have commented on it too, so I don't think I'm crazy. ;-) – Jon Ericson Nov 16 '11 at 17:04
  • Wow that's interesting. I've probably racked up close to a year visiting and living in Mexico City. In this case I have to assume it's about perception. Maybe it depends on the phonology of your native dialect or your level of familiarity with linguistic concepts. My native language is Australian English and I'm an "armchair linguist" (read lots but no formal study). Maybe it's the makings of a good question for linguistics.SE? – hippietrail Nov 16 '11 at 17:09
  • This is interesting. I'm Colombian and for me it is impossible to distinguish the Yellow sound form the Jello, so I think I pronounce them the same. So I guess for me both Y and Ll have a sound in between Yellow and Jello. – DGaleano Dec 28 '17 at 13:26
1

English speakers don't have the sounds of Y nor Ll (Actually is almost the same in most places) , except when Y sounds like our i:

Tengo un hijo Y una hija

But you all can use the sounds /ja/ and we will comprehend you

1

This differs from region to region, even within countries. I speak Ecuadorian Spanish, and though we have such a small country you can hear the following pronunciations of the ll:

  • Classic Central Andean Accent:

    • Lleísmo #1 (distinction between LL and Y) with: LL realized as [ʒ] and Y realized as [ʝ]
    • Lleísmo #2 (stigmatized, correlated with lower classes) with: LL realized as /ʃ/ and Y realized as [ʝ].
    • Yeísmo: Generally seen among the younger generation, especially in more urban areas like Quito. Both sounds are realized as [ʝ].
  • Northern (Pastuso/Carchense) Accent:

    • Lleísmo #3: LL realized as /li/ and Y realized as [ʝ].
  • Southern Andean Accent:

    • Classical lleísmo: LL realized as /ʎ/ and Y realized as [ʝ].
  • Coastal Accent:

    • Yeísmo generalized.
  • Amazonian Accent:

    • Depends, but there is even an accent of lleísmo with the following distinction: LL realized as [tʃ] and Y realized as [ʝ].

En fin... It's very interesting to see how the language has changed over time. One of the reasons lleísmo has remained strong in Ecuador is that there is lleísmo within Quichua. I wonder if the older languages spoken in the central Andes didn't have /ʎ/ and only [ʒ] and this is why Quichua words like Killa are realized with the [ʒ] in this region.

Anyhow, it's also interesting to see how the language is changing quickly towards yeísmo in all regions, especially with what seems to be a new pan-Latin American standardized conception of an accent rising. We can all choose to pronounce the way we want to, but it's funny, in the United States I do get a lot of heads turned for my [ʒ] pronunciation, especially with Mexicans, who seem to have not heard this pronunciation in their country.

  • 1
    Nice answer, very informative and well redacted! I just made some minor formatting changes to the lists. Notice that you don't need to "correct" other people's answers to include Ecuador: if their answer was wrong, so be it (you can downvote it if you like). The correct course of action is to post a new, correct answer, which you already did, and it will probably get enough upvotes to be on top of the incorrect ones :) Welcome to the site, hope to see you around! – walen May 7 '18 at 7:44
  • @walen Thank you. Look forward to using the site more and getting a better understanding of its processes. – Opining May 7 '18 at 16:15
-2

In some regions both letters are pronounced in the same way like 's' in "measure". But the correct use is the first one that you mention in your example.

  • 3
    If you're going to call something correct or incorrect for a language you should really state by which standard. As far as I'm aware by the RAE /ʎ/ is correct if anything is. – hippietrail Nov 15 '11 at 23:19
-2

There are a total of 29 letters in the Mexican language. Spanish as taught in most "northerner's" schools is really Castilian Spanish which is spoken mainly in Spain. In Mexican border regions, our "Spanish" is really "Mexican" and therefore castilian taught in schools is useless in Mexico. The single "L" is pronounced as a regular L, the double "ll" is pronounced as the letter "Y" and is actually a separate letter in the Mexican alphabet than the letter "L". Other letters not present in the English alphabet are the double "rr" which is rolled of the tongue, and the "ñ" which is pronounced "enye" comprising the total of 29 letters in the Mexican alphabet. Also, the letter "J" is pronounced as "H", there are no standard "J" sounds in Mexican words just as there are no words using "Y" as in yellow. The letter "Y" is actually the word "and" except as used in the word "playa" which means beach. The "Y" sound is otherwise accomplished using the double "ll".

  • 4
    Actually "rr" is not counted as a separate letter like "ch" and "ll" are. It's just a digraph. Even old dictionaries which have a section for "ch" and a section for "ll" do not have a section for "rr". – hippietrail Nov 16 '11 at 13:25
  • @hippietrail Dictionaries don't have a special section for rr because it never begins a word. Any word that starts with r has the rr pronunciation anyway. Whether it counts as a separate letter (sometimes sí, sometimes no, but the RAE now says it doesn't) is a separate issue. – Brian Nov 19 '11 at 7:11
  • 1
    @Brian: Oops yes of course the point about dictionaries is a false argument. Sorry about that. I'm not trying to correct anything about pronunciation, that all seems fine here. Just trying to correct the factual error and common misconception about "rr" ever being a letter. As the RAE's Diccionario panhispánico de dudas says: "Este solapamiento explica que la rr no se haya considerado nunca una de las letras del alfabeto." – hippietrail Nov 19 '11 at 8:34
  • 4
    Mexican language? Mexican alphabet? You can only speak of mexican words, sounds, pronunciation, meanings and modisms, but the language is spanish and the alphabet is that of spanish. – Envite Dec 5 '13 at 21:27
-2

I speak Spanish Spanish without any regional accent and sometimes I pronounce both sounds exactly the same. Some other times "yo" may actually sound closer to "i + o"

In conclusion, don't worry too much about that, in practice you can pronounce them the same ("llo").

  • 5
    "without any regional accent"... I just can not believe that. – Envite Dec 5 '13 at 21:26
  • 1
    @Jubbat by definition, everyone in every language has a regional accent unless you literally grew up moving from house to house in every region in the Spanish speaking world and end up with a unique mix of accentual features that do not coexist in any other regional accent. If you say you speak Spanish from Spain, then based on your pronunciation of z*/*ce*/*ci either you have a central-northern regional accent based or you have a southern/canary regional accent. And you have a peninsular regional accent in any case. – guifa Sep 17 '15 at 0:01
-3

The correct pronunciation of the ll sound is as for the Italian "gl" group, similar to the 'ly' sound in the middle of the word million. Pronunciation anyway varies in countries such as Argentina and Colombia to the second sound described in the question.

The y sound is mostly similar to the long -ee sound in English and is not directly related nor interchangeable with the ll sound.

  • 2
    I was going to vote you up because your first paragraph is better than most of the other answers, but your second paragraph just doesn't make sense so I had to vote down instead sorry. – hippietrail Nov 15 '11 at 23:16

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