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In Spanish there is a sound [β] as well as [b], but honestly I don't know how to pronounce it well. It is different from [b], in that it is a fricative sound.

Now I wonder, where the [β] is used among Spanish speaking countries. According to Wikipedia IPA page:

Ranges from close fricative to approximant.[22] Allophone of /b/. See Spanish phonology

Can I just pronounce it as [b] and do Spanish speakers have no problem understanding it? Or in which region is it used more and/or have more trouble in an understanding?

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There are two questions here. To the first one: the use of [β] (the voiced bilabial fricative) or [β̞] (voiced bilabial approximant) is universal in Spanish, that I know of. It's an allophone of /b/, regardless of whether it is written b or v. Whether to use the fricative or the approximant depends on the dialect, the speaker, the context, etc.; the difference is basically undetectable to us native speakers.

So-called "broad" phonetic notation will note this sound as [β]; in "narrow" notation, which is more detailed, you will see it as [β̞].

[β] is much more common than the stop [b]. The latter is only found after the nasal [m] and at the beginning of words, and then only if there's a clean pause before it. So most times /b/ is [β].

Take some sentences:

  1. Está en Babia, es un bobo que vive en la luna de Valencia.
  2. Escribe en tu libreta: brevas, frambuesas, membrillos...
  3. ¿Ves lo que te va a pasar si hablas?

You will only pronounce [b] at the beginning of Babia, bobo, brevas, ves, in the first two cases because it comes after a nasal (en Babia), and in the other two because it comes at the beginning of the word preceded by a pause. The other instances of [b] are in frambuesas and membrillos, both also because they follow a nasal. (For the purposes of this phonetic change, a preposition or an article are part of the following word: en Babia is [em'babja], un bobo is [um'bobo], de Valencia is [deβa'lenθja].) All the other b’s and v’s are pronounced [β].

If you pronounce /b/ as [b] in all positions, it should be understandable to native speakers, but some will probably notice something is off. In certain contexts it's possible for such a misplaced [b] to be misheard as [p].

As you probably know already, all three Spanish voiced stops /b d g/ undergo this change, so the above holds also for /d/ and /g/.

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You can pronounce it as [b] and everyone will understand you no problem, but your pronunciation will sound very forced (as [β̞] is really a softened form of [b], you almost pronounce a B, but you just barely keep your lips from touching, hence it's more often called an approximate and not a fricative (which would involve them actually touching but not stopping the air flow). At times an English speaker may even hear this [β̞] as closer to a /w/, although it's produced in a very different manner.

It is used in every dialect of Spanish I know — in fact, I'd venture to say that given the commonality of the letters B and V and where they are in the word, and the way words link in phrases, it's probably actual more common than the [b] by proportion.

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  • Indeed [β̞] is much more common than [b]. The latter is only found after nasals and at the beginning of words only if there's a clean pause before it. So most times /b/ is [β̞]. – pablodf76 May 15 '19 at 1:09
  • @pablodf76 That's why I've always found it odd that B/D/G are defined as being /b d g/ by default, and /β̞ ð ɣ/ as the secondary. It really should be the other way around :-) – user0721090601 May 15 '19 at 1:13

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