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I don't speak Spanish and have never studied it. We have few Spanish speakers in my part of the world either. I have, however, learned a few words of Spanish from TV and know how some of those words appear in written form.

Something that I've wondered about for years is why so many different letters in Spanish get pronounced the same as the letter 'h' in English. For example, the first letter of "hacienda" is pronounced like an English 'h'. So is the 'x' in "Mexico". So is the 'j' in "Guadalajara". I think there is at least one other letter that gets pronounced as an 'h' too but I can't think of it at this moment.

Are these pronunciations universal among Spanish speakers or are they just common among, say, Mexicans or Cubans?

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The H in hacienda (or really anywhere else1) is not pronounced at all. It's a silent letter.

The X used to have a sound similar to the SH in English and the J had a sound similar to English's J (if you're familiar with the sound often written as ZH, that's it). Over time, the sounds represented by the X and the J, which were fairly close, merged into a single sound that evolved into something that sounds quite like the English H.

Because many Xs now sounded the same as Js, most words that had an X were changed to J (those Xs that sounded like English's X kept their X as a rule).

So why does X get used for the H sound today? Many places in Mexico got their name before the sound change happened (and in Nahuatl, for instance, you pronounce the name of the Mexica tribe as meh-shee-kah). After the sound change, you'd think the spelling of places like Mexico or Oaxaca should also get a J. They did for a long time, actually, and Méjico is considered a valid spelling. Nonetheless, people get used to writing names a particular way, and don't tend to like to change them (sort of like how we write New York not New Yoick and New Orleans not Nawlins), and so the spelling with X was always used in Mexico itself, and today is the preferred spelling.

As a result, the letters X, J (and a G followed by E or I) will all sound like English's H.

Additionally, although not common for Mexican Spanish, you will notice that the S will often be pronounced like English's H. This generally happens when the S is at the end of a syllable, though not always.


1. In some imported words like hámster you will hear it aspirated, and in certain words in an extremely limited regions in Spain you can hear the h pronounced today, such that albahaca has an audible H.

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  • also H will have the sound SH when when combined with a C : CH – Mike Jun 7 '19 at 14:48
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    @Mike CH is still a letter in my book lol. But the sound is normally the same as in English — only a small number of regions use the SH sound for CH. – user0721090601 Jun 7 '19 at 14:49
  • Thanks for that explanation, guifa. I'd always heard the 'h' in hacienda pronounced but I think it was always by actors who were English-speaking so they probably saw the 'h' in their scripts and pronounced it because they didn't know better. I'm guessing the director didn't know any better or didn't care. (These were mostly old Westerns which I think were made pretty cheaply.) – Henry Jun 7 '19 at 20:32
  • S also sounds [h] at the end of words or before occlusive consonants in Andalusian, Argentinian, Chilean and other dialects/accents where J is usually pronounced harder ([x] as in German acht) – Rafael Jun 7 '19 at 23:21

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