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Apparently 'hay' has got only one syllable but:

  • 'ayer' is /a-yer/, two syllables, and
  • 'ayuda' is /a-yu-da/, three syllables.

So what is the rule for splitting 'ay' in a Spanish word like the name Hayek?

Is /ay-ek/ or is it /a-yek/?

All the Spanish sites cover 'ai' and other diphthong rules but not the 'ay' combination.

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Y works like a consonant wherever it is immediately followed by a vowel that is part of the same word. Otherwise, it is a vowel, equivalent to I for all purposes.

A + unstressed I is always a diphthong. A + unstressed Y is the exact same thing. Therefore, hay is just one syllable.

However, in both ayer and ayuda Y works like a consonant. A consonant that immediately precedes a vowel always goes in the same syllable as the vowel.

In Hayek (which is obviously not a Spanish word), the Y is a consonant, because it is followed by a vowel. Therefore, it goes with the E: Ha-yek.

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  • 1
    thank you. i checked several sites and none of them explained that. I did think that Salma Hayek was an actress with a spanish name which led to the question. – joe sixpak Apr 23 at 23:20
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Just to complete OnlyThenDidIReckonMyCurse's answer ...

According to the Wikipedia:

Salma Hayek Jiménez was born in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico. Her father, Sami Hayek Domínguez, is Lebanese Mexican

Jiménez and Domínguez are Spanish surnames (son of Jimeno and son of Domingo, respectively; like Stevenson is son of Steve, for example) but Hayek is Lebanese, we don't know precisely how Lebanese people pronounce it. OnlyThenDidIReckonMyCurse has pointed how we tend to pronounce it and split it into syllabes.

Notice that we, Spanish native speakers, do not pronunce the letter h at the beginning of a word, it should be pronounced a-yek but there is a sort of aspirating sound copied from its English pronuntiation that makes it closer to ja-yek (ES) / ha-yek (EN).

By the way, Salma is an arabic name. It isn't Spanish either.

Salma (سلمى) is a feminine first name that means “peace and safety” in Arabic and originates from the word (سلامة). It is also a Persian name (سلما) meaning "sweetheart".

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