As we all know that Spanish is a Phonetic Language, i.e. the way it's written is the way it's pronounced. I am just curious to know if there are any exceptions to this phonetic rule. I mean, when we speak Spanish or certain words in Spanish like the name of any person, place etc, is there any case where that word is spoken a bit differently than the way it's spelled.
Are there exceptions to the (quite simple) Spanish phonetic rules?
Unless you count any of the following as exceptions (I wouldn't, but it's debatable):
Foreign names or words of foreign origin, that retain their original spelling but are pronounced differently: "sandwich" (pronounced as "sángüich" or even "sánguche").
Regional variations: the "elle" in "caballo" is pronounced differently in Spanish than in Argentina ("yeísmo"), same for the "z" sound ("seseo/ceceo").
Bad or casual pronunciations. Same as in English, in casual-fast speaking some words can be slightly contracted or deformed. For example, in many regions it's common to (almost) omit some final "s" or make them like aspired sounds (sort of English "h") : eg, "las cosas" => "la'cosas" or "lah' cosas"; in some regions of Argentina, the trilling "rr" is pronounced more like a "y", etc. Some pronunciations, considered incorrect, are nevertheless very common: "peleé" (1st person, past tense of "pelear") is often pronounced as "pelié".
Though we don't have the English digraph "sh", we widely recognize it (as foreign) and we sometimes use it when we need to reproduce the (English) "sh" sound at the end of some word (there are no such words in Spanish, but there are some onomatopoeias or foreign words). However, in Spanish compound words like "deshacer" we pronounce in the Spanish way: "des"+"hacer".
"X" has two pronunciations: the common one ("cs") and the rare one ("j"): the later is only used in a few words, notably "México"
Initial "ps" (eg: "psicología") is usually pronounced simply as "s"
Spanish has a mostly phonetic reading (as opposed to writing*). Most exceptions are in three categories:
- reductions, assimilations and similar phonemic changes
- archaic language
- foreign and indigenous words
In the first category we include hiatus reduced to diphthongs toalla→
/peliar/, elimination of geminated vowels: cooperar→
/coperar/, addition or reduction of weak consonants: huevo→
/partío/, lambdization (and reverse lambdization) el muerto→
/er muelto/. Aspiration of syllable final s: tres tristes tigres→
/treh trihteh tigreh/ or complete elimination: →
/tre trite tigre/. Most of these features depend on accent and dialect, however some are common in all (most) variants of Spanish, such as assimilation of syllable final n to the next consonant: un burro→
/um burro/, enviar→
The main example of the second category is the aspirated h, as in halar, holgorio, harto. This aspirated h sounds like English h and, for some people there is a difference between this h (glotal approximant, as English h) and j (velar approximant, as ch in English loch), however this distinction is lost for most speakers. In Colombia and Central America both h and j are glotal (as in English), in Spain, Argentina and Mexico both are velar.
The third category include the Mexican x (from Nahuatl): México→
/uajaca/, and all words from English, French, German, and many other origins which do not conform: pijama(col)→
/piyama/ (in Spain pijamas is pronunced
/pay/. Many common personal names in Latin America (I guess in Spain is less common) do have j that is pronounced as
/yacson/; even original names that do not exist in other languages.
Special note on x. While the canonical pronunciation of x is as
/cs/, it is usually reduced in syllable final positions: Mompox→
/mompó/, and in the latin prefix ex- (meaning out/outside) usually sounds more similar to
/gs/, particularly when followed by a vowel voiced consonant: exagerar→
/egsajerar/ [eɣzaxeɾar] (this does not apply when ex- means ‘former’). In some speeches (usually deemed as vulgar), the x can also be reduced to
/tatsi/. And, of course, there are all those Mexican words in which x sounds as
/jalapeños/. (But Telmex→
Special note on w. The letter w is not a Spanish letter and no word of Spanish origin uses it, while canonically should be regarded as a v (and pronounced equal to b) the actual pronunciation should mimic the pronunciation in the original language: Watt→
Dialectally, there's a lot.
Another common change you'll hear is -bue- being pronounced as -güe-. Quite common in a lot of rural speeches across the Spanish speaking world. Hence [agüelo] or [güenas] for abuelo or buenas.
In central Spain, /s/ in front of /k/ will become /j/. This is a bit different from the conventional aspirated syllable-final /s/ you'll find in other dialects primarily because the /j/ is the much stronger [χ], and all other /s/ is pronounced exactly as /s/. Some of the most common words/phrases: ['eχ ke] for es que, ['oχkar] for Óscar, or [eɾ'oχki] for Eroski (a supermarket).
In other regions with influence from American languages, Spanish can end up with a three-vowel system, where /e/ and /i/ are both pronounced as [i], and /o/ and /u/ are pronounced [u]. So a word like independiente will end up closer to [indipin'djinti].
Likewise, due to influence from other languages, a handful of regions may distinguish b from v, pronouncing the latter as a libio-dental (as in English).
In Cataluña, world-final -d is realized as [t], hence [us'tet] for usted or [ha'blat] for hablad
In parts of the Carribean (Puerto Rico most especially), syllable final /r/ will often be realized as /l/, and /rr/ as /j/, hence the very name of Puerto Rico becomes ['puelto 'xico].
For non-dialectal differences, one of the most common will be in situations similar to the previously mentioned cohete. There are two strong vowels next to each other, and in these cases, if the unstressed is an /o/, it will tend to be reduced to /u/ and diphthongize with the primary vowel. Likewise /e/ will reduce to /i/. Toalla is virtually universally pronounced as ['twaʎa]. Teatro might be pronounced as ['tjatɾo]. But, ahora stays [a'ora] because /a/ can't reduce.
Double vowels like in creencia are either slightly lengthed [cr'eːnθja] or simple pronounced as a single [cr'enθja]. The Academia actually recommends rewriting certain words with a single vowel when compounding causes double letters because of this: decimoctavo instead of decimooctavo.
There are many foreign words that don't follow Spanish phonetic rules, even though they are heavily used in Spanish.
The only "Spanish" word I can think of off the top of my head that doesn't follow Spanish phonetics is a Mexican slang word:
Although it is spelled with a 'G', the g sound is not pronounced (depending on region). As written, the word should be pronounced as if it were spelled Gway (in English), but in reality it is pronounced as the English word way.
That Spanish is a phonetic language is often accepted uncritically leading to difficulties along the path to building proficiency in the language. As others have indicated the aspect of a language being phonetic is a relative thing. Is Spanish absolutely phonetic? No. But it is phonetic relative to English and not phonetic relative to, say, Swahili. The ideal for a language being phonetic is that once the rules of pronunciation have been mapped you should be able to go from the spoken word to the written word, and vice versa, consistently. This does not always hold in Spanish for many reasons.
First of all, ideally you'd like this phonetic feature to be at the level of the alphabet but Spanish already runs into problems because in most dialects these letters have the same pronunciation: z,s, and in some contexts c, similarly v and b are usually pronounced identically (for the longest time I couldn't discern that the commonly used 'a ver' was its own expression, I thought it was a peculiar use of 'haber' that I was yet to learn). So the mapping from spoken to written broken.
The mapping the other way breaks too from a purely alphabetical standpoint. The 'g' in 'gol' is pronounced differently from the 'g' in 'Argentina'. Similar cases are present with 'c'. However, Spanish is very consistent once the rules for these are established to the extent that once you know these rules there are not too many exceptions.
You run into more problems with regional pronunciation. As indicated above, the aspired 's' in Rioplatense Spanish causes the 's' to disappear completely when it's in the middle of consonants and it ends up sounding like an h. So in this dialect if someone says "dos pesos" you might be tempted to transcribe it as "doh pesos" based on the pronunciation.
There are very few examples, but they exist:
cooperativa /kopera'tiba/ (one "o")
zoología /solo'xia/ but zoólogo /so'ologo/
cortésmente /kortes'mente/ (stress is wrongly indicated in the spelling)
In my dialect
transporte /tran'porte/ = [tram'porte] (silent "s")
fósforo /'foforo/ (silent "s")
hámster /'xamster/ or /'xamter/, not /'amster/ ("h" sounds "j")
Spanish may be one of most "phonetic" languages but if you look carefully, all words which are "spoken differently than the way they are spelled" just follow the Spanish set of rules of prounciation.
One-to-one letter to sound match rule is constantly broken and this makes a set of rules by itself. Think 'h', 'g', 'gu', 'qu', 'ch' et cetera. But once the rules are defined, I only know the "México -> Méjico" case of exception.
There are very good explanations up there but I want to give you some examples.
- Exactamente -> Esactamente
- Excepto -> Esepto
- Cohete -> Cuete (Intresting word because NO ONE says cohete but cuete, when speaking of fireworks unless you're the media, but EVERYONE, almost, writes COHETE)
There are words with H because they were written with F. The F became an English H but eventually disapeared as well but there are some places where this H has still a sound.
- Moho -> Mojo
- Retahíla -> Retajíla
- Hediondo -> Jediondo
- Hijo -> Jijo (This is very accepted in Mexico but only in this phrase: "Jijo de la chingada")
In the Yucatan peninsula they have lots of Mayan words with X and are pronounced as SH:
- Uxmal -> Ushmal
- Xel-Ha -> Shel-Ha (English H)
Or Nahuatl words:
- Xola -> Shola
- Xochimilco -> Sochimilco (no SH)
- Xochitl -> Sochilt
Or antique spellings that changed the prononciation but not the writing, persons or places names mostly:
- México -> Méjico
- Xalapa -> Jalapa (both coexist)
- Xavier -> Javier (both coexist)
- Ximena -> Jimena (both coexist)
- Oaxaca -> Oajaca
- Texas -> Tejas (yes, the American Texas, in the Spanish-speaking world is pronounced Tejas)
Or very cult words:
- Mnemotecnia -> Nemotecnia
- Psicología -> Sicología
Words from other languages:
- Tsunami -> Sunami
But it depends mostly on the accent.