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I am learning Spanish at Duolingo, and am encountered a basic sentence,

Yo bebo

but heard two different pronunciations for 'yo': one is [yo] as in New York, and the other is [jo] as in the English name Joe.

Another example is

Ella es una niña.

Wiktionary says it sounds [eʝa] in IPA, but it sometimes sounds like [ed͡ʒa].

Did I mishear one of them, or are there two pronunciations?

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  • Please note: the difference also applies to words like caballo and calle. yo, calle and caballo can all sound like a j. Mostly in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay but with the yo, it can sound like j in a few others, too.
    – Lambie
    Feb 10, 2023 at 16:48
  • Note that Wiktionary, under the collapsible "more" button, includes the pronunciations [ˈe.ʎa], [ˈe.ʃa], and [ˈe.ʒa] — although not the one that you mentioned, [ˈe.d͡ʒa].
    – sumelic
    Feb 10, 2023 at 19:01

4 Answers 4

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It depends on the regional accent. Most people in Spain and Latin America use a sound close to English 'y' as in 'York', but it may be closer to an English 'j' as in 'Joe' in some southern Spanish varieties (a 'fricative' instead of an 'approximant' sound). In Argentina and Uruguay, it is pronounced as a French 'j' (or as 'si' in the English word 'vision').

Note that whatever pronunciation you use, you should be consistent and use one same sound for both 'y' and 'll'. The traditional distinction between these two letters has been lost in virtually all of Spain and Latin America.

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  • It isn't closer to j, it is an j. yo sounds like Joe.
    – Lambie
    Feb 12, 2023 at 21:02
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YEÍSMO

Yeísmo (Spanish pronunciation: [ɟʝeˈizmo]; literally "Y-ism") is a distinctive feature of certain dialects of the Spanish language, characterized by the loss of the traditional palatal lateral approximant phoneme /ʎ/ (written ⟨ll⟩) and its merger into the phoneme /ʝ/ (written ⟨y⟩), usually realized as a palatal approximant or affricate. It is an example of delateralization.

In other words, ⟨ll⟩ and ⟨y⟩ represent the same sound [ʝ] (listen) when yeísmo is present. The term yeísmo comes from one of the Spanish names for the letter ⟨y⟩ (ye). Over 90% of Spanish speakers exhibit this phonemic merger. Similar mergers exist in other languages, such as French, Italian, Hungarian, Catalan, Basque, Portuguese or Galician, with different social considerations.

Occasionally, the term lleísmo (pronounced [ʎeˈizmo]) has been used to refer to the maintenance of the phonemic distinction between /ʝ/ and /ʎ/.

Wikipedia

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The real sound for "y" is pretty much the same as the English one, like in NY. However, you may hear some people pronouning it like "J", and that's fine. Take into account that spaniards don't really have the sound "J". Instead, they pronounce the letter j with what you call "that kh sound" /χ/. Thus, pronouncing Y or J makes little difference, so you can often hear any of the two. What's more, I'd say that you can hear the whole range of intermediate sounds.

As for LL, it is meant to represent the /ʎ/ sound, but some variants can be /ʝ/. In some others, like Argentina, it can directly be more similar to "sh".

And, to complicate it a bit more, many dialects have led "Y" and "LL" to have the very same sound, so they might be undistinguishable. This is called "yeísmo" (yeism), a phenomenon consisting in the pronounication of "LL" similarly to Y (ye).

None of these variations is a big problem, since the sounds are not easily confused with any other sound, and, if they are, the rest of the word tells you the correct one. For example, "EJA" can only be "ella", because "eya" simply doesn't exist. In cases where both words exist, the context is the key. For example: "cayó" (he fell) vs. "calló" (he shut up). The context gives you the clue.

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  • This link on yeismo may be hepful too spanish.stackexchange.com/questions/2432/…
    – mdewey
    Feb 10, 2023 at 11:59
  • They do not pronounce it like j. They pronounce it as a j. And it's pronounced like that in a number of places.
    – Lambie
    Feb 12, 2023 at 21:04
  • @Lambie I don't understand what you mean. "like J" and "as a J" is the same, isn't it?
    – FGSUZ
    Feb 13, 2023 at 20:23
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And in much of Latin America I think my name John is spelled Jhon, so it hardens up to an approximation of the English j.

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