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Sorry if this is not a Latin question but there weren't any questions in other forums where I could edit. So since Latin is the closest language to Romance languages, I'll ask here. In most other Romance languages, the [z] sound is written either S or Z. In French, S represents [z] between vowels or when adjacent to a voiced consonant while it's written Z in most cases. In Italian, [z] is always written S between vowels or adjacent to a voiced consonant while Z is used for ts or dz. In Portuguese, [z] is most represented by Z while S is used for that sound before front vowels or adjacent to a voiced consonant and in some trans- words. In Romanian, Z is always [z] and S is always [s]. In Spanish however, S is always [s] and rarely [z] when adjacent to a voiced consonant. Z is used for [th] or [s], based on dialect.In most other Romance languages, the [z] sound is written either S or Z. Why is the [z] sound so uncommon in Spanish compared to other Romance languages? Question is, why is the [z] sound not commonly written S or Z in Spanish compared to other Romance languages?

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Like Portuguese, French, or Italian, the Spanish language used to have /z/ (more narrowly, [z̺]) as the pronunciation of S between vowels in the middle of words (as in Old Spanish espeso [esˈpezo] 'spent'). This contrasted with /s/ (more narrowly, [s̺]) in the same position, which was written with the double letter SS (as in Old Spanish espesso [esˈpeso] 'thick'). (Old Spanish examples taken from Mackenzie, cited below).

However, between Old Spanish and modern Spanish the sound [z̺] was changed to [s̺], which is its voiceless counterpart. Because of this sound change, the spelling "SS" was considered unneeded and came to be replaced with the single letter "S". A similar change caused Old Spanish [ʒ] (spelled "J") to be replaced with [ʃ], and Old Spanish [z̻] (spelled "Z") to be replaced with [s̻]. The latter two pairs evolved into the modern Spanish sounds /x/ and /θ/, which is why modern Spanish uses the letters "J" and "Z" to represent /x/ and /θ/ respectively.

See §11 "Devoicing of the sibilants" in "History of Spanish Consonants", The Linguistics of Spanish, Ian Mackenzie, 1999–2022.

You might ask "why did Spanish replace [z̺, ʒ, z̻] with [s̺, ʃ, s̻]" but we generally cannot say why sound changes occurred in some languages but not in others.

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