I am referring to the sounds made by the letters ⟨z⟩ and the soft ⟨c⟩ the way they’re said in Spain, like in the Spanish words zorro and cena. (This is the unvoiced dental fricative sound heard at the start of the English words thin, thaw, thank, thirty, and thigh, so /θ/ using the International Phonetic Alphabet.)

Latin America learned Spanish from Spain, so why does American Spanish not pronounce those consonants the same way they say them in Spain, having originally learned Spanish from people from Spain?

  1. Did Latin America somehow decide at some point to start pronouncing ⟨z⟩, ⟨c⟩, and ⟨s⟩ all the same way?
  2. Or did Spain begin speaking that way after Latin America was already speaking Spanish?

Which one changed how those sounds are said, Spain or America?


This is related to the readjustment of the sibilant consonants that took place during the XVI and XVII century, giving the origin to the current consonantal system of the Spanish language.

The [s] advanced its point of articulation towards the interdental fricative unvoiced sound (/θ/). Some dialects didn't change this sound (Andalucía, Canarias, America).


Or did Spain begin speaking that way after Latin America was already speaking Spanish?

I think this is true :)

Check http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seseo#Origins

  • 1
    Andalucía did change their sounds, just in a different way and towards a single sound. Jun 26 '18 at 11:24

In Spain, during the time of colonization of the Americas, there were two rough accent divisions in terms of how sibilants were pronounced - Northern/Central Spain (Castilian), and Southern Spain (Andalusian). Since many of the early colonizers were from the southern region1, the dialects brought to the Americas had the same features:

enter image description here

Note: there are some isolated dialects of Argentina and Chile with ceceo2, as well as Puerto Rico, Honduras, and Venezuela3 4.

Judeo-Spanish, a sister language of Spanish which split off from Old Spanish a few centuries earlier, has even more conservative pronunciation of its sibilants, maintaining two voiced and unvoiced pairs:

enter image description here


1. This seseo variety was the pronunciation that most impacted Latin America, as many emigrants to the Americas were from Andalusian and Canarian ports. In addition, several generations of Spanish speakers had lived and grown in the Americas before /θ/ appeared in Castilian.

- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonological_history_of_Spanish_coronal_fricatives#Historical_evolution (Harris, James (1969), Spanish Phonology)

2. Hablar en español: la cortesía verbal, la pronunciación estandar del español, las formas de expresión oral., Alfredo Álvarez (Universidad de Oviedo)
3. Historia del ceceo y del seseo españoles, Amado Alonso (1951) (Centro Virtual Cervantes)
4. Sobre el Ceceo y el Seseo en Hispanoamérica, Lapesa, Rafael (1969) (Revista Iberoamericana)


19th century development in second chart descriptive of Andalusia, different and varied changes have happened in the dialects of the Americas.


Debido a la expansión después de la reconquista (1492) hacia el sur por parte de Castilla, mientras que la Corona de Aragon lo hacia al mar Mediterráneo (conquista del Reino de Napoles en 1504) recuerdo el papel de los Andaluces en Sudamerica.

Como se comenta en otra respuesta el seseo es un rasgo y presente en la comunidad Andaluza y Canaria.

Hay una entrada en la wikipedia que debate la influencia del Andalucismo, véase Anti-andalucismo

Añado la cita que encontré en esa entrada que defiende su influencia, el libro es de 1688:

Los nativos de la tierra, mal disciplinados en la pureza del idioma español, lo pronuncian generalmente con aquellos resabios que siempre participan de la gente de las costas de Andalucía...

Mientras que el Antiandalucismo defiende la influencia de las lenguas propias de Sudamérica como el Maya, Náhuatl, Guarani, Quechua,...


As Spanish evolved over time, in most of Spain, /d͡z̪/ and /t͡s̪/ merged toward /θ/, so the letters c and z stood for [θ] while s stood for [s]. In southern Spain, /d͡z̪/ and /t͡s̪/ merged with s. (There are actually tiny pockets in Spain and the Canaries that took the sounds in different directions but that's outside the scope of this post). So in southern Spain, c and z and s all stand for the same [s] sound!

When Spain began to colonize the New World, Latin America was mainly populated by immigrants from Andalucia - the southernmost region of mainland Spain where c and z and s all stand for [s]. The Andalucian accent took root in Latin America and is responsible for the [s] that Americans think is "normal." In fact, all of them are normal products of older sound changes.

  • 1
    Note that using standard angle brackets causes things to be eaten up by the HTML parser. You may prefer to use ⟨ and ⟩ or simply place them in italics by using asterisks around the words. Jun 18 '17 at 4:18

There is a theory that is slightly mentioned in the answers (Andalucismo). I my opinion it's the simplest and much more logical than the others. It's also explained in the thread linked by Adam Brown.

This is the theory: in XVth century Spain, in the south (most Andalucía) people pronounced s, c and z as /s/. The people who wanted to go to America had to ship from Cadiz and they lived there for months until they could take the ship. By the time they left Cadiz, they all spoke like people from Cadiz, because this dialect is very easy to acquire. And the rest is pure logic.

Here is a quote from ¿Por qué la diferencia entre s y z/c solo se da en España?:

En cuanto a las causas del seseo en América, solo hay que ver lo mucho que se parecen hablando un canario y un cubano, o un andaluz a un chileno, para intuirlas.

En Canarias predomina el seseo porque los colonizadores españoles eran sobre todo andaluces, y en América pasó otro tanto, de modo que allí donde los andaluces no llevaron directamente su típico seseo, lo hicieron los canarios (fundamentalmente por el Caribe).

  • 1
    Do you really think that if a person from say, Madrid, spends a few months in Cádiz, he or she will start talking like a gaditano (and will keep talking like that even after leaving the place)? Jun 26 '18 at 15:58

La pregunta es un poco "ingenua": supongo que no se habla inglés igual en todo el mundo.

No por nada en EE. UU. se dice "mom" y en el Reino Unido "mum". Así mismo, las formas de hablar varían entre países, y modismos locales, por la historia, etc.

Y no es que aquí seamos indios que aprendimos español de los españoles, es que somos descendientes de ellos, heredamos su idioma.

El tema con la S, la C, y la Z, viene desde la misma España: en regiones como Castilla y Madrid, se usa mucho la "distinción"; en otras zonas de España como Andalucía y las Canarias se usa el "seseo", y en otras regiones el "ceceo". Así mismo ocurrió en América, no es nada del otro mundo.

The question is a little "naive", I guess the same is not English speakers around the world ...

It not for nothing in USA "mom" is said and UK "mum", also, the ways of speaking vary between countries and local idioms, the story ...

Not that here we Indians learned Spanish, Spanish, is that we are descendants of them inherited their language.

The issue with the S, C, and Z, comes from the same regions in Spain ... as Castile and Madrid, is widely used the "distinción" in other areas of Spain as Andalusia and the Canary Islands using "seseo" and in other regions the "ceceo", also happened in America ... is not no big deal.


I've always thought that the language evolved differently in each country, depending on the languages spoken in Latin America before Spanish.

Taken from this link

El español llevado a América por los conquistadores evolucionó de distinto modo según las regiones y las zones de influencia de las lenguas indígenas. Todo dependió también del nivel de cultura de cada región: así no se puede comparar la región de Río de la Plata, de escasa cultura, con las altas culturas de los mayas y de los aztecas en Mesoamérica o la de los incas en los Andes.

  • 4
    Not trying to be a smart aleck or anything, but I don't think answers that are just guesses are very constructive. In fact, if your guess is wrong, it could lead to the proliferation of incorrect information.
    – neizan
    Apr 16 '14 at 10:10

This is an obvious one to me. Though I have no sources to back it up, I trust my theory.

Before the "Nuevo Mundo", everyone spoke the King's Spanish, the Catholic Spanish, the Spanish that was forced into the culture and criticized to the extent of punishment. After the discovery and voyage to the New World, the strict Spanish-speaking rules did not apply. Only the Conquistador would have been able to enforce the King's Spanish, and honestly, I don't believe the conquistadors would have had enough time to be worried about the strict Spanish-speaking etiquette.

Latin American Spanish is just the bastard language child of the King's Spanish. U.S American Spanglish is the bastard language child of Latin American Spanish. The examples are endless, especially when you consider how many bordering countries there are in the world that speak different languages. (i.e, Belgium & France, German & Polish, Russian & Ukrainian)...

  • 3
    As a story is cool, but i dont think the king cared much about a peasant using "z" or "s" sound, mainly because the south of spain have always used "s" instead of "z" and they're still alive
    – JesusS
    Oct 30 '15 at 9:10

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