As explained in the preface, this site was motivated by my desire to improve my oral comprehension of Spanish, combined with the conviction that a large part of my difficulties with oral comprehension stemmed from an insufficient understanding of Latin American dialectology: how else could it be that I can understand perfectly the president of the republic, but not the Venezuelan telenovelas stars? Very late in the project I discovered a quote that vindicates that conviction:
It is important for instructors to realize that most students who begin their study of Spanish after puberty will not achieve native-like pronunciation. Rather, the goal, in our view should be intelligibility. As Bongaerts (1999) notes in his studies, the only way for students to reach native-like pronunciation with an age of acquisition beyond puberty were those who had explicit phonetics training.
I must say that in general I find phonology to be greatly underestimated as a tool by teachers of second languages, who tend to focus on grammar and vocabulary after the first week of class.
I admit that my requirements for a methodology to learn Spanish phonology may not have been typical. I wanted:
Some of the resources I looked at were:
Beset by these concerns [the scattered patchwork quilt of Spanish phonology] and by the tendency of some writers to try to create neat zones, Melvyn Resnick (1975) decided to cast aside taxonomic considerations and look at all the available data on phonological varients in the total area.Looking back, that should have been a tip-off to the complexity of the project I had undertaken. It would be a fun project analyze this data set using modern methods if it were available in a machine-processable form.
I confess that the present site only partially integrates all the inputs discussed above. As I discovered new resources, I tended to adopt them and abandon the old ones in mid-stream. I am not sure that is a serious problem; understandably, there is a lot of overlap in the data, and I have only a mild form of James Murray’s obsession with finding every last nuance of every last piece of data. I am not a professional; I just want something I can use to better understand my telenovelas, and something that will hopefully be of use to others in my situation.
From an implementation perspective, the goal of this part of the project was to compile as large a collection as possible of the phonological rules of Spanish, in a uniform, formal notation. This seems like a straightforward goal, but the truth is that at many points I floundered, uncertain about how to achieve it. This was doubtless because of my relative inexperience in the matters of real linguistics. Perhaps I should have waited until I found some expert help, but my impatience compelled me to forge ahead, with the current web site as the outcome.
Some of the general issues I grappled with are:
La fricativa alveolar sorda se articula usando el apice para formar un pasaje estrecho contra la zona anterior de la cresta alveolardoes it mean that this variation always occurs, or simply that that for Piñeros’s purposes the exact context specification is too complex, or is irrelevant?
Sometimes I would insert an empty context, “ ／ ___”, meaning “occurs systematically everywhere”, into every rule, for consistency’s sake. At other times I would delete all such empty contexts. This is one place where an expert may be able to help.
xmllintto check for well-formedness is fine; validation checking would be much more trouble than it’s worth.
A surprisingly agonizing issue was what to do about styling links. I am an easily distracted minimalist, and wish there were simply a special key to toggle the display of link styling, so that one could turn it off when trying to actually read the text. I understand the arguments in favor of using different colors for visited and unvisited links, and of underlining, but the truth is that underlining technical formulas looks awful. In the end I settled on using a subtle blue color without underlining.
A number of issues arose specifically with respect to the formal rules, beginning with what the exact notation for formal rules is. Hayes, Hammond, and Whitney do a fine job of motivating the use of formal rules, and the basic “
a → b ／ ___” format is obvious, but I found no grammar for more complex cases involving alternatives, constraints, usage, comments, etc. The need for handling such cases grew out of a design goal that stretches the notion of a formal rule. I wanted the set of “formal” rules to be able to stand alone, so that it is possible to turn off the display of the “informal” rules (using CSS) and still have a coherent document. That is, it should not be necessary to refer to the informal rules in order to make sense of the formal ones. In the extreme case, an observation such as
must count as a “formal rule”, even though it is not in the basic “
The alveolar fricative /s/ tensely grooved and strongly sibilant (cf. highland Mexico and Andes)
a → b ／ ___” form.
In the end I came to treat this type of problem as a markup issue that could be solved by introducing appropriate XML elements; this allows postponing decisions about the presentation syntax. Using this approach and defining a comment element, the example becomes simply
This approach feels very natural to me, and solved many other issues such as how to capture the informal rule
<formal><com>The alveolar fricative /s/ is tensely grooved and strongly sibilant (cf. highland Mexico and Andes)</com></formal>
in a formal rule. Writing
En sílaba acentuada, las vocales /e/ y /o/ se producen con mayor abertura, lo cual las convierte en [e̞] y [o̞], respectivamente
is obviously wrong since the transformation is in the accented syllable, not before it. It seems pretty natural to introduce a constraint element:
/e/, /o/ → [e̞], [o̞] ／___Sílaba acentuada
Currently the rules use three such elements: “constraint” for specifying aspects of the phonological environment, “freq” for information about the sociological applicability of the rules (“among the urban, well-educated class”), and “com” for all other comments. All three elements are displayed using angle brackets:
/e/, /o/ → [e̞], [o̞] ／___<constraint>Sílaba acentuada</constraint>
/e/, /o/ → [e̞], [o̞] ／___ Sílaba acentuada
The need to handle rules that are not in the basic “
a → b ／ ___” form led me to introduce a “NOT” operator that applies to rules:
This syntax replaces an earlier notation using a “↛” operator that looks nicer but doesn’t handle the non-basic rules.
<formal>NOT(/'ado/ → ['ao] ／ ___)</formal>
I should perhaps explain that I introduced a “§” to represent the nucleus of a syllable. A regular “$” might have worked, but I wasn't sure enough of that to want to throw the distinction away.
One problem I simply gave up on was how to introduce anaphora into formal notation. In a rule like
I would like to be able to capture the fact that the two C’s on the left-hand side of the rule are references to the C on the right-hand side of the rule. I’m sure this problem has been solved, but I haven’t taken the time to research what the solution is.
/ɾ/ → CC ／ ___C
In addition to the formal descriptions of the allophonic rules, it seemed obvious to me that examples of their application in a controlled environment would be of great value in learning other dialects. Early in the project I looked for the Aesop’s fable that the IPA uses as a standard sample of the languages of the world, and was surprised to find only two for Spanish: one from Madrid, the other from Buenos Aires. I embarked on a sub-project to record the passage as spoken by my Latin-American acquaintances. Very late in the project I discovered that Piñeros has the fable as recorded by no fewer than 29 different speakers. Unfortunately he does not provide transcriptions for those 29 samples. I have provided transcriptions for most of my samples, but am unsure of their quality because they were produced by an amateur (me!). I think the use of a script to compare the samples so as to highlight the variations in the accents turned out quite well.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Marta Ortega-Llebaria for her assistance in a moment of need. She pointed me towards Pace’s Guide and Lipski’s El Español en América, without which I would not have been able to make such progress as I have.
General: what do you do when contexts aren’t specified Formal: what if the rule is not a rewrite rule? posnuclear? algebra of rules? Notation: not using IPA is a pain Jargon unification: there should be a noun for every move up or down, left or right. Velarization, palatalization, etc. Fill in the table. Authorities: Arteaga, Deborah. Spanish as an international language : implications for teachers and learners. Bristol, UK Buffalo, NY: Multilingual Matters, 2009. [Quote: It is important for instructors to realize that most students who begin their study of Spanish after puberty will not achieve native-like pronunciation. Rather, the goal, in our view should be intelligibility. As Bongaerts (1999) notes in his studies, the only way for students to reach native-like pronunciation with an age of acquisition beyond puberty were those who had explicit phonetics training.] Canfield, D. Spanish pronunciation in the Americas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981. Catálogo De Voces Hispánicas. Centro Virtual Cervantes. Instituto Cervantes. Web. Verified 2011-11-15. http://cvc.cervantes.es/lengua/voces_hispanicas/ Face, Timothy. Guide to the phonetic symbols of Spanish. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press, 2008. Guitart, Jorge. Sonido y sentido : teoría y práctica de la pronunciación del español contemporáneo con audio CD. Washington, D.C: Georgetown University Press, 2004. Hammond, Robert. The sounds of Spanish : analysis and application (with special reference to American English. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla, 2001. Handbook of the International Phonetic Association : a guide to the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet. Cambridge, U.K. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Hayes, Bruce. Introductory Phonology. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008. Lipski, John. El español de América. Madrid: Cátedra, 1996. Meyer, Paul. IPA Charts. Paul Meyer Dialect Services. Web. Verified 2011-12-20. http://www.paulmeier.com/ipa/ Piñeros, Carlos-Eduardo. Dialotecteca del Español. Web. Verified 2011-12-30. http://www.uiowa.edu/~acadtech/dialects//main.html Whitley, Melvin. Spanish-English contrasts : a course in Spanish linguistics. Washington, D.C: Georgetown University Press, 2002. [Syllable timing (4.1.3)]