Pronunciation of Spanish 'j'?

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xBlackWolfx

Pronunciation of Spanish 'j'?

Postby xBlackWolfx » 2015-02-06, 4:27

This is something I've been struggling with. I have been able to recognize what the other consonants are (I kind of specialize in phonology), but I'm struggling to figure out exactly what the pronunciation of 'j' should be. I've been doing a voiced palatal fricative in class, but I used to just do a voiceless glottal fricative (aka, the 'h' sound of English) like most books tell us to do. But today I decided to do some research online, it makes no mention of the voiced palatal fricative, or any unusual fricatives besides the voiceless velar fricative (the 'ach-laut' of German), but I find that hard to believe. I started to question my pronunciation when I heard one of my class-mates (who is a native speaker from El Salvador) pronounce an 'h' sound (or something close to it). Looking around online, it appears that most pronounce a voiceless pharyngeal fricative, but for some reason the IPA chart on wikipedia doesn't show that (wikipedia obviously isn't very reliable...it seems that article was written by someone only familiar with the European dialects).

Can anyone tell me what the IPA value of this phoneme actually is? Just point to it in the IPA and I can figure out how to pronounce it from there.

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Re: Pronunciation of Spanish 'j'?

Postby ling » 2015-02-06, 6:07

When I was taught Castilian Spanish, the teacher pronounced it like a Croatian h... with more constriction of the back of the tongue than the English h, but not so much as to make it sound like German ch.
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Re: Pronunciation of Spanish 'j'?

Postby mōdgethanc » 2015-02-07, 2:55

I haven't ever heard a voiced palatal fricative and I think that would sound bizarre, since that's the sound of <y> in Spanish. In fact, I haven't ever heard a voiced sound for <j>. It should be either [x] or [h], maybe uvular but not pharyngeal, and definitely not palatal. Frankly, I have to question if you "specialize in phonology" if you hear it as that sound.

What ling has said below is, in non-technical language, "use a voiceless velar fricative but not a uvular one", which is accurate. A uvular one would surely be understood, though; they're not that different.

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Re: Pronunciation of Spanish 'j'?

Postby linguoboy » 2015-02-07, 6:23

xBlackWolfx wrote:Can anyone tell me what the IPA value of this phoneme actually is? Just point to it in the IPA and I can figure out how to pronounce it from there.
It's a phoneme; it's not going to have an "IPA value", only particular allophones of it will. Moreover, the default allophone varies regionally with [x] more common in the North of the Iberian Peninsula and [h] elsewhere.
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Re: Pronunciation of Spanish 'j'?

Postby mōdgethanc » 2015-02-07, 6:50

Odd that it's typically written /x/ when it seems [h] is more widespread.

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Re: Pronunciation of Spanish 'j'?

Postby Car » 2015-02-07, 10:40

Don't they tend to use the European standard when writing it? At least around here, that's what you'll always find.
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Re: Pronunciation of Spanish 'j'?

Postby linguoboy » 2015-02-07, 14:33

mōdgethanc wrote:Odd that it's typically written /x/ when it seems [h] is more widespread.
That's the legacy of colonialism for you!

As I recall, there are American varieties with [x] as well, but I can't recall which ones. Probably in Crazy Mountain Spanish.
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Re: Pronunciation of Spanish 'j'?

Postby xBlackWolfx » 2015-02-07, 15:40

It would be so nice, if I didn't get so many posts from people I've blocked. I don't even see any point in me posting in this forum.

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Re: Pronunciation of Spanish 'j'?

Postby xBlackWolfx » 2015-02-08, 22:45

Did some research on my own on Spanish phonology.

A PDF I found claimed that the most commonly used phones for the letter 'j' are x and h. I've never ever heard a native speaker pronounce a velar fricative. I've only heard it once, and señor Jordan is obviously not a native speaker. The two students in my class from el Salvador clearly pronounce an h. In addition, I've found a few references claiming that some people pronounce it as an aspirated h. I can't actually find a recording of it, but doing it myself actually sounds a lot closer to the 'raspy h' sound you hear Mexicans pronounce. I suspect that this is the sound I thought was a pharyngeal fricative.

I did try a velar fricative once with a native speaker at a Mi Pueblito. He didn't even perceive what I said as Spanish, he thought it was German all because of the velar fricative (note all I said was 'fajitas')! Based off of that experience, and the fact that the native speakers in my class are clearly pronouncing an h anyway, I'm just going to just use h from now on. But I don't get why every source I read claims most dialects use a x, seriously never heard a native speaker pronounce it that way. And if that was more common, why would every Spanish book you find written in English tell you to pronounce an h? My German books never told me to pronounce ch as an h, they just described how to do an x. Of course, that might have been because h is phonemic in German too...

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Re: Pronunciation of Spanish 'j'?

Postby linguoboy » 2015-02-09, 2:20

xBlackWolfx wrote:I've never ever heard a native speaker pronounce a velar fricative.
How many native speakers from Spain have you heard?

xBlackWolfx wrote:In addition, I've found a few references claiming that some people pronounce it as an aspirated h.
What does that even mean? An [h] is aspiration.
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Re: Pronunciation of Spanish 'j'?

Postby Ashrak » 2015-02-09, 4:18

I've been to Spain quite a few times and it was always pronounced as /x/. And all my books reference it as a /x/. It probably really depends on the version, as we are taught the proper, catalan, version. And you guys are mostly taught mexican spanish.
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Re: Pronunciation of Spanish 'j'?

Postby Ashrak » 2015-02-09, 4:36

I meant to say castellano, not catalá. Secondly when c or z are read as english 's' in latin american spanish, it is actually an 'th' sound in castellano. I hate when j or g are pronounced as 'h'. Everytime Lady Gaga says Alehandro I die inside a little, as I'm used /x/ from spain :)

Furthermore, your example with german doesn't stick. As ch is traditionaly read as /x/ it can be read even as english 'k' or english 'sh', depending on regional variant.
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Re: Pronunciation of Spanish 'j'?

Postby linguoboy » 2015-02-09, 5:02

Ashrak wrote:I meant to say castellano, not catalá.
Català in Catalan. But in English we just say "Catalan".

Ashrak wrote:Furthermore, your example with german doesn't stick. As ch is traditionaly read as /x/ it can be read even as english 'k' or english 'sh', depending on regional variant.
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Re: Pronunciation of Spanish 'j'?

Postby Ashrak » 2015-02-09, 5:56

The word Ich (I) the proper german pronunciation the CH is ch as in scotish loch (I believe that is the sound referenced by /x/), in saxony can be pronounced as sh in english 'ship', around Berlin it is pronounced more like a k in english 'king'. (the same goes for the word Chemie and others with CH in it)
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Re: Pronunciation of Spanish 'j'?

Postby linguoboy » 2015-02-09, 13:54

Ashrak wrote:The word Ich (I) the proper german pronunciation the CH is ch as in scotish loch (I believe that is the sound referenced by /x/)
No, the normative pronunciation is [ç][*], which is similar to the initial sound in English Hugh. Using [x] here is a dialectal feature associated with Switzerland and other Alemannic-speaking areas. In fact, the colloquial terms for [ç] and [x] in German are Ich-Laut and Ach-Laut, respectively.

in saxony can be pronounced as sh in english 'ship', around Berlin it is pronounced more like a k in english 'king'.
Ik is a feature of traditional Berlinisch, but with so many new residents it's a regressive one nowadays. [ʃ] is associated not so much with Saxony but with the Rhineland.

(the same goes for the word Chemie and others with CH in it)
The rules for initial /ç/ are different with [kʰ] (bzw. [g̥ʰ]) dominating in the South of Germany plus Switzerland and Austria and [ç] in the North.

[*] Please note: the convention is to use [square brackets] to enclose phones and /forward slashes/ for phonemes. (If you're unclear about the difference, please read up on it.) Whether Standard German has both /ç/ and /x/ or only /x/ is a topic of considerable debate among phonologists.
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Re: Pronunciation of Spanish 'j'?

Postby loqu » 2015-02-10, 9:58

xBlackWolfx wrote:Did some research on my own on Spanish phonology.

A PDF I found claimed that the most commonly used phones for the letter 'j' are x and h. I've never ever heard a native speaker pronounce a velar fricative. I've only heard it once, and señor Jordan is obviously not a native speaker. The two students in my class from el Salvador clearly pronounce an h. In addition, I've found a few references claiming that some people pronounce it as an aspirated h. I can't actually find a recording of it, but doing it myself actually sounds a lot closer to the 'raspy h' sound you hear Mexicans pronounce. I suspect that this is the sound I thought was a pharyngeal fricative.

I did try a velar fricative once with a native speaker at a Mi Pueblito. He didn't even perceive what I said as Spanish, he thought it was German all because of the velar fricative (note all I said was 'fajitas')! Based off of that experience, and the fact that the native speakers in my class are clearly pronouncing an h anyway, I'm just going to just use h from now on. But I don't get why every source I read claims most dialects use a x, seriously never heard a native speaker pronounce it that way. And if that was more common, why would every Spanish book you find written in English tell you to pronounce an h? My German books never told me to pronounce ch as an h, they just described how to do an x. Of course, that might have been because h is phonemic in German too...


Let me clear this up a bit.

Most books say it's [x] because it's the standard Castilian sound for the letter j. The reality is much more complicated, as you yourself have noticed.

I confirm there are some dialects with the velar fricative. If you ever listen to Spanish (from Spain) TV or radio, you'll most exclusively hear the velar fricative and not the pharyngeal one. Some dialects in Spain even have the uvular fricative (some of the dialects in Castile). Western Andalusian (my dialect) and Canarian use the pharyngeal fricative [h].

In America [x] and [h] are present, depending on the area. I can recall Venezuelans and some Colombians pronouncing [x]. Also Chilean has an allophonic distribution [x] (before a, o, u)/[ç] (before e, i).

You will be alright and understood if you stick to [h], but don't doubt [x] is also a genuine sound for the letter j in Spanish.
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Re: Pronunciation of Spanish 'j'?

Postby vijayjohn » 2015-02-18, 9:01

Yeah, I've heard various people using [x] before, too. I forget where they were from, but I think I've even heard at least one Mexican use it before. I only remember very vaguely though. :hmm:

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Re: Pronunciation of Spanish 'j'?

Postby Iparxi_Zoi » 2015-03-02, 7:29

It really depends upon the region. The standard pronunciation for j is a voiceless velar fricative /x/ and this pronunciation is kept in Spain, most of Mexico, Argentina, and Chile.

Caribbean dialects (Puerto Rico, Cuba, Venezuela) tend to debuccalize it to /h/, as do some dialects of Andalusian Spanish.

A voiceless palatal fricative /ç/ would be an odd pronunciation.
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Re: Pronunciation of Spanish 'j'?

Postby vijayjohn » 2015-03-02, 8:45

Wow, I didn't know that [x] was the pronunciation of <j> in most of Mexico. :shock:

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Re: Pronunciation of Spanish 'j'?

Postby Iparxi_Zoi » 2015-03-02, 9:48

vijayjohn wrote:Wow, I didn't know that [x] was the pronunciation of <j> in most of Mexico. :shock:


Is that sarcasm? :lol:

Is say most because apparently some coastal varieties of Mexican Spanish pronounce it as /h/, but honestly, all I've heard is /x/.
When people use /h/ instead of /x/, I usually get one of three impressions:
1. You're some other kind of Latin/Hispanic (i.e. Caribbean as opposed to Mexican)
2. You're not a native speaker
3. You're a native speaker with anglicized pronunciation
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