Is there a need in oral Spanish for using the Castilian Spanish sounds of letter z and the clusters ce/ci?

Letter z combined with any vowel and letter c in the clusters ce/ci are pronounced as [Ө] (the sound of th in the word thin) in Castilian Spanish. This sound is an intrinsic phonological feature of this language variety. American Spanish users do not normally use [Ө] in ordinary speech; these speakers replace the [Ө] with [s].

There are many reasons explaining why American Spanish users lack the phoneme [Ө] in their daily spoken language. It has been quoted that the main reason is related with the geographical origin of the people that first moved from Spain to the New World. Most settlers and bureaucratic aides in the colonial period came from southern Spain, an area where the sound [Ө] was not a native language feature.

In linguistic terms the sound [Ө], as used in Castilian Spanish for the combinations listed above, is a great asset if we take into account that the sound of a letter plays an important role in conveying meaning as well as for contributing to the enrichment of the phonological resources at the disposal of a given language.

In my teaching experience I have found quite challenging, for example, teaching about the difference between pairs like casa/caza or coser/cocer, without the help of [Ө]. A student learning Spanish as a second language may be confused when hearing a sentence such as ‘hoy voy de casa de caza’ or ‘mis pasatiempos favoritos son coser y cocer’, if the words here containing z and c are not pronounced with [Ө]. I usually explain to students that American Spanish speakers tend to use these kind of words in context  –or that they would normally explain further about what they mean –  therefore language misunderstandings are very unusual.

But when asked by my students about what would I recommend in relation with the problem presented by the necessity of distinguishing between [Ө] and [s] in situations such as casa/caza or coser/cocer, I tell them that they can always use the standard Castilian Spanish sound patterns. Most native Spanish language users should be able to understand and follow up the communicative process whenever [Ө] is used.

I’d like to write a few more paragraph about this subject matter, however, I’ leave that for another post.

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About L. A. Pinel

I'm the founder and Director of Tres Culturas Spanish Language Studio, a specialist Spanish language school in Melbourne, Australia. As a teacher of Spanish I view the study of issues about the nature of the Spanish language in particular and of applied linguistics in general with great passion. I’m also an avid language learner, my other languages are Italian, Portuguese and French; at the moment I'm studying Latin and Mandarin Chinese.

Posted on April 25, 2011, in Culture, Education, Foreign Language Learning, Language, Language learning, Learning Process, Phonetics & Phonology, Second Language Learning, Spanish, Spanish Language Learning. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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