Orthography means “the correct way of writing a language.” In this topic, we cover the alphabet and the sounds made by the letters.
The Spanish Alphabet in many respects corresponds with the English, the names and arrangement of letters being much the same, though the sounds are often quite different.
It consists of twenty-eight letters, of which a, e, i, o, u are vowels, and the rest are consonants; y, however, is generally considered a vowel when it follows another vowel, or stands by itself; and a consonant when preceding a vowel.
Every Spanish vowel has a complete and fixed sound as pointed out below. Consonants have no distinct sounds by themselves, but in combination with vowels they form syllables and words.
Each of the vowels may constitute a syllable by itself. Ch and ll are both regarded as simple consonants.
There is no w in Spanish and the letter k and w occur only in foreign words, as kan (khan), kilómetro, wiste (whist); but their place may be taken by c, qu, and v. Ex.: can, quilómetro, viste.
A a ah.
B b bay.
C c thay.
CH ch chay.
D d day (deh).
E e ai (eh).
F f effeh.
G g; cheh1.
H h ahchay (ahcheh).
I i ee (i-latina).
J j chotah.1
L 1 elleh (ailay).
LL 11 ailyay (ellieh).
M m aimay (emmeh)
N n ainay (enneh).
N ñ ainyay (ennieh).
O o oh.
P p pay (peh).
Q q koo.
R r airay, erreh (soft trill).
RR rr airray,erreh(with a strong trill).
S s aissay (esseh).
T t teh (tay).
U u oo (as in ooze, or in moon).
V v veh (vay).
X x aikiss (ehkis).
Y y yay or ee (i-griega).
Z z thehtah (thaytah).
Sounds of Spanish Letters
A sounds like a in father, never like a in man or and.
Ex.: cárta, alabár, canásta, áma, náta, sála.
B There ¡s a very slight distinction in Spanish between the sound of this letter and that of the v, from the circumstance of both being pronounced much softer than in English. Though in both languages the lips are pressed together in pronouncing the b, and the lower lip touches the upper teeth in uttering the v, the pressure employed in each letter is much lessin Spanish than in English. Ex.: bata, bebe, bien, boca, bulto, abdicar, obtener, vaso, vino, voto.
The b in Spanish may be placed immediately before 1 and r, which can never take place with the v. Ex.: blanco, brotar. The b may also terminate syllables and words, but the v never can. Ex.: absorto, obtener, Job. The syllables am, em, im, om, um require b after them; and an, en, in, on, un require v. Ex.: ámbito, embudo; envidia, invocar. Some writers omit the b after s in certain words, and others retain it; thus, oscuro, or obscuro; sustancia, or substancia, &c.
C before e and i is pronounced like th in theft, thin. Ex.: cena, cifra, nación. And like k when it precedes a, o, u, or a consonant. Ex.: cama, cola, cubo, claro, critico. It has likewise the sound of k when it comes after a vowel in the same syllable. Ex.: acceder, técnico.
CH This double consonant now sounds like ch in chess, as noticed above. Ex.: chalán, leche, chico, hecho, chupa. Formerly, in words of Hebrew and Greek origin, it had the sound of k, when the vowel following it was marked with the circumflex accent Ex.: archangel, chtmica but this practice is obsolete, and such words are now written arcángel, química.
More Sounds of Spanish Letters
D is very differently pronounced in Spanish from what it is in English. The difference of sound between the Spanish and the English d arises from the distinct manner in which the two nations employ the organs of speech in pronouncing it. For instance, it is uttered in English by striking the tongue against the upper gums, whereas Spaniards, in pronouncing the d, slightly touch the teeth with the tongue, as the English do in pronouncing the th in the words they, though; and observe carefully, that this sound issues from the chest, and is therefore never like th in thin or bath.
This special manner of pronouncing the d in Spanish is most striking when it immediately follows a vowel, whether that vowel be in the same syllable or word as itself, or in the one immediately preceding it. Ex.: todo, amado, adjunto, cuadra, la dama, una dosis. It is pronounced more like the English d at the beginning of a sentence, or when immediately preceded by a consonant (whether that consonant be in the same word as itself, or not), except d or z, on account of the lisping qualities of these two letters. Ex.: Dichos del mundo, cuerda, calandra, los dados, un alférez de la ciudad de Madrid.
At the end of a word, however, it is almost mute, but preserves a little of . the lisp Ex.: – bondad, ardid – though it is heard more distinctly in the imperative mood. Ex.: Id á casa – Venid conmigo. Observe, also, the following examples: Don Alejandro pasó por Madrid con dos criados de Don Pedro. Déme Usted medio duro. Me dieron dos docenas y dos.
E This vowel, as before remarked, sounds like the English e in ell, entry, and as a in fate. Ex.: expeler, merece, presente, elemento.
F sounds as in English. Ex.: fama, foro, Africano, flaco, fardo, forma.
G before a, o, u, or a consonant, and after a vowel, sounds as the English % similarly placed. Ex.: gala, goma, gusto, grano, glándula, ignorar. It has the same sound before the diphthongs ue, ui, in which the u is silent. Ex.: guerra, guisar. should the u be marked with the diaeresis, the u must be sounded. Ex.: agüero, argüir, vergüenza. It has a guttural sound before e and i, nearly resembling the aspiration of the English h or the ch in German and in Scottish words. Ex.: giro, gente. It is silent when seen before n, in words derived from the Greek. Ex.: gnomon, gnómico; but the g in such words is now dropped; as nómon, nómico.
Yet More Spanish Letter Sounds
H is now considered a silent letter by the Spanish Academy, and is therefore not aspirated, except when it precedes the diphthong” ue; but even then the aspiration is exceedingly weak. Ex.: hueso, huevo.
I sounds like the English i in ill, or first e in even. Ex.: irrisible, invadir, circo, ida, indivisible.
J has always a guttural sound, like that of the guttural g just described. Ex.: jabón, jamón, jergón, reloj, Méjico, Quijote, junta.
K This letter is only retained in a few foreign proper names, and sounds as in English.
L sounds as in English. Ex.: lavar, mal, blanco, letra, lirio, lustre, lobo.
LL has a liquid sound, like the English Hi in million, stallion, bullion, &c. Ex.: llave, llegar, caballo, lluvia, ella, ello. The Spanish word millón (a million), except as regards accent, sounds very like the English word million.
M sounds as in English. Ex.: ama, moda, medio, mamá, mitad, alumno, medio.
N sounds as in English. Ex.: nada, nido, noble, nunca, nudo, pan, montón, bien.
Ñ This letter, with a waving line over it, called the tilde, has a liquid sound, like the English n followed by y, being pronounced like ni in onion, pinion, or like the French gn in mignonette, campagne. Ex.: niña, tañer, compañía, señor, doña, dueño.
O sounds much the same as the English o in ode, obey. Ex.: oponer, tomo, soplo. O is always very pure, as in go. Ex.: oigo, cómo, sólo, ¿tro; and if it is at the end of a word and the following noun begins with u, the o is scarcely audible. Ex.: ¿Ha visto Usted? (Have you seen ?)
P sounds as in English. Ex.: palo, apto, plan, propio. Its employment before h, which combination represented in Spanish, as it still does in English, the sound of f, is obsolete, the f being now used instead. Ex.: philosophia – now written, filosofía.
Q before ue and ui sounds like k. Ex.: queso, quitar. Before üe, üi, and ua, uo it used to sound like the English q; but this mode of spelling is laid aside by the Spanish Academy, and such words as were written question, qüidár, quánlo, are now spelled cuestión, cuidar, cuánto; so that the q is, by modern writers, only retained before ue, ui, without the diasresis.
Last Set Of Spanish Letter Sounds
R has sometimes a rough and sometimes a smooth sound. It has the rough sound at the beginning of a word – Ex.: rabia, robo; when the syllable that precedes it ends in a consonant-Ex.: hón-ra, malroto, ab-rogár, Is-raél; also when it is doubled- Ex.: carro, barril, ferro-carril. On all other occasions it has the smooth sound – Ex.: a-brir, carta, arado, perla, pardo. Observe, however, that even the smooth sound of the Spanish r is more distinctly heard than that of the English r generally.
S always sounds like s in the English words sing, us\ but never like s in muse. Ex.: sal, espaldas, sitio, subir, gastos.
T sounds as in English. Ex.: tasa, treinta, atlántico, tomo, tumba.
U sounds like u in full, or oo in ooze (as already noted). Ex.: usura, tribu, lúgubre, urbano.
V See the letter B.
X This letter was formerly employed to express two sounds, the one like that of ks, the other a guttural sound, like that of the Spanish j. This latter sound is now abolished for the x, which, since the recent decision of the Royal Academy, is only employed to express that of ks. Ex.: axioma, éxito, fénix, extremo, óxido. Thus, all those words which were formerly written with x to indicate the guttural sound, are now written with j before e and i. Ex.: jabón, jicara, cajón, jámon, reloj, joya, julio.
Some modern writers, until the above decision of the Royal Academy of Madrid, discarded the x altogether, and used to write such words as experto, extremo, with s, thus-esperto, estrémo; but the Academy has properly disapproved of the substitution; first, because it needlessly obscured the etymology of words, and secondly, because . words of different meaning are confounded by it, as expiar, to expiate, and espiar, to spy.
Others, in substituting cs for x before a vowel, as in acsióma, ecsámen, instead of axioma, examen, have introduced a still more vicious innovation; since not only is the original orthography of the words thus disguised, but two letters are employed to represent imperfectly the sound of one.
Y as a vowel, sounds like the Spanish i. Ex.: hay, ley,
voy. As a consonant it sounds rather stronger than the English y in yes. Ex.: yo,ya.
Z always sounds like th in the English words thank, bath; never like th in that, bathe. Ex.: zagal, zorra, feliz, voz, zeta, cizaña.