Latin America Spanish ("Standard")

Phonology of "Standard" Latin American Spanish

A “Standard” dialect of Latin American Spanish does not really exist. However, according to Goldstein describing such a system makes it easier to discuss how dialects differ from one another. See Colombian Spanish for another detailed description.


Transcription of Consonant Phonemes

  Bilabial Labiodental Dental Alveolar Post-Alveolar Palatal Velar
Plosives p, b   t, d       k, g
Nasals m     n   ɲ  
Fricatives   f   s     x
Affricates         ʧ    
Approximants w         j  
Trills       r      
Taps       ɾ      
Laterals       l      

Allophonic Variations

- The voiced stops /b , d, g/ often become voiced spirants [ß, ð, ɤ] between vowels

Comparing Spanish and English

  • Sounds in Spanish that do Not occur in English [ɲ] [ɸ] [x] [ß] [ɤ] [r] [R]
  • Sounds in English that do Not occur in Spanish [v]* [θ]* [ʔ] [h] (* these consonants occur in some dialects
  • The consonant clusters that can occur in Spanish are: /pl, pɾ bl, bɾ, tɾ, kl, kɾ, gl, gɾ, fl, fɾ/
  • There are only five consonants that can occur at the end of a word /l, ɾ, d, n, s/


Spanish, with only five vowels, has a simpler vowel system than English,. They are: [i, e, u, o, a].

Syllable Structure

Spanish has few one syllable word, so SLPs may working with Spanish speaking clients need to work on multi-syllablic words with clients at an earlier age.

Lexical Stress

Spanish has a phonemic stress system — stress is not fixed, and different stress patterns can result in separate meanings for one and the same word. Spanish makes abundant use of this feature, especially in distinguishing verb conjugation forms. For example, the word camino (with penultimate stress) means “road” or “I walk” whereas caminó (with final stress) means “you (formal)/he/she/it walked”. Another example is the word práctico (first-syllable stress) “practical”, which is different from practico (second-syllable stress) “I practice,” and practicó (last-syllable stress) “you (formal)/he/she/it practiced.” Also, since Spanish syllables are all pronounced at a more or less constant tempo, the language is said to be syllable-timed. As mentioned above, stress can always be predicted from the written form of a word. An amusing example of the significance of stress and intonation in Spanish is the riddle como como como como como como, to be punctuated and accented so that it makes sense. The answer is ¿Cómo, cómo como? ¡Como como como! (“What do you mean / how / do I eat? / I eat / the way / I eat!”).


Spanish is a relatively inflected language, with a two-gender system and about fifty conjugated forms per verb, but small noun declension and limited pronominal declension. Spanish syntax is generally Subject Verb Object, though variations are common. Spanish is right-branching, uses prepositions, and usually places adjectives after nouns. Spanish is also pro-drop (allows the deletion of pronouns when pragmatically unnecessary) and verb-framed.

Writing System

Spanish is written using the Latin alphabet, with the addition of the character “ñ” (eñe), an “n” with tilde. Historically, the digraphs “ch” (che), “ll” (elle), and “rr” (erre doble, double “r”) were regarded as single letters, with their own names and places in the alphabet (a, b, c, ch, d…, l, ll, m, n, ñ, o… r, rr, s…), because each represents a single phoneme (/tʃ/, /ʎ/, and /r/, respectively). Since 1994, these letters are to be replaced with the appropriate letter pair in collation. Spelling remains visually unchanged, but words with “ch” are now alphabetically sorted between those with “ce” and “ci”, instead of following “cz”, and similarly for “ll” and “rr”. However, the names che, elle and erre doble are still used colloquially. Excluding a very small number of regional terms such as México, pronunciation can be entirely determined from spelling. A typical Spanish word is stressed on the syllable before the last if it ends with a vowel (not including “y”) or with a vowel followed by “n” or “s”, and stressed on the last syllable otherwise. Exceptions to this rule are indicated by placing an acute accent on the stressed vowel.

Original Contributor: Monte Bassow, Winter term 2007

Resources and References