June 15, 2007

A Note on Pronunciation

Although I am not a native speaker of Spanish and I am far from fluent, I have been told on several occasions that my accent is pretty good. That said, I do want to issue a correction to a certain set of people, a member of which set is also a person with whom I work.

The word "queso," which means "cheese" in Spanish is pronounced "kay-so" or, possibly, "keh-so," but not "kwee-eso."

If you speak any Spanish, you know that the 'ue' diphthong when it follows a glotal stop (hard G or K) produces a sound similar to the long A in English, although it is much shorter in duration. Examples include "guerra," "porque," and "aunque."

I can see how listening to some people speak might lead a person to think that there is a EE sound between the glotal and the long A sound due to air escaping the throat from an incomplete stop. You can make this sound by trying to sustain a K sound which makes it a sort of throaty hiss.

But I assure you that the hiss you're hearing does not yet qualify as a distinct phoneme. "Standard" pronunciation of the word "queso" does not contain that hiss, nor does it contain a vocalized EE sound.

So, dear coworker who berated everyone for pronouncing "queso" as "kay-so" and not "kee-eso," you are wrong. And you look like an ass because you made such a scene about it.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at June 15, 2007 04:09 PM | TrackBack

Ack! How can people not possibly know how to pronounce "queso"? It's on every Chili's menu in the country!

Correction to your phonetics, though: G and K are VELAR stops, not glottal (sorry, I'm not screaming, I just don't know if your comments allow HTML tags). The glottal stop is the sound that British street urchins make when they pronounce words with t's in the middle of them, like "butter" and "hatter", and the sound that us Americans make when a word ends in a t, like "Flibbert." In both these flavors of English, the glottal stop is an allophone -- that is, it is not a distinct phoneme, as it is considered to be a "t". In Hawaiian, however, as well as Arabic and a bunch more languages, it is considered to be a seperate sound distinct from others (you will often see Hawaii spelled Hawai'i, where the apostrophe is the symbol used for the glottal stop).

Also, the throaty hiss you make when you keep pronouncing a K is a distinct phoneme, just not in English. It's a velar fricative, and is actually a phoneme in Spanish -- the "j" sound in Julio or Juan. It's also an allophone with "k" in Scottish English.

Posted by: Justin at June 16, 2007 10:29 AM

Good to know about the other stops, though.

I seem to only remember the glotal kind from my Spanish Linguistics class, but it makes sense that these would be something else since they seem to happen higher in my mouth.

All the same, I would maintain that a sloppy velar stop after your Q's in "Queso" isn't a separate phoneme in that word. I would also question whether or not the "slippery K" sound I'm talking about is the same phoneme as seen in J's or G's elsewhere in Spanish.

(My comments DO support HTML, by the way.)

Posted by: Flibbert at June 16, 2007 06:05 PM
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