Glides and high vowels in Spanish

Authored by: Ellen M. Kaisse

The Routledge Handbook of Spanish Phonology

Print publication date:  December  2019
Online publication date:  December  2019

Print ISBN: 9780415785693
eBook ISBN: 9781315228112
Adobe ISBN:


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The glides of Spanish are [j, w] and, in some dialects, [e̯, o̯]. Their obstruent allophones, which appear in syllable onset position, include [ɟ, ʝ, ɡʷ, ɣʷ]. Phonetic characteristics of glides that distinguish them from vowels can include short duration, absence of a steady state, and gradual formant transitions. Phonologically, glides in Spanish are allophones of underlying vowels. When a high vowel is adjacent to a more sonorous vowel, as in /mediante/ ‘through’ or /klaustro/ ‘cloister,’ the lower vowel forms the peak of the syllable and the higher vowel is realized nonsyllabically: [me.ˈdjan.te], [ˈklaws.tro]. Several arguments indicate that a prevocalic glide is syllabified in the nucleus when a consonant precedes it ([meˈdjante]) but that the glide fills the onset and becomes an obstruent when no consonant precedes, as in [ʝo] ‘I.’ Exceptional hiatus, where a high vowel is realized as a separate peak even though it abuts another vowel ([di.ˈa.βlo] ‘devil’), can be represented with a lexically presyllabified high vowel that glides only in rapid, casual speech. Additional factors favoring desyllabification include lack of stress on either of the adjacent vowels, as when /kasi olbide/ ‘I almost forgot’ is realized as [ˈka.sjol.βi.ˈðe].

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