/zh/ replacing /dzh/?

Scott Sadowsky lists at SPANISHTRANSLATOR.ORG
Thu Sep 26 05:10:08 UTC 2002

On Wed, 2002-09-25 at 15:42, James A. Landau wrote:

> However, not for the reason you suggest.  In Spanish "ch" is considered to be
> a single letter  and is always pronounced /tsh/.

Not anymore. Not really. In theory <ch> is still a single letter, but in
practice, the only thing that gave it any real status as such --the
particular alphabetical sorting that made <ch> appear not between <cg>
and <ci> but between <cz> and <d> -- was abolished in 1994, basically
thanks to the anglocentric computer industry. No big loss, IMO.

This does not, of course, mean that /tS/ (or /tsh/) has ceased to be a
phoneme in Spanish. By the way, a bit of trivia for you: In Chilean
Spanish /tS/ has two additional allophones, besides [tS] -- [S] (or
[sh]; still waiting for Unicode...) and a slightly backish version of
[ts]. Both are powerfully emblematic -- the former is a violently
stigmatized sign of lower and lower-middle class membership (though
there are parts of the far north where it transcends class boundaries),
and the latter is a marker of upper class membership, especially among
women. (Sorry for going off on a tangent, but with some 40 million
Spanish speakers in the US, it's not *that* bad of a tangent).

> As for being "more sensible", the reason is that there exists the Spanish
> Academy which issues strict rules on spelling.

Contrary to popular belief, the Spanish Academy, and its sister
academies throughout the Spanish-speaking world, are anywhere but in the
vanguard of anything linguistic.  The Spanish Academy, by my count, has
one linguist (a specialist in English and German linguistics) and a
handful of philologists to its name; the rest of its members are a
linguistically motley crew of publishers, writers, philosophers,
historians, a couple scientists, a cartoonist, a banker, and assorted
friends and old schoolmates. The other academies are no better off.

In the case of spelling, their rules are frequently incoherent, often
ambiguous, occasionally contradictory, and for the most part out of
touch with actual use in any dialect other than Spain's. Lately, they've
taken to decreeing optional rules, such as "do X unless it is ambiguous;
in that case, do Y", which have many folks scratching their heads since
ambiguity of often in the eye of everyone but the perpetrator.

> Their policy on spelling is
> to keep things 100% phonetic, e.g. Greek "ph" is "f" as in "tele/fono".  The
> only variation from 100% phonetic that I know of occurs in the New World,
> where the letter "x" can vary from its Academy standard, e.g. "Me/xico" is
> /'me hee co/ no /'meks ee co/.

There are many, many more. There are letters with no phonetic value at
all (<h>; <u> in <gue> and <gui>; <u> after <q>), letters that represent
multiple phonemes* (<c> = /k/, /s/ and in some parts of Spain /th/; <g>
= /g/, /x/, and even /j/ in loan words; <ll> = /ll/ (voiced lateral
palatal fricative), /j/, /zh/, /sh/), phonemes** with multiple
orthographic representations (/b/ = <b>, <v>; /j/ = <y>, <ll>; /x/ =
<g>, <j>, <x>).

And that's the short list. Current Spanish orthography achieves the
ideal of one grapheme per phoneme and one phoneme per grapheme less than
50% of the time.

Over the years there have been many proposals for a truly phonetic
orthography for Spanish, but they've rarely prospered. A rather moderate
one was used in Chile** from about 1843 to 1927, but it was replaced
with the Spanish Academy's orthography by a decree issued by the
dictator at the time, Carlos Ibáñez del Campo.  It was one of the first
things he did, in fact.  Funny how these things can really rub people
the wrong way.

BTW, in Mexico <x> can also represent [sh] (<oaxaca> = [wa'shaka]) and
[s] (sorry, can't think of an example).


* Depending on the dialect, some of these may be mere allophones. For
clarity's sake, I've transcribed everything as phonemes here.

** At one point, Chile also had more IPA members than all the rest of
the Western Hemisphere combined, so it does kind of make sense.

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