Spanish soft g is [x]!

D. Ezra Johnson ezra_50 at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Sep 27 03:14:03 UTC 1999

>You misunderstand my question. What I was asking was not for yet
>another summary of the allophones of Spanish /g/ and their
>relationship to Spanish spelling--which have now been explained
>several times in this thread.

But never clearly enough, apparently:

The Spanish /g/ has two allophones:
[gamma] (voiced velar fricative) in intervocalic position;
[g] elsewhere.
It is spelled "g" (however, a "u" must be inserted before "e" or "i").

Another Spanish phoneme is /x/, pronounced [x].
(a voiceLESS (palato-)velar fricative)
The letter "j" always represents this sound, as does the letter "g" before
"e" or "i" (unless a "u" intervenes).

Of course, the above is standard Spanish. There may be some dialects that
pronounce a voiced fricative in "Los Angeles". But the standard
pronunciation is [los anxeles].

>What I was asking was if the terms "hard G" and "soft G"--common
>among English speakers for the pronunciation of <G>--were also used
>in connection with Spanish--either by second-language teachers or (in
>translation) by Spanish speakers themselves.

Learning Spanish in high school, I certainly thought of it in those terms,
esp. since the softer sound occurs before "e" and "i" (i.e. "just like in

Suppose you had already learned the present tense of the regular verb
"llegar" (to arrive). You would know six forms, all with [g].
llego, llegas, llega, llegamos, (llegais), llegan.

Then, when you learn the preterite tense, you learn that the first-person
singular ending is "-e" (accented). But with "llegar", the yo-form is
"llegue". The teacher explains that a "u" must be inserted "in order to keep
the sound hard".

Similarly, there are verbs like "coger" which have [x] in all their forms.
The present tense has coges, coge, cogemos, cogeis, cogen. The yo-form,
however, is spelled cojo, "in order to keep the sound soft".

Incidentally, the same two-letter, two-phoneme relationship exists with
Spanish /k/ and /s/. "s" is always /s/, but "c" is /k/ before a, o, and u,
/s/ before e, i. "qu" is used analogously to "gu", "preserving the hard
sound" before e, i.

To help students remember these spelling conventions, "a, o, u" themselves
are often called the hard vowels, and "e, i" the soft vowels.

But it would certainly be interesting to hear ow a native Spanish speaker
thinks of and refers to all this.


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