Synopsis of Latin American Spanish

                          Synopsis of Latin American Spanish

Spanish is a language used mainly in Spain. However, a number of Sovereign states largely in Latin America have it as the officially designated de facto language. Such countries include Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Venezuela among others. In these countries, it is the main or only official language of the majority of the population. Official documents are mainly in Spanish, and it is taught in schools as part of the curriculum, even in places where it has not legally been listed as an official language (Stein 4).

The following is a phonetic inventory of the language. Consonants, vowels, diphthongs and other phonetic features are discussed.

  1. Consonants

Consonants in Spanish are as shown in the chart below. Their occurrence, realization, and usage are discussed thereafter.




  Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar
Nasal m   n ɲ  
Stop P b t d   ʝ K g
Continuant f θ s X
Trill     r    
Tap     ɾ    
Lateral     l ʎ  


Except after a pause or nasal consonant, the phonemes /b/ and /g/ are realized as approximants. The phoneme /d/ is also realized as an approximant except after a lateral consonant. In such instances, they are all realized as voiced stops. (Zambrano 23)

Just like the above, the phoneme /ʝ/ is realized as an approximant except after a lateral, a nasal or a pause. It is then realized as an affricate. Unlike the non-syllabic /i/, the approximant allophone has lower F2 amplitude and is longer. It is a palatal fricative that appears in the syllable onset and is, therefore, used in emphatic pronunciations. It is unspecified for rounding. For example; ayuda [aˈʝʷuða] ‘help vs viuda [ˈbjuða] ‘widow’. A notable overlap in distribution is observed after /l/ and /n/ for the two. In spite of dialectal and ideolectal variation, speakers may exhibit other near-minimal pairs as in abyecto (‘abject’) vs abierto (‘opened’). Other suggested alterations between the two would mean ley (lei) be transcribed phonetically as /ˈleI/ and leyes [ˈleʝes] as /ˈleIes/.

/t/ and /d/ are laminal denti-alveolars. Before denti-alveolar consonants, the phoneme /s/ becomes dental [s̪] whereas /θ/ remains interdental [θ̟] in all contexts. Before /u/ and even when /u/ is in the syllable onset as /w/, the phoneme /x/ can be pronounced as uvular [X].

The voiceless /f/, which is a bilabial fricative, is commonly pronounced differently in nonstandard speech such that the pronunciation for fuera is [ˈɸweɾa] rather than [ˈfweɾa]. In many dialects, the marginal phoneme /ʃ/ is substituted by /tʃ/ or /s/. It, however, occurs as deaffricated in most dialects, most notably as observed in Northern Mexican Spanish, Andalusian accents and informal Chilean Spanish (Zambrano 32).

  1. Vowels

The Spanish language has five vowels namely /i/ ,/e/ ,/a/ ,/o/ and  /u/ each of which occurs in stressed and unstressed syllables as tabled below.

  Front Central Back
Close i   U
Open   Ä  


In stressed and unstressed syllables, they occur as illustrated:




Unstressed Stressed
pi ‘s/he stepped’ piso
‘I step’
‘s/he weighed’
 peso ‘I weigh’
pa ‘s/he passed’ paso ‘I pass’
‘s/he posed’
‘I pose’
pu ‘s/he bid’ pujo ‘I bid’


We, however, note that distributional gaps are not uncommon. For example, it is rare to find an unstressed high vowel in the final syllable.

The language has eight rising diphthongs and six falling diphthongs. These are tabled in the next page. To closely look into just but a few examples, it is to be noted that the non-syllabic /o/ and /e/ can be reduced to [w] and [ʝ] as in poetisa [pw̝e̞ˈtisa] (‘poetess’) and beatitud [bʝatiˈtuð] (‘beatitude’) respectively. In a similar manner, the non-syllabic /a/ can be entirely elided as can be observed in ahorita [o̞ˈɾita] ‘right away’. The frequency of this feature does, however, vary from one dialect to another, with some exhibiting it more frequently than others.



IPA Example Meaning
/je/ tierra Earth
/ja/ hacia Towards
/jo/ radio Radio
/ju/ viuda Window
/wi/ buitre Vulture
/we/ fuego Fire
/wa/ cuadro Picture
/wo/ cuota Quota
/ei/ rey King
/ai/ aire Air
/oi/ hoy Today
/eu/ nuetro Neutral
/au/ bausa Pause
/ou/ bou Seine fishing




Grammatical Structure

Like most languages, Spanish is an inflected language where verbs are potentially marked for mood, tense, aspect, person and number. Nouns are marked for numbers too and form a two-gender system i.e. feminine and masculine.

As for pronouns, they can be inflected for person, gender, number and case. Adjectives are used in a similar way to English and other Indo-European languages, though there’re a few differences. They after the noun they modify except when the writer or speaker is being slightly emphatic or poetic about a given quality of an object. The adjectives agree with what they refer to as regards both gender and number. For instance ‘mi casa roja’ means ‘my house, the red one’.

In Spanish definite articles equivalent to ‘the’ for masculine and neutral are ‘el’, ‘la’, and ‘lo’ respectively. For plural, ‘el’ becomes ‘los’ whereas ‘la’ becomes ‘las’.The definite articles evident to “an/an, some” are ‘un’ and ‘una’ for masculine and feminine. They become ‘unos’ and ‘unas’ in that order. ‘lo’ is used before a masculine singular adjective forms an expression equivalent to an abstract noun.For example ‘lo intersante’, ‘the interesting thing’ It may also be used adverbially before an adjective showing an agreement with a noun as it equivalent to the relative adverb.’how’ e.g.‘lo Buenos son’ ’how good they are’ (Perceval and John 90).

Use of demonstratives depends on the distance between the speaker and the indicated object. They can equate the English terms ‘this’ and ‘that’ though they must be in agreement for the number and gender. Pronouns in Spanish are used quite differently as compared to English ones. They are: usted, vos,yo, esto, aquello, eso, ellas,ellos,vostros, ustedes, ella,ello, él and  tú. Unless for purposes of emphasis or in case of confusion between conjugations, personal pronouns are usually omitted.

Spanish does not use postpositions. Instead it uses only prepositions and it has a relatively large number of the same. These comprise of: A, tras, sobre, so, sin, por,para, hasta, hacia, entre, ante, bajo, cabe, con, contra, de, desde and en. Important to note are two new prepositions that have been added namely ‘durante’ and ‘mediante’ usually added at the end to preserve the list that includes two archaic prepositions ‘ so’ and ‘cabe’. However it leaves out vía and pro, which are two new Latinisms as well as many other important compound prepositions. Unlike n English, prepositions do not change a verb’s meaning.

Subjunctives of verbs are used to express certain connotations in sentences such as a demand, a desire,  a wish, uncertainty ,doubt, or a demand. They are of two types: present subjunctives and imperfect subjunctives. The former are used when there is a need to conjugate a verb it the present indicative to indicate an occurrence in the present frame of time. The following two sentences illustrate this:

I am very ambitious- yo soy ambicioso.

Emily brings the food- Emily trae la comida.

To express desire or demand, the subjunctive is used as thus:

I want you to be very ambitious- quiero que seas muy ambicioso

For an emotion:

I am happy that Emily brings the food- me allegro de que Emily traiga la comida.

Imperfect subjunctives are ‘-se’ and ‘-ra’, the former being a derivative of the Latin pluperfect subjunctive of most Romance languages whereas the latter is a derivative of the Latin pluperfect indicative. ‘-ra’ is mostly used in speeches but the use of the two varies in writing as their usage, either interchangeably or otherwise is matter of personal taste and preference (Butt 100).

As far as the grammatical structure of Spanish goes, it does not vary much in basics from other major languages, especially those from which it has borrowed. In the above examined areas that fundamentally form the back-bone of any language, it is to be noted that similarities are many, and in cases where there is deviation, that has been clearly pointed out. Further in-depth study of the language could give a better understanding of this.

The language is indeed interesting and much easier to learn than any new learner would expect. For instance, counting from 1 to 20 in Spanish may go as follows; Uno,dos.tres,cuatro,cinco,sies,siete,ocho,nueve,diez,once,doce,treche,catorce,quince,dieciseis,diecisiete,dieciocho,diecinueve,veinte.The word for a hundred is ciento. (Muñoz & Mike 70)

Spanish is spoken by approximately 423 million people in the world. It is majorly used in Spain and the larger Latin America that include countries like Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Dominican republic ,Paraguay ,Uruguay, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Other countries that speak the language are: Honduras, Bolivia, Equatorial Guinea, El Salvador, Cuba, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Peru, Colombia and the United States of America.

In terms of phonology, orthography and grammar, Spanish is related to many languages. In terms of major languages, Portuguese is one of the most similar. It is also closely related to Catalan, Austrian, Galician and other Romance languages. Due to its Italian roots, it has few similarities with Italian and French (Medina 150). The population of Spanish-speaking people in the world is growing by the day. The language is, therefore, not in a threatened or endangered status.

Having explored relatively deep into the grammatical structure of the Spanish language, it can be concluded that it is one easy to learn. Anyone interested in learning a second, third or even fourth language can be advised to try Spanish. It remains as relevant as any other international language since world bodies like the United Nations recognize and use it. As the world population swells, that of Spanish speakers goes up too, and as the saying goes ‘the world is a small village’, using Spanish in day-to-day life could be the next big thing. Learning it will only work to everyone’s advantage.

Works cited

Butt, John & Benjamin, Carmen A New Reference Grammar of Modern Spanish (4th ed.), 2004.

Medina, Sarah. Spanish. Chicago, Ill: Heinemann Library, 2012. Print.

Muñoz, Pilar & Mike, Thacker. A Spanish Learning Grammar. London: Arnold, 2001. Print.

Perceval, Richard, and John Minsheu. “A Spanish Grammar.” 1623). Print.

Stein, Gail. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Spanish. Indianapolis, IN: Alpha Books, 2006. Print.

Zambrano, Frank. The Everything Learning Spanish Book: Speak, Write and Understand Basic Spanish in No Time. Avon, Mass: Adams, 2002. Print.