Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sound Correspondences of Spanish and Portuguese

Spanish and Portuguese share a number of sound correspondences. They illustrate the similarity of the two languages.

A "j" (pharyngeal, velar or glottal fricative depending on dialect) in Spanish often corresponds to an lh (palatal lateral) in Portuguese. I illustrate with these examples:

ajo, alho (garlic)
hijo, filho (son)
ojo, olho (eye)
mojado, molhado (wet)

An "h" in Spanish (no phonetic value) often corresponds to an "f" in Portuguese. Here are a few examples:

hacer, fazer (to do, to make)
hijo, filho (son)
haba, fava (bean)
hablar, falar (to speak)

An "l" in Spanish often corresponds to an "r" in Portuguese. Here are a few examples:

plato, prato (plate)
blanco, branco (white)
placer, prazer (pleasure)
obligado, obrigado (obliged)

The Spanish diphthong "ie" is often the vowel "e" in Portuguese. This occurs with stressed vowels. Here are examples:

tierra, terra (earth)
hierro, ferro (iron)
siete, sete (seven)
pierna, perna (leg)

A Spanish "ll" (palatal approximant or palatal lateral) often corresponds to a "ch" (alveopalatal fricative) in Portuguese. Here are a few examples:

lluvia, chuva (rain)
llamar, chamar (to call)
lleno, cheio (full)
llorar, chorar (to cry)

The Spanish diphthong "ue" is often an "o" in Portuguese. This typically occurs with stressed vowels. Here are examples to illustrate:

puerta, porta (door)
nueve, nove (nine)
nuevo, novo (new)
suerte, sorte (luck)

It is clear that Spanish and Portuguese are related languages with many sound correspondences. Knowledge of these sound correspondences not only makes it easier to learn the vocabulary of the two languages but also often makes it possible to predict a word in one language. In other words, if one knows a particular word in Spanish, it is often possible to guess the word in Portuguese and vice-versa.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Definite Articles of Italian

English has only one definite article, "the". Italian, however, has seven. The choice of article in Italian depends on number, gender and the initial segments of the adjective and noun.

The definite articles of Italian are la, l', le, il, lo, i and gli. Thus Italian uses seven different definite articles. For feminine nouns, Italian uses la, l' and le. The first is used before feminine singular adjectives and nouns that start with a consonant, the second before feminine singular and plural adjectives and nouns that start with a vowel and the third before feminine plural adjectives and nouns that start with a vowel.

For masculine nouns, Italian uses il, l', lo, i and gli. The first is used before masculine singular adjectives and nouns that start with a consonant, the second before masculine singular and plural adjectives and nouns that start with a vowel, the third before masculine singular adjectives and nouns that start with a "z" or an "s" followed by a consonant, the fourth before masculine plural adjectives and nouns that start with a "z" or "s" followed by a consonant and the fifth before masculine plural adjectives and nouns that start with a vowel.

The following examples will illustrate the use of Italian definite articles with feminine nouns.

la casa (the house)
l'acqua (the water)
le case (the houses)

Notice that "the house" and "the houses" use a different definite article in Italian.

These examples will illustrate the use of Italian definite articles with masculine nouns.

il ristorante (the restaurant)
l'ospedale (the hospital)
lo sbaglio (the mistake)
i ristoranti (the restaurants)
i sbagli (the mistakes)
gli ospedali (the hospitals)

The definite article "lo" is only used before consonant clusters. The "z" in Italian is an alveolar affricate as in "lo zio" (the uncle). The use of "i" instead of "il" results in a shorter consonant sequence in "i sbagli". This is typical of Italian because it is a language which favours a CV syllable structure and tends to avoid the consonant clusters that are common in other languages.

At first glance, it may appear that the rules for the use of definite articles in Italian are rather complicated. However, the definite articles of Italian can be learned with minimal effort because the rules are logical and consistent.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

VOT

VOT is the abbreviation of Voice Onset Time, a phonetic term. The word "onset" means start. It refers to the length of time between the release of a consonant and the voicing of the following segment which is marked by vocal fold vibration.

VOT can be classified as positive, zero and negative. This classification is based on the start time of voicing relative to the release of a plosive. In English, all three occur because English has voiceless aspirated, voiceless unaspirated and voiced plosives.

The words "pie", "spy" and "buy" all have a bilabial plosive. In "pie" and "buy" it is word-initial and in "spy" it is the second segment of the word. Despite orthography, the nucleus in each word is the diphthong of "my" and "shy".

In the word "pie", the plosive is aspirated. This means that voicing occurs after the release of the voiceless aspirated bilabial plosive. In this word, the VOT is positive.

The word "spy" also has a voiceless bilabial plosive, but this one is unaspirated. In English, all plosives which follow a word-initial alveolar fricative are unaspirated. This is completely predictable. The voicing of the diphthong occurs at about the same time as the release of the voiceless unaspirated bilablial plosive. In this case, the VOT is zero.

With "buy", the voicing of the diphthong begins prior to the release of the voiced bilabial plosive. Note that in this case both segments are voiced. Because voicing begins prior to the release of the plosive, the VOT is negative.

It is important to note that voice onset times can vary considerably from one language to another. For example, voiced plosives are not as voiced in English as they are in languages such as French and Russian. In the English word "do", the plosive is not as voiced as in the French word "deux" (two). The result is that the French word has a more negative VOT than the English one.

To further illustrate, Dutch is unique among Germanic languages in its lack of voiceless aspirated plosives, but the voiceless unaspirated plosives are not identical to those of languages such as French. The Dutch word "peer" and the French word "poire", both meaning pear, consist of a voiceless unaspirated bilabial plosive. The VOT is zero. However, the voicing occurs earlier in French than it does in Dutch. Thus, a slight lag occurs in the release of Dutch voiceless plosives relative to voicing. The two languages share voiceless plosives, but their VOTs are a little different.

VOT, the common abbreviation of Voice Onset Time, is associated with phonetics. The study of VOT aids phoneticians in analyzing and classifying the length of time between the release of a consonant and the start of voicing of the following segment in the languages of the world.