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Teaching Spanish pronunciation
Teaching Spanish pronunciation

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3 Phonotactic constraints

The Collins English Dictionary defines phonotactics as the study of the possible arrangement of the sounds of a language in the words of that language. Phonotactics is the branch of phonology that deals with the restrictions in a language on the allowed combinations of phonemes (contrastive sound segments). At its simplest, it is concerned with the freedoms and restrictions that languages allow in terms of syllable structure and sound sequences within a syllable, or the constituents of a syllable. Phonotactic constraints vary from language to language.

For example, the clusters /kn/ and /ɡn/ are not permitted at the beginning of a word in Modern English, but they are in German and they were permitted in Old and Middle English, hence the spelling of words such as knightand and gnome. Spanish, on the other hand, does not allow s+consonant sequences at the beginning of a word, while these sequences were allowed in Latin (and are allowed in most modern Romance languages). For this reason, Spanish speakers will apply some kind of a “repair strategy” when confronted with such a sequence. Most frequently, they will “save” the cluster by attaching an before it and pronouncing, for example, “espray”.