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Teaching Spanish pronunciation
Teaching Spanish pronunciation

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3.3 Spanish syllable

The syllable structure in Spanish is simpler, that is to say, Spanish allows fewer segments in the syllabic constituents than English does. However, many phonological processes – especially the weakening of consonants in syllable coda – are best described in the light of syllable structure. 

A sequence of two consonants forms a syllable onset if the first consonant is a stop or /f/ and the second a liquid (in Latin these groups were known as muta cum liquida), e.g. o-tro (other), Á-fri-ca (Africa), and car-ta (letter), al-to (tall). 

Spanish is quite restrictive with regard to codas. Very few consonants are common in the coda. These are the dental and alveolar consonants; n, l, r, d, sand z, as in ciu-dad (city), car-ta (letter). Stops are much rarer and often simplified or weakened in colloquial speech, e.g. ac-to (act), sig-no (sign). In complex codas, the second consonant is always s, e.g. trans-crip-ción (transcription).

It is interesting to note that while words such as vaho [ba-o] (mist), búho [bu-o] (owl) – where two adjacent vowels belong to two different syllables – are fairly frequent in Spanish, they are very rare in English.