If you ask rioplatófonos what’s wrong with their S’s, they’ll probably have no idea what you are talking about. But even if you feel that they are sometimes not pronouncing their S’s at all, they will surely tell you that they are.
Who’s right, then? I’d say both. Let us see why on this entry!
First of all, we need to point out that in Rioplatense Spanish the only kind of “s” sound that you will hear is just like the sound in the word, well, “sound”. What I mean is that, no matter how a word is spelled (“casa“, “decir“, “zapato“), it will always be pronounced with the same kind of “s” sound. This shows a big difference with some other Spanish varieties (found in some parts of Spain, for instance), where letters “c” and “z” are pronounced as a “th” sound (as in the English word “thanks”).
Now, this specific /s/ sound can be pronounced in mainly two different ways: what we’ll informally call the full form (a clear definite /s/ sound) and the aspirated form (a weaker kind of /s/ sound, which is very close to the English /h/ sound).
The full form usually appears when the sound that comes after /s/ is a vowel. This means that we find this kind of strong /s/ in the initial examples of “casa“, “decir” and “zapato“. However, when the sound coming right after /s/ is not a vowel, but a consonant, rioplatófonos produce the aspirated version instead. Look at the following words and constructions:
Es lo mismo
In castellano rioplatense, those examples are pronounced with the softer aspirated version of /s/, that is to say, the one that sounds close to /h/. This is not an exclusive feature of the Rioplatense Spanish, though. We can also find this in other Spanish varieties, such as the ones spoken in Chile, Peru and some southern areas of Spain.
As you can see, it is not really hard to tell when to use each kind of /s/, but I’d like to share a video anyway, so that you can actually hear the two versions. In this video, then, you’ll see two people from Peru pronouncing a list of words which include the letter “s” followed by a consonant. These guys seem to be teaching future radio announcers how to speak “properly” and their advice is to always pronounce a clear /s/, in all linguistic contexts. Yet, when the girl is speaking casually, well, she uses the aspirated version from time to time. Look at the video and I’ll point out some phrases below where the aspirated /s/ can be heard.
0:19: ¿Qué tal? Mucho gusto.
1:15: Justamente ahora en este clima.
1:45: Después. Después nos vemos.
2:01: ¿Qué te despacho?
3:40: Muy usada por los bancos ahora.
4:45: Sobretodo en palabras que muy rutinariamente usamos.
4:49: Tienes razón.
4:53: Nos comemos la “s”.
By the way, it is interesting that the man in the video shows the “wrong” or not recommended pronunciation from time to time, but when he does it, he is simply omitting the /s/ altogether, leaving no trace of it behind. That does sound “wrong” in the Rioplatense variety, but that is not what rioplatófonos normally do. They do pronounce the sound, but in its aspirated version. This is why rioplatófonos will surely be convinced that they are pronouncing it, although foreigners will notice the difference.
So both are right! You are right if you can’t hear those full S’s in some words. And rioplatófonos are right, too. Nothing is wrong with their S’s. Some of them just sound a little different.
- And how should I pronounce my S’s then?
You can pronounce your S’s using either of the two forms I mentioned before. If you always use the full form, it’s alright. In Colombia and Mexico, for example, many people speak like that. Just remember that it is not what you will normally hear around in the River Plate area. And no, it is not wrong to use the aspirated version, as long as it’s done in the right contexts (i.e. before consonants). The guy in the video seems to indicate otherwise, but remember he’s just giving that advice to radio announcers. We may agree or disagree with that, and we could discuss whether radio announcers should sound different from ordinary speakers, but that’s not the point of this entry, of course.
Well, I tried to keep it short and simple. I hope that it’s all clear and that this blog entry will help you understand rioplatófonos more easily now! 😉