Shh… This is a sound you’ll hear very often coming from the mouths of rioplatófonos. But don’t take it personal. We are not actually telling you to shut up or keep silent. We are just pronouncing our letters “y” and “ll”.
These two letters are not always pronounced the same way through all the Spanish-speaking communities. But in español rioplatense, when they are followed by a vowel they sound both this way: “sh“, as in “she”, “shoes” or “ash“. I will not use the actual phonetic symbols, but here are some examples of the way some sentences would be pronounced in the River Plate area:
Yo me llamo Yamila.
>Sho me shamo Shamila.
>>My name is Yamila.
Este llavero dice “Calle: Lavalle 123”
>Este shavero dice “Cashe: Lavashe 123″
>>This key ring says “Street: Lavalle 123”
It’s not that difficult, right? It just takes some time until you get used to it, but you’ll end up loving this special feature of Rioplatense Spanish, trust me!
- Do all rioplatófonos pronounce it like that?
In general, yes. But if we get a little more technical here, these letters can actually be pronounced in two similar —yet different— ways in Rioplatense Spanish.
Have a look at these English words: “pleasure”, “genre”, “seizure”, “vision”. In these cases, the “sh” sound is heard a bit different, right? To mark the difference, we could spell that sound “zh”. What is actually happening here is that there is vibration of the vocal cords when these sounds are produced. Try this little experiment, touch your throat with the tip of your fingers and pronounce the following:
Shhhh, she, shoes, ash…
You will notice in these cases that you feel no vibration when pronouncing the “sh” part of those words. The vibration starts or ends only with the vowels. Now, try doing the same with the following examples:
Pleasure, genre, seizure, vision…
In these cases, every time you pronounce the “zh” part, you should be feeling the vibration on your throat. If you do feel it, congratulations! Your vocal cords work just fine! 🙂
This new sound represented by the spelling “zh”, with the vibration of the vocal cords, is another way in which the letters “y” and “ll” can be pronounced in castellano rioplatense. It is often associated though with elderly and/or higher-class people, and there seems to be a tendency for it to disappear, whereas the “sh” pronunciation keeps expanding among the younger generations.
Ok, enough theory already. Let’s practise now! Here you are, have a random, full-of-nonsense tongue-twister:
Al llegar la gallina a la silla, chilla la ardilla llena de orgullo: “¡Pero qué maravilla! ¡Ya no llueve en Sevilla!”
Oh, hmm… That’s a lot of “sh” sounds you’re making. I get your hint… You want me to shut up now, right? 😦 Ok, fair enough!