Spanish "s" sound

Does anyone know how this dialect variant of Spanish came about, in which Spain Spanish speakers “lisp” their s (“Barthelona”), but Mexican Spanish speakers do not?

Please, please, please do not give me the claptrap about a king with a lisp and his followers, well, followed him. Unless, of course, you somehow have a factual cite to back that up. Which I find highly improbable.

Also, I am looking for facts, not “Well, it’s a dialect variant. These things happen.”

On this website, I found the following fact:

It seems logical to conclude that this written work greatly influenced scholars and probably did much to promote the Castellano dialect. I am not an expert, this is my guess.

It’s only c and z, not s. Barcelona, Zapatero but not España. Some Andalusians lisp the s in an attempt to overcompensate though.

Andalusia and all Latin Americans do not typically pronounce the c and z as ‘th’.

Why? No idea, sorry. :slight_smile:

You don’t want the picturesque but highly improbable legend. You don’t want the accurate but boring “these things happen.” I’m not sure you’ll get anything more satisfactory.

In case it helps, McMahon’s Understanding Language Change talks a lot about the mechanics of sound changes. She only cites some broad theories as to what motivates the changes in the first place, though, and doesn’t talk about Spanish c/z/s. Wikipedia has some information here, even if they incorrectly refer to the ætiological legend as an urban legend.

Yes, as noted, it’s only ‘z’ and ‘c’ before ‘i’ and ‘e’. As a result, one has ‘cane’, ‘corte’ and ‘culo’ (sorry, that’s the only ‘cu’ I can think of at the moment) but ‘cielo’ {thjelo} and ‘Barcelona’ {Barthelona}. Si, Senor is not {thi, thinjor}. That rather puts the kibosh on the story that the Prince had a lisp, unless it was like that Python sketch where the guy could only say ‘b’ for the letter ‘c’, but had no problem with ‘k’.

On the other hand, it seems that lisping the ‘z’ and the soft ‘c’ was part of the aristocratic accent. The reason it didn’t get passed on to South America is that the guys that went to South America weren’t aristocrats - if I remember correctly, Pizzaro was illiterate. Most of the conquistadors and their crew and soldiers came from poor regions like Estremadura, and they didn’t speak a fancy version of the language. A similar situation exists in Australia - Australian received pronunciation is not based on the aristocratic, BBC type of British accent; it has come to us from the less aristocratic way of speaking of its first English speaking settlers, convicts.

I’ll see what I can root out for historical pronunciation in Spanish.


That is not a variant! That’s the STANDARD! And this comes up on these boards about every other month :smack:

It’s people who turn the C and Z into S who “sesean.” And those who have broken teeth and do lisp, turning S into the Z sound, “cecean”.

In Standard Spanish, C (before e and i) and Z share the same “th” sound, S has a different sound. C before the other vowels is a K sound.

It’s not class-related, it’s region-related. Those areas of Latin America that were populated mostly by people from Andalusia and Extremadura (areas with seseo), sesean. Those where most Spaniards arrived from the rest of Spain, don’t do it. I’ve met Highland Colombians who could pass for Navarrese, Aragonese, Basque or Riojanos with no effort at all - guess where the most-common lastnames in the Colombian Highlands are from ;).

Why were there so many people from Andalusia and Extremadura moving over to America? Because those are among the poorest areas of the country.

Thanks. No search yielded any results of previous related threads, so forgive my ignorance of that. But seeing as how those are two different varieties of dialect of one language, I’m gonna disagree with your assessment there. Midwestern English is considered “standard”, but it is also considered a dialectal variant. I don’t see why this would be any different.

** Le Ministre de l’au-delà**, your explanation sounds highly likely. Historical linguistics is a pretty fascinating field, eh? It’s much more fun to find out how these language changes occur, rather than just knowing that they changed at some point in the past, but not why. I look forward to any more historical background you might find!

Yeah, those funny cachacos wearing suits with sweaters.

But seriously, bufftabby, Nava is right. What exactly do you want? A scientific explanation for this variant phoneme, other than the simple fact that people in different places talk differently?

Historical linguistics is a field for a reason. There are often actual explanations for these things. The “simple fact” of dialectal variants is more than “people in different places talk differently”. If that’s enough of an explanation for you, great. With my background in linguistics, I’m interested in a deeper explanation. My linguistic studies club finds this an interesting topic as well, so I’m not the only one…

The Academias de la Lengua say that’s the standard pronunciation.

Nava, a standard is a variant. I think that’s bufftabby’s point.

Exactly, acsenray.

… ah, ok, I just learned a new English word then. In chemistry, a standard is a reference.

And in Spanish as well, so it’s a false friend when we’re talking linguistics:

Estándar, from English standard.

  1. adjective. Something which can be used as a reference.
  2. masculine noun. A reference.

Aaaanyway, back to the subject at hand.

We’ve already talked about why seseo is so prevalent. My guess as to how seseo came to be is from influence of Arabic, given where it first appeared, but I’m not a historic linguist and back when these things were appearing it was considered uncouth to write as you pronounced. Not much in the way of documentation.

Now, why do the RAEs consider differentiating S from Z the reference? (I hope that by using the word “reference” we can actually agree on what it means)

(I’m using to mean written, <> to mean pronounced, and sticking to Spanish phonetics rather than try to fight my way through English ones)

Three possible reasons:
1.- Practical. If you differentiate S and Z, our ortography is a lot easier. Someone who has never encountered the word [Hortensia] before and who differentiates will hear <ortensia> and, not having seen it before, write it as [Ortensia] as the [H] is mute. But he will never write [Ortencia] or [Hortenzia], both of which I’ve encountered from users who used seseo.
For someone who knows reference Spanish (and who may or may not use it, that’s a different animal), the difficulties of ortography are limited almost exclusively to [B/V], to knowing where an [H] goes, and to unusual spellings in words whose spelling is either “foreign” or got stuck in a now-unusual variant (Oaxaca <Guajaca>, Wifredo <Bifredo>, Whisky <Güiski>, among other examples).

2.- The place that’s closest to speaking it is Old Castilla, specifically the town of Valladolid is repeatedly mentioned as having “the most-reference Spanish;” the prevalence of Castilla over other kingdoms and regions can thus be called to blame. But, couple buts. Old Castillians use laísmo (“la” in places where “le” should be used): if “their” dialect had been imposed on everybody else, how come the rest of us don’t use it? Andalusia and Extremadura were both conquered from the “Moors” by Castilla, but they sesean, why would one variant from the Castillian Kingdom be forced upon Aragonese and Navarrese, while parts of the Castillian Kingdom resisted?

3.- Historic reasons. The Spanish language was born in the area that still differentiates <Z> from <S>. The first written samples for both Spanish and Basque are in the margins of a book that’s in the Monasterio de Yuso de San Martín de la Cogolla (sorry, that’s its full name); if you look for “San Martín de la Cogolla” in you’ll see that’s in the current province of La Rioja. At the time the book was copied, this area was part of the Kingdom of Nájera, which later became Kingdom of Navarra. Many towns in La Rioja were founded by the Kings of Nájera or Navarra as part of their policy of divesting the Road to Santiago inland (originally, the most common route was by sea, but this was difficult to control, both in terms of “who and what is arriving” and of piracy; it was not unknown for captains to take passengers and kill them). La Rioja was part of Castilla since the times of Mio Cid, which is also about the time Castilla went from being a Countship to being a Kingdom.

The one that makes more sense to me is the first, but since you want historic reasons there you are. The other two are possible historic reasons.

Just to keep things clear, in linguistics, a standard is a variant or dialect that is accorded some level of official sanction, such as by the government or as taught in schools.


I don’t think you’re making things clearer by switching to “reference.” It is a standard. But linguists recognize that a “standard” is merely a “variant” that has been accorded special status for non-linguistic reasons, not because it has some inherent linguistic virtue relative to other variants.

Ah, in Spanish we consider something a dialect when it’s actually used by “people who are not making an effort.”

Speaking standard Spanish is done by many people every day, but it’s not “the way we talk when we’re at home.” Many of the people who know me from work and who hear me speak standard Spanish would get pretty cross-eyed if they heard me trotting out the Ribero or Cuenco dialects which I speak at home.
Standard Spanish: “pásame la grapadora, por favor”
Ribero: “¡EUUUU! ¡Sa grapadora!”
Cuenco: “¡Ye tú! ¡La grapadora, pues!”


It’s not a matter of “in Spanish,” though. It’s a general misconception, even in the English-speaking world that “dialect” is equatable to laziness or lack of effort.

And if you consider what you’re saying, you’ll see that this is a perfect illustration of the point. Standard Peninsular Spanish carries certain cultural cache: It’s about societal norms. Standard Peninsular Spanish is a dialect that is preferred in certain social situations. But there’s no linguistic reason why this status was conferred on the Valladolid dialect rather than your Ribero or Cuenco dialect.

Uhm, see “reason number one”?

We seem to be having a “where do you come from?” “I’ve got apples” kind of conversation. Like some of us are AM and some are FM.

And by the way, I did say the Valladolid dialect is NOT Standard Spanish. And both Cuenco and Ribero differentiate Z from S… most dialects do, actually!

Nava, I found your historical background on the subject very interesting! And when I made the point that “standard” is still a “dialect variant”, I was mostly interested in pointing out that I was not wrong in calling it that, nor did I deserve a :smack:

I do understand now what you mean by “standard”, and I understand that the differentiation between the general meaning of the word and the linguistic application of the word would not at all be apparent to someone unfamiliar with some of the inner workings of formal linguistics.

I don’t really know much about Basque. Could it have influenced the pronunciation in certain regions, which was then transmitted to the New World? Like I said, I’m not familiar with Basque, or even with its historical contexts etc, so my theory that that could be a possibility may be way off base.

Nava, I don’t know what they taught you in school in Spain, but in Puerto Rico, where I studied primary and secondary school, I was taught that a dialect is not “people speaking lazy”. Thank you, anyways, for telling me my “sesear” is being lazy. :dubious:

And you so much talk about the “standard” and how it is correct to “sesear”. It is correct, you are right, but the other form is also accepted as “lengua culta”.

The Real Academia Española and all the other Academies, that you so much mention, have even said so.

Try this link. If it doesn’t work, then go to the RAE’s website and search for the Diccionario panhispánico de dudas.

The second definition, last sentence, in Spanish says:

Rough meaning: Seseo in those variants/dialects that practice it is their formal, accepted, cult, completely acknowledged quirk.

About other dialects and quirks:

I understand that most Puertorricans (myself included, if I lower myself to it :wink: ) speak Spanish that in no way is accepted by the Academies (RAE or the Puertorican Academy) as correct. The following bad quirks include:

Changing “r” for “l”
Droping the “d” in words ending with -ado (with some exceptions)
Dropping the “s” at the end of words when the next syllable starts with a vowel (lah mujeres is OK, loh hombres is bad)
Changing feminine and masculine pronouns (la calor instead of el calor, la agua instead of el agua)