Monday, July 02, 2007

Spanish on the stump

Especially now with a ton of early presidential primaries moved to places with large communities of Spanish speakers or Spanish-speaking background, candidates who aren't foaming-at-the-mouth xenophobes (e.g. here) are lining up to show off their Spanish. Bill Richardson really does speak the language, it's clear, and others are giving it the old college try, at the National Association of Latino Elected Officials conference in Orlando.

On NPR this morning, Dennis Kucinich stresses the importance of actively promoting Spanish and switches into Spanish at one point. (Audio is up here, with the relevant remark just after 1:00.) I can only catch the first two words, somos todos 'we are all …'. (There's pause after that word, it sounds like, and I can't hear what's after the pause.)

Thing is, most western hemisphere Spanish speakers would produce [├░] as the middle consonant of the second word or have some more lenited consonant. Kucinich produces a pretty clear flap, the usual phonetic realization of orthographic single in Spanish. I wasn't quite paying attention when it went by, and heard — unambiguously — somos toros 'we are bulls'. This is a familiar non-nativism in Spanish, but I know it from German speakers, who famously have difficulty with interdental fricatives. There's a story of a German priest in southern Mexico calling ¡Toros a la misa! 'bulls to mass!' to the serious confusion of townspeople within earshot. My question for folks in second language phonology is this: How the heck did Kucinich not use a fricative here? Surely he's got some coaching, enough to know that this particular is not like the /t/ in atom, right?

If you think about the politics of language and dialect, you're already wondering about the complexities of using a language you don't speak (as tons of these guys do) to pander. Something to ponder as they pander.


Wishydig said...

I just watched this video of Bill Richardson speaking in Spanish. His native pronunciation stumbles on the very same word around 1:32 into the clip.

Of course even a native speaker can stumble on something like this. From "encontrarás" that flap could be poised and waiting to jump out again.

Mr. Verb said...

Oh, very nice. I don't think of this as a common performance error in American Spanish or anything. Certainly missing the articulatory mark on an interdental fricative is common enough in virtually all dialects of English, and other languages too. And people certainly don't blink at hearing intervocalic d lenited or lost.