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When "S" Sounds Like "H"

Yabla Spanish viewer Donnie (dryanespanol) wrote and asked:

In "Fiesta en Miami," - Antonio pronounces the "h" when he says "hace." I have always been told this is a cardinal sin. Please explain.

That's a good question! Does the Canary Islander Antonio Polegre really pronounce the "h" in "hace"? Well, we took a listen and it SEEMS like he does! What is going on? 



One of the first things we notice is that, in caption 35, when Antonio says hice mis amigos ("I made my friends"), we do NOT hear any "h" sound in hice. So why would Antonio pronounce hice correctly but not hace? We also notice that he didn't pronounce the final s in mis nor in amigos -- a common enough practice in many regions, and, oddly enough, perhaps a telling clue.


Hice mis amigos, tengo mi novia.

I made friends, I have my girlfriend.

Caption 35, Fiesta en Miami - Antonio

 Play Caption


Antonio uses hace four times in the video (once in captions 46 and 47 and twice in caption 52), each time as part the two word combination nos hace; and each time it really does sound like he is pronouncing the "h" in hace.


Nos hace amigos de otros amigos,

It make us friends of other friends,

nos hace conocer a gente.

it makes us meet people.

Captions 46-47, Fiesta en Miami - Antonio

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We did a little research to see if perhaps "Canarian" Spanish makes an exception to the "never pronounce the 'h'" rule. We don't find such an exception, but we do find another characteristic of Canarian Spanish echoed in a number of places, such as wikipedia:

/s/ debuccalization. As is the case with many varieties of Spanish, /s/ debuccalized to [h] in coda position.

Obviously not written for the layman! A little more research tells us that "debuccalization" is a linguistics term that describes a sound being "reduced" to an "h sound" (e.g. the "h" in "high"), and that the "coda" position is the final position in a syllable, after the vowel. 

So, if Antonio is "debuccalizing" the final "s" in nos, which produces an "h sound," then perhaps what we are hearing is not the "h" in hace but rather the "debuccalized /s/" (i.e. "h sound") at the end of "nos"! Could it be?

Let's look at captions 51 - 52:


Y al final yo considero que todo nos une,

And, in the end, I consider that everything unites us,

todo nos hace... todo nos hace ser humanos.

everything makes us... everything makes us human.

Captions 51-52, Fiesta en Miami - Antonio

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It's not as strong, but we think we can also MAYBE hear an "h sound" in nos une, almost coming out as 'no [h]une," and if that's true it supports the debuccalization theory. 

Further, he does not pronounce the "h" in humanos (just as he doesn't the one in hice)-- so clearly it's not the case that he is in the habit of pronouncing every "h" that starts a Spanish word.

A Dominican friend of ours tells us that not only does Antonio's pronunciation of "nos hace" sound perfectly natural to him, but that he can think of many similar "debuccalization" examples in Dominican speech. In fact, he thought that Antonio's Spanish sounds more like that of the Caribbean than (what he considers) that of Spain. This makes sense, because linguists tells us that early Canarian settlers in the region had a great amount of influence in what we know now as "Caribbean Spanish." 

No wonder Antonio feels right at home in Miami!

Spanish speakers in many regions are known for (in one way or another) reducing, softening, or "aspirating" their s's (or, as many frustrated learners would say, "dropping them" entirely). In fact, one of our resident experts, a guru of Spanish (though his students in Mexico City call him "professor"), told us that Antonio "is aspirating the s in nos, which could sound as if he were pronouncing the h in hace to someone who is not a native Spanish speaker." 




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Caption 52, 51, 47, 46, 35

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