Spanish Lessons


Too Fast? Blame the Sinalefas - Part 3

In our two previous lessons we have studied the interesting topic of the use of sinalefas and the role they play in the way Spanish is spoken. In this third and last part of this series we will analyze cases where it's not possible to form sinalefas. Please click away if you want to take a look at Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

In part 2 of this lesson we talked about certain conditions that must occur so speakers can form sinalefas and thus be able to pronounce two contiguous words as a single one. It follows that when those conditions aren't met, the sinalefas aren't possible and the two words in question must be pronounced clearly apart from each other. So, for example, sinalefas aren't supposed to be formed by combining one less open vowel surrounded by two open ones, that is, combinations such as aoaaiaaieeieeiooio, etc. Since the Spanish conjunctions y(and), o (or), and u (or) are less open vowels, it follows that these combinations where sinalefas are not formed usually occur with phrases such as espero y obedezco (I wait and I obey), blanca y amarilla (white and yellow), sedienta y hambrienta (thirsty and hungry), esta o aquella (this one or that one), cinco u ocho (five or eight), etc. These combinations may also happen with words that start with a silent h, for example: ya he hablado (I've already spoken), hecho de hielo (made out of ice), no usa hiato (doesn't use a hiatus), está hueco (it's hollowed), etc. All of these cases are supposed to be pronounced as separate words.

At this point, it's important to note that when we say that a sinalefa can or can't occur we are talking from a normative point of view, because we know that in real life speakers may and do break the rules. Let's see some examples. We said that a sinalefa should not be formed with the vocalic sounds oia because the i is less open than a and o, thus Yago is not pronouncing frío y hambre as a single word here:

y yo nada más tengo frío y hambre y no sé qué hacer.
and I'm just cold and I'm hungry and I don't know what to do.
Caption 23, Yago - 6 Mentiras - Part 1

Or is he? Actually, he is not. Even though he's speaking quite fast, he's pronouncing each word separately. It's still difficult to tell, isn't it? But you can train your ear and immersion is perfect for that purpose.

Here's another example:

Ahí tienen un pequeño huerto ecológico.
There you have a small ecological orchard.
Caption 33, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 3

Is the person speaking pronouncing pequeñohuerto as a single word? In theory, he shouldn't be because sinalefas aren't supposed to be formed by combining one less open vowel (u) surrounded by two open ones (o,e). If he does, as it seems, he is engaging in what some experts call a sinalefa violenta (violent synalepha), which is phonetically possible but not "proper."

In fact, the proper use also prohibits the use of sinalefas that are phonetically possible since they involve the gradual combination of vowels that goes from open to less open vowels such as aeioei, and eei (we learned about this in Part 2 of this lesson) when the middle ecorresponds to the conjunction e (used when the following word starts with the sound i). For example, it's not correct to pronounce phrases such as España e Inglaterra (Spain and England), ansioso e inquieto (anxious and unquiet), anda e investiga (go and investigate), etc. altogether as single words. You can make the sinalefa and pronounce the words altogether only if the middle e is not a conjunction, for example, aei in ella trae higos (she brings figs), oei in héroe insigne (illustrious hero), eei in cree Ifigenia (Ifigenia believes), etc.

The rule is followed by the speaker in the following example, he pronounces febrero e incluso separately:

Sobre todo en los meses de diciembre, enero, febrero e incluso en mayo.
Especially in the months of December, January, February and even in May.
Caption 27, Mercado de San Miguel - Misael - Part 1

But the reporter in this example not so much. He pronounces tangibleeintangible as a single word:

y con elementos de un patrimonio tangible e intangible
and with elements of a tangible and intangible legacy
Caption 20, Ciudades - Coro Colonial

If speakers break the rules all the time, is there a point in learning about when a sinalefa can and can't be formed? The answer is yes, because these rules were actually modeled to reflect phonetic facts that occur in speech itself, so most of the time the way people speak do conform to rules (it's just easier to notice when they don't). For example, the reason why there's a rule against sinalefas that join two open vowels surrounding a less open one (like oia) is because articulating such sounds together is actually not easy for a Spanish speaker given the articulatory settings of the Spanish language. In other words, the phonetic rules reflect how the speech is actually performed by speakers most of the time and not vice versa. If you see the big picture, historically it's been speech modeling grammar and not the other way around.

We leave you with an interesting example of a speaker making what it seems a weird ayhie(basically aiie or even aiesinalefa by pronounce naranjayhielo as a single word.

Naranja y hielo solamente.
Orange and ice alone.
Caption 23, Fruteria "Los Mangos" - Vendiendo Frutas - Part 2

Caption 23
Caption 33
Caption 20

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