The phonology of Catalan, a Romance language, has a certain degree of dialectal variation. Although there are two standard dialects, one based on Eastern Catalan and one based on Valencian, this article deals with features of all or most dialects, as well as regional pronunciation differences. Various studies have focused on different Catalan varieties; for example, Wheeler (1979) and Mascaró (1976) analyze Central Eastern varieties, the former focusing on the educated speech of Barcelona and the latter focusing more on the vernacular of Barcelona, and Recasens (1986) does a careful phonetic study of Central Eastern Catalan.
^5/t͡s/, /d͡z/ are apical alveolar [t͡s̺], [d͡z̺]. They may be somewhat fronted, so that the stop component is laminal denti-alveolar, while the fricative component is apical post-dental.
^6/ʎ/, /ɲ/ are laminal "front alveolo-palatal" [ʎ̟], [ɲ̟].
^7 There is some confusion in the literature about the precise phonetic characteristics of /ʃ/, /ʒ/, /tʃ/, and /dʒ/; while Recasens, Fontdevila & Pallarès (1995:288) and Recasens & Espinosa (2007:145) describe them as "back alveolo-palatal", implying that the characters ⟨ɕ ʑ tɕ dʑ⟩ would be more accurate, they (and all literature on Catalan) use the characters for palato-alveolar affricates and fricatives while using ⟨ɕ ʑ⟩ for alveolo-palatal sounds in examples in other languages like Polish or Chinese. Otherwise, sources, like Carbonell & Llisterri (1992:53) generally describe them as "postalveolar".
Since the vast majority of Catalan speakers are bilingual in either Spanish and/or French, they import loan phonemes not present in Catalan like [θ], [x] from Spanish, and [ɥ] from French, especially in proper nouns; e.g. Badajoz[baðaˈxoθ], Vuitton[vɥitɔ̃].
Voiced stops become lenited to approximants in syllable onsets, after continuants:/b/ → [β], /d/ → [ð], /ɡ/ → [ɣ]. Exceptions include /d/ after lateral consonants and /b/ after /f/, e.g. ull de bou[ˈuʎ də ˈβɔw] (EC) [ˈuʎ de ˈβɔw] (WC) ('oeil-de-boeuf'), bolígraf boníssim[buˈɫiɣɾəv‿buˈnisim] (EC) [boˈliɣɾav‿boˈnisim] (WC) ('excellent ballpoint'). Additionally, /b/ remains unlenited in non-betacist dialects. In the coda position, these sounds are always realized as stops except in many Valencian dialects, where they are lenited.
In some Valencian dialects final /p, t, k/ can be lenited before a vowel: tot açò[ˈt̪oð‿aˈsɔ] ('all this').
In some dialects (e.g. many Valencian accents) initial /ɡ/ can be lenited: gata[ˈɣat̪ə] (EC) [ˈɣat̪a] (WC).
In many Catalan dialects (except Valencian), /b/ and /ɡ/ may be geminated in certain environments (e.g. poble[ˈpɔbːɫə] 'village', regla[ˈreɡːɫə] 'rule').
In Majorcan varieties, /k/ and /ɡ/ become [c] and [ɟ] word-finally and before front vowels, in some of these dialects, this has extended to all environments except before liquids and back vowels; e.g. sang[ˈsaɲc] ('blood').
The phonemic status of affricates is dubious; after other consonants, affricates are in free variation with fricatives, e.g. clenxa[ˈkɫɛnʃə ~ ˈkɫɛɲt͡ʃə] (EC) [ˈklɛɲt͡ʃa] (WC) ('hair parting') and may be analyzed as either single phonemes or clusters of a stop and a fricative.
Alveolar affricates, [t͡s] and [d͡z], occur the least of all affricates.
[d͡z] only occurs intervocalically: metzines[məˈd͡zinəs] (EC) [meˈd͡zines] (WC) ('toxic substances').
Instances of [t͡s] arise mostly from compounding; the few lexical instances arise from historical compounding. For instance, potser[puˈtse] (EC) [poˈtseɾ] (WC) ('maybe') comes from pot ('may') + ser ('be' inf). As such, [t͡s] does not occur word-initially; other than some rare words of foreign origin (e.g. tsar 'tsar',tsuga 'tsuga'), but it may occur word-finally and quite often in cases of heteromorphemic (i.e. across a morpheme boundary) plural endings: tots[ˈtots] ('everybody').
In Standard Eastern Catalan, word-initial [t͡ʃ] is found only in a few words of foreign origin (e.g. txec 'Czech',Txaikovski 'Tchaikovsky') while being found freely intervocalically (e.g. fletxa 'arrow') and word-finally: despatx[dəsˈpat͡ʃ] (EC) [desˈpat͡ʃ] (WC) ('office').
Standard Eastern Catalan also only allows [d͡ʒ] in intervocalic position (e.g. metge 'medic', adjunt 'enclosed'). Phonemic analyses show word-final occurrences of /d͡ʒ/ (e.g. raig esbiaixat[ˈrad͡ʒ‿əzbiəˈʃat] (EC) [ˈrad͡ʒ‿ezbiajˈʃat] (WC) 'skew ray'), but final devoicing eliminates this from the surface: raig[ˈrat͡ʃ] ('ray').
In various other dialects (as well as in emphatic speech),[tʃ] occurs word-initially and after another consonant to the exclusion of [ʃ]. These instances of word-initial [t͡ʃ] seem to correspond to [ʃ] in other dialects, including the standard (on which the orthography is based): xinxa ('bedbug'), pronounced [ˈʃiɲʃə] in the standard, is [ˈt͡ʃiɲt͡ʃa] in these varieties.
Similarly, in most of Valencian and southern Catalonia, most occurrences of [d͡ʒ] correspond to the voiced fricative [ʒ] in Standard Eastern Catalan: gel[ˈd͡ʒɛl] ('ice').
There is dialectal variation in regards to affricate length, with long affricates occurring in both Eastern and Western dialects such as in Majorca and few areas in Southern Valencia. Also, intervocalic affricates are predominantly long, especially those that are voiced or occurring immediately after a stressed syllable (e.g. metge[ˈmed͡ʒːə] (EC) [ˈmed͡ʒːe] (WC) 'medic'). In modern Valencian [d͡ʒ] and [d͡ʒː] have merged into /d͡ʒ/.
/v/ occurs in Balearic, as well as in Alguerese, standard Valencian and some areas in southern Catalonia. Everywhere else, it has merged with historic /β/ so that [b] and [β] occur in complementary distribution. In Majorcan, [v] and [w] are in complementary distribution, with [v] occurring before vowels (e.g. blava[ˈbɫavə] 'blue' f. vs. blau[ˈbɫaw] 'blue' m.). In other varieties that have both sounds, they are in contrast before vowels, with neutralization in favor of [w] before consonants.
In some Valencian dialects, /s/ and /ʃ/ are auditorily similar such that neutralization may occur in the future. That is the case of Northern Valencian where /ʃ/ is depalatalized[clarification needed] to [js̠ ~ jsʲ] as in caixa ('box'). Central Valencian words like mig ('half') and lleig ('ugly') have been transcribed with [ts] rather than the expected [t͡ʃ], and Southern Valencian /t͡ʃ/ "has been reported to undergo depalatalization without merging with [t͡s]". as in passets ('small steps') versus passeig ('promenade')
In Aragon and Central Valencian (the so called apitxat), voiced fricatives and affricates are missing (i.e. /z/ has merged with /s/, /d͡ʒ/ has merged with /t͡ʃ/, with only voiceless realizations occurring) and /v/ has merged with the [b ~ β] set.
While "dark (velarized) l", [ɫ], may be a positional allophone of /l/ in most dialects (such as in the syllable coda; e.g. sòl[ˈsɔɫ] 'ground'),/l/ is dark irrespective of position in Eastern dialects like Majorcan and standard Eastern Catalan (e.g. tela[ˈtɛɫə]).
The distribution of the two rhotics /r/ and /ɾ/ closely parallels that of Spanish. Between vowels, the two contrast (e.g. mirra[ˈmirə] (EC) [ˈmira] (WC) 'myrrh' vs. mira[ˈmiɾə] (EC) [ˈmiɾa] (WC) 'look'), but they are otherwise in complementary distribution. [ɾ] appears in the onset, except in word-initial position (ruc), after /l/, /n/, and /s/ (honra, Israel), and in compounds, where [r] is used. Different dialects vary in regards to rhotics in the coda, with Western Catalan generally featuring [ɾ] and Central Catalan dialects like those of Barcelona or Girona featuring a weakly trilled [r] unless it precedes a vowel-initial word in the same prosodic unit, in which case [ɾ] appears (per[peɾ] in Western Catalan, [pər] in Central Catalan). There is free variation in "r" word-initially, after /l/, /n/, and /s/, and in compounds (if /r/ is preceded by consonant), wherein /r/ is pronounced [r] or [ɹ], the latter being similar to English red: ruc[ˈruk ~ ˈɹuk], honra[ˈonrə ~ ˈonɹə] (EC) [ˈonra ~ ˈonɹa] (WC), Israel[isrəˈɛl ~ isɹəˈɛl] (EC) [israˈɛl ~ isɹaˈɛl] (WC).
In careful speech, /n/, /m/, and /l/ may be geminated (e.g. innecessari[inːəsəˈsaɾi] (EC) [inːeseˈsaɾi] (WC) 'unnecessary'; emmagatzemar[əmːəɣəd͡zəˈma] (EC) [emːaɣad͡zeˈmaɾ] (WC) 'to store'; il·lusió[ilːuziˈo] 'illusion'). A geminated /ʎː/ may also occur (e.g. ratlla[ˈraʎːə] (EC) [ˈraʎːa] (WC) 'line').Wheeler (1979) analyzes intervocalic [r] as the result of gemination of a single rhotic phoneme: serra/ˈsɛɾɾə/ → [ˈsɛrə] (EC) /ˈsɛɾɾa/ → [ˈsɛra] (WC) 'saw, mountains' (this is similar to the common analysis of Spanish and Portuguese rhotics).
The vowel /a/ is further back and open than the Castilian counterpart in North-Western and Central Catalan, slightly fronted and closed in Valencian and Ribagorçan [ä ~ ɐ], and further fronted and closed [a ~ æ] in Majorcan.
The mid-open vowels /ɛ/ and /ɔ/ are lower in Majorcan, Minorcan and Valencian, that is, in these dialects the phonetic realization of /ɛ/ approaches [æ], while /ɔ/ is as low as [ɒ].
Most varieties of Catalan contrast seven stressed vowel phonemes. However, some Balearic dialects have an additional stressed vowel phoneme (/ə/); e.g. sec/ˈsək/ ('dry'). The stressed schwa of these dialects corresponds to /ɛ/ in Central Catalan and /e/ in Western Catalan varieties (that is, Central and Western Catalan dialects differ in their incidence of /e/ and /ɛ/, with /e/ appearing more frequently in Western Catalan; e.g. Central Catalansec/ˈsɛk/ vs. Western Catalansec/ˈsek/ 'dry, I sit').
In Eastern Catalan, vowels in unstressed position reduce to three : /a/, /e/, /ɛ/ → [ə]; /o/, /ɔ/, /u/ → [u]; /i/ remains unchanged. However there are some dialectal differences: Alguerese merges /a/, /e/, and /ɛ/ with [a]; and in most areas of Majorca, [o] can appear in unstressed position (that is, /o/ and /ɔ/ are usually reduced to [o]).
In Western Catalan, vowels in unstressed position reduce to five: /e/, /ɛ/ → [e]; /o/, /ɔ/ → [o]; /a/, /u/, /i/ remain unchanged. However, in some Western dialects reduced vowels tend to merge into different realizations in some cases:
Unstressed /e/ may merge with [a] before a nasal or sibilant consonant (e.g. enclusa[aŋˈkluza] 'anvil', eixam[ajˈʃam] 'swarm'), in some environments before any consonant (e.g. terròs[taˈrɔs] 'earthy'), and in monosyllabic clitics. Likewise, unstressed /e/ may merge into [i] when in contact with palatal consonants (e.g. senyor[siˈɲoɾ ~ siˈɲo] 'lord').
Unstressed /o/ may merge with [u] before a bilabial consonant (e.g. cobert[kuˈβɛɾt] 'covered'), before a stressed syllable with a high vowel (e.g. conill[kuˈniʎ] 'rabbit'), in contact with palatal consonants (e.g. Josep[d͡ʒuˈzɛp] 'Joseph'), and in monosyllabic clitics.
In standard Eastern Catalan, rising diphthongs (that is, those starting with [j] or [w]) are only possible in the following contexts:
[j] in word-initial position, e.g. iogurt ([juˈɣur]) ('yoghurt').
The semivowel ([j] or [w]) occurs between vowels as in feia ([ˈfɛjə] 'he/she was doing') or diuen ([ˈdiwən] 'they say').
In the sequences [ɡw] or [kw] plus vowel, e.g. guant ('glove'), quota ('quota'), qüestió ('question'), pingüí ('penguin'); these exceptional cases even lead some scholars to hypothesize the existence of rare labiovelar phonemes /ɡʷ/ and /kʷ/.
There are certain instances of compensatory diphthongization in Majorcan so that troncs/ˈtɾoncs/ ('logs') (in addition to deleting the palatal stop) develops a compensating palatal glide and surfaces as [ˈtɾojns] (and contrasts with the unpluralized [ˈtɾoɲc]). Diphthongization compensates for the loss of the palatal stop (segment loss compensation). There are other cases where diphthongization compensates for the loss of point of articulation features (property loss compensation) as in [ˈaɲ] ('year') vs. [ˈajns] ('years').
The dialectal distribution of compensatory diphthongization is almost entirely dependent on the dorsal stop (/k~c/) and the extent of consonant assimilation (whether or not it is extended to palatals).
Voiced affricates are devoiced after stressed vowels in dialects like Eastern Catalan where there may be a correlation between devoicing and lengthening (gemination) of voiced affricates: metge/ˈmed͡ʒːə/ → [ˈmet͡ʃːə] ('medic'). In Barcelona, voiced stops may be fortified (geminated and devoiced); e.g. poble[ˈpɔpːɫə] 'village').
Catalan denti-alveolar stops can fully assimilate to the following consonant, producing gemination; this is particularly evident before nasal and lateral consonants: e.g. cotna ('rind'), motlle/motle ('spring'), and setmana ('week'). Learned words can alternate between featuring and not featuring such assimilation (e.g. atles[ˈadɫəs ~ ˈaɫːəs] 'atlas', administrar[ədminisˈtɾa ~ əmːinisˈtɾa] 'to administer').
Central Valencian features simple elision in many of these cases (e.g cotna[ˈkona], setmana[seˈmana]) though learned words don't exhibit either assimilation or elision: atles[ˈadles] and administrar[adminisˈtɾaɾ].
Stress most often occurs on any of the last three syllables of a word (e.g. brúixola[ˈbɾuʃuɫə] (EC) [ˈbɾujʃola] (WC) 'compass', càstig[ˈkastik] 'punishment', pallús[pəˈʎus] (EC) [paˈʎus] (WC) 'fool').
Compound words and adverbs formed with /ˈment/ may have a syllable with secondary stress (e.g. bonament[ˌbɔnəˈmen] (EC) [ˌbɔnaˈment] (WC) 'willingly'; parallamps[ˌpaɾəˈʎams] (EC) [ˌpaɾaˈʎamps] (WC) 'lightning conductor') but every lexical word has just one syllable with main stress.
Any consonant, as well as [j] and [w] may be an onset. Clusters may consist of a consonant plus a semivowel (C[j], C[w]) or an obstruent plus a liquid. Some speakers may have one of these obstruent-plus-liquid clusters preceding a semivowel, e.g. síndria[ˈsin.dɾjə] ('watermelon'); for other speakers, this is pronounced [ˈsin.dɾi.ə] (i.e. the semivowel must be syllabic in this context).
Word-medial codas are restricted to one consonant + [s] (extra[ˈɛks.tɾə] (EC) [ˈɛks.tɾa] (WC)). In the coda position, voice contrasts among obstruents are neutralized. Although there are exceptions (such as futur[fuˈtuɾ] 'future'), syllable-final rhotics are often lost before a word boundary or before the plural morpheme of most words: color[kuˈɫo] (EC) [koˈloɾ] (WC) ('color') vs. coloraina[kuɫuˈɾajnə] (EC) [koloˈɾajna] (WC) ('bright color').
In Central Eastern Catalan, obstruents fail to surface word-finally when preceded by a homorganic consonant (e.g. /nt/ → [n]). Complex codas simplify only if the loss of the segment doesn't result in the loss of place specification.
Suffixation examples in Eastern Catalan
When the suffix -erol[əˈɾɔɫ] is added to camp[ˈkam] it makes [kəmpəˈɾɔɫ], indicating that the underlying representation is /ˈkamp/ (with subsequent cluster simplification), however when the copula [ˈes] is added it makes [ˈkam ˈes]. The resulting generalization is that this underlying /p/ will only surface in a morphologically complex word. Despite this, word-final codas are not usually simplified in most of Balearic and Valencian (e.g. camp[ˈkamp]).
Word-initial clusters from Graeco-Latin learned words tend to drop the first phoneme: pneumàtic[nəwˈmatik] (EC) [newˈmatik] (WC) ('pneumatic'), pseudònim[səwˈðɔnim] (EC) [sewˈðɔnim] (WC) ('pseudonym'), pterodàctil[təɾuˈðaktiɫ] (EC) [teɾoˈðaktil] (WC) ('pterodactylus'), gnom[ˈnom] ('gnome').
Word-final obstruents are devoiced; however, they assimilate voicing of the following consonant, e.g. cuc de seda[ˈkuɡ‿də ˈsɛðə] (EC) [ˈkuɡ‿de ˈsɛða] (WC) ('silkworm'). In regular and fast speech, stops often assimilate the place of articulation of the following consonant producing phonetic gemination: tot bé[ˈtod‿ˈbe] → [ˈtob‿ˈbe] ('all good').
Word-final fricatives (except /f/) are voiced before a following vowel; e.g. bus enorme[ˈbuz‿əˈnormə] (EC) [ˈbuz‿eˈnorme] (WC) ('huge bus').
In Majorcan and Minorcan Catalan, /f/ undergoes total assimilation to a following consonant (just as stops do): buf gros[ˈbuɡ‿ˈɡɾɔs] ('large puff').
Regarding consonants, betacism and fricative–affricate alternations are the most prominent differences between dialects.
Other dialectal features are:
Vowel harmony with /ɔ/ and /ɛ/ in Valencian; this process is progressive (i.e. preceding vowels affect those pronounced afterwards) over the last unstressed vowel of a word; e.g. hora/ˈɔɾa/ → [ˈɔɾɔ]. However, there are cases where regressive metaphony occurs over pretonic vowels; e.g. tovallola/tovaˈʎɔla/ → [tɔvɔˈʎɔlɔ] ('towel'), afecta/aˈfɛkta/ → [ɛˈfɛktɛ] ('affects').
In a number of dialects unstressed /i/ can merge with /ə/ (Eastern dialects) or /e, a/ (Western dialects) according to the previous or following vowel (i.e. through assimilation when these vowels are high or dissimilation when they are mid or low). This merger is especially common in words with the prefix in or im.
In Southern Valencian subvarieties, especially in Alicante Valencian, the diphthong /ɔu/ (phonetically [ɒw] in Valencian) has become [ɑw]: bous[ˈbɑws] ('bulls').
In regular speech in both Eastern and Western Catalan dialects, word-initial unstressed /o/ –[u] or [o]– may be diphthongized to [əw] (Eastern Catalan) or [aw] (Western Catalan): ofegar[əwfəˈɣa]~[awfeˈɣa(ɾ)] ('to drown, suffocate').
In Alguerese and Ribagorçan word-final /ʎ/ and /ɲ/ are depalatized to [l] and [n], respectively; e.g. gall[ˈɡal] ('rooster'), any[ˈan] ('year').
Varying degrees of L-velarization among dialects: /l/ is dark irrespective of position in Balearic and Central Catalan and might tend to vocalization in some cases. In Western varieties like Valencian, this dark l contrasts with a clear l in intervocalic and word-initial position; while in other dialects, like Alguerese or Northern Catalan, /l/ is never velarized in any instance.
Iodització (also known as iesme històric "historic yeísmo") in regular speech in most of Majorcan, Northern Catalan and in the historic comarca of Vallès (Barcelona): /ʎ/ merges with [j] in some Latin-derived words with intervocalic L-palatalization (intervocalic /l/ + yod (-LI-, -LE-), -LL-, -CVL-, and -GVL-); e.g. palla[ˈpajə] ('straw'). An exception to this rule is initial L-palatalization; e.g. lluna[ˈʎunə] ('moon').
The dorso-palatal [ʝ] may occur in complementary distribution with [ɟ], only in Majorcan varieties that have dorso-palatals rather than the velars found in most dialects: guerra[ˈɟɛrə] ('war') vs. sa guerra[sə ˈʝɛrə] ('the war').
In northern and transitional Valencian, word-initial and postconsonantal /d͡ʒ/ (Eastern Catalan /ʒ/ and /d͡ʒ/) alternates with [ʲʒ] intervocalically; e.g. joc[ˈd͡ʒɔk] 'game', but pitjor[piˈʒo] 'worse', boja[ˈbɔʲʒa] 'crazy' (standard Valencian /ˈd͡ʒɔk/, /piˈd͡ʒːoɾ/; /ˈbɔd͡ʒa/; standard Catalan /ˈʒɔk/, /piˈd͡ʒo/ and /ˈbɔʒə/).
In northern Valencia and southern Catalonia /s/ has merged with realizations of /ʃ/ after a high front vocoid; e.g. terrissa[teˈriʃa] ('pottery'), insistisc[insiʃˈtiʃk] ('I insist') vs. pixar[piˈʃa ~ piˈʃaɾ] ('to pee'), deixar[deˈʃa ~ dejˈʃaɾ] ('to leave'). In these varieties /ʃ/ is not found after other voiced consonants, and merges with /t͡ʃ/ after consonants; e.g. punxa[ˈpuɲt͡ʃa] ('thorn').
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