Andalusian Spanish


1. Introduction
2. Pronunciation

    2.1 Seseo and ceceo

    2.2. Consonantal weakening

    2.3 Retention of [h] < Latin f-

3. Grammar
3. Lexicon
4. References

1. Introduction
Andalusia was the last region in Spain to be wrested from Moorish control. It is presumably for this reason that a Hispanized version of the old Arabic term Al-Andalus, which originally applied to the whole of Islamic Spain, has survived as the regional name. The actual reconquest of Andalusia was carried through in several stages, with the western and northeAn image from the San Isidoro de León Mozarabic Biblern cities (Córboba, Jaén, Seville and Cádiz) falling to the Christians in the thirteenth century, but the mountainous kingdom of Granada in the west holding out until 1492.

Despite the extended North African presence in the region, the modern Andalusian population is largely descended from Castilians who settled the area after it was reconquered and from the autochthonous Christian population (referred to as Mozarabs, < Arabic musta‘rab) that had inhabited the region from before the Moorish invasion of the eighth century. The Mozarabs originally spoke Mozarabic, a continuation of spoken Latin, but by the late Middle Ages this variety of Romance appears to have close to extinction, having been displaced by a combination of Arabic on the one hand and other forms of Ibero-Romance, including Castilian, on the other.

Neither Mozarabic nor Arabic appears to have exercised significant structural influence on Andalusian varieties of Spanish, although it seems reasonable to suppose that there was at least some lexical borrowing. It should be noted, however, that virtually all the Spanish words that are of Arabic origin – almohada ‘pillow’, albañil ‘mason/builder’, alcalde ‘mayor’ etc. – are general Spanish words and hence are not specific to the Andalusian dialect.

The distinctive character of Andalusian Spanish should thus be seen as resulting primarily from internal sound change rather than from language contact. The first documented evidence of divergence from Castilian Spanish is from the early sixteenth century, but in all probability the process was underway long before that time.

2. Pronunciation

2.1 Seseo and ceceo
Probably the best-known feature of Andalusian Spanish – one that it shares with Canary Island and Latin American Spanish – is the merger of the coronal fricative phonemes /s/ and /θ/, which in Castilian Spanish correspond to the letters s and z (or c before i or e) respectively. In the speech of many Andalusian speakers, this merger is manifested as seseo, whereby the sibilant /s/ replaces the non-sibilant /θ/. In such dialects, su aceite ‘his/her oil’, for example, is pronounced [swaˈsejte]. Alternatively, ceceo may be observable, whereby /
θ/ entirely replaces /s/, as in [θwaˈθejte].


The /θ/ of Andalusian ceceante dialects may not be completely identical with the equivalent sound in Castilian Spanish (corresponding to the letter z, or to c before e or i). However, it is recognizably a non-sibilant articulated at the dental place of articulation, meaning that the best match in terms of the International Phonetic Associations consonantal inventory is [θ] rather than [s], or any subcategory of the latter. Hualde (2005: 153) notates the sound using [θ] modified by the IPA’s dental diacritic, describing it as being ‘dentalized’ and ‘less sibilant’ than the (laminal) /s/ deployed in seseo.

A further reason for associating Andalusian /θ/ with its Castilian counterpart is that both sounds descend from the same phoneme, namely the Old Spanish voiceless dental affricate /ts/, found for example in the word cabeça ‘head’, which was pronounced [kaˈbetsa]. The /ts/ corresponding to the letter ç in this word – z in the modern orthography – has evolved to /θ/ in both Castilian Spanish and in those varieties of Andalusian Spanish that have ceceo: [kaˈβeθa] cabeza.

Traditionally ceceo is associated with southern Andalusia, as is indicated in the map below, with seseo predominating in northern Andalusia and in a small island around the metropolis of Seville city. In broad terms, this probably holds true for the present day, but in coastal capitals like Cádiz and Málaga seseo is arguably the commoner of the two phenomena.


Distribution of seseo and ceceo in Andalusia

The origin of ceceo and seseo
In addition to the voiceless dental affricate /ts/, mentioned above, Old Spanish had a voiced dental affricate, /dz/, which was represented in the orthography by the letter z (not to be confused with the modern letter z, which, as just noted, stands for a voiceless phoneme). For example dezir, the forerunner of modern decir ‘to say’, was pronounced [deˈdziɾ]. Like /ts/, this voiced affricate was deaffricated at an unspecified time during the late Middle Ages, and its early modern reflex subsequently devoiced, thereby merging with the deaffricated reflex of /ts/. While it is impossible to know for certain how these fricative reflexes of /ts/ and /dz/ were pronounced, it seems safe to assume that they were either fully dental or at least partially dental, rather than purely alveolar.

In Andalusian Spanish, these dental fricatives merged with and displaced the alveolar fricatives /s/ and /z/, which were the sounds represented in the orthography by ss and s respectively. Following this merger, not only were words like cabeça and dezir pronounced with dental fricatives in Andalusian Spanish, as they were in the Castilian dialect, but so too were words like passo ‘step’ (modern spelling: paso) and casa ‘house’, which in Castilian Spanish continued to be pronounced with (apical) alveolar fricatives. Thus modern Andalusian Spanish, unlike modern Castilian Spanish, exhibits no residue of the earlier distinction between dentals (originally /ts/ and /dz/) and alveolars (/s/ and /z/). It is the absence of this distinction which underlies seseo and ceceo, although it is the latter term, or rather the verb cecear (often spelled çeçear), that was originally used to characterize the underlying phonemic merger.

Before being applied to Andalusian Spanish, the verb çeçear/cecear was used generally to denote an unspecified speech disorder, probably either stammering or lisping, a sense that is nicely illustrated in the extract below from the thirteenth-century General Estoria.

& quemos en somo dela lengua de guisa que dalli tomo por que siempre ceceo despues quando fablaua.
‘And he [Moses] burned the top of his tongue, and to this event he [Josephus] attributed the fact that he lisped/stammered afterwards whenever he spoke.’
(General Estoria I, fol. 137v)

The more recent, implicitly phonological sense of this verb, together with that of the related noun ceceo, is not unambiguously attested until the early seventeenth century, by which time it refers to the tendency to pronounce the letter s as if it was a c preceding i or e, a sound also written at the time as ç. Thus Covarrubias in his Tesoro of 1611 observes that ‘otros [Reynos] pronuncian la c por la s [. . .] lo que comúnmente llaman cecear’ (‘other [kingdoms] pronounce s as c, which is commonly called cecear’).

There is an earlier, ambiguous reference to Andalusian ceceo/çeçeo, by the conquistador Bernal Díaz del Castillo, writing in the late 1560s apropos of an encounter in 1519 with a captain from Sanlúcar de Barrameda in Cádiz province:
El capitán Luys Marín fue de buen cuerpo e menbrudo y esforçado; era estevudo y la barba algo rrubia, y el rostro largo y alegre, eçeto que tenya unas señales como que abía tenido birgüelas; sería de hasta treynta años quando acá pasó, era natural de San Lúcar; çeçeava vn poco como sebillano; fue buen ginete y de buena conbersaçión; murió en Mechuacán.
‘Captain Luis Marín was well built, powerful and brave; he was bow-legged with a rather light beard and a long, happy face, except that it bore some marks suggesting he had had the pox. He must have been about thirty years old when he came here and he was originally from Sanlúcar. He çeçeo-d a bit like someone from Seville. He was an accomplished horseman and good company. He died in Mechuacán.’
(Bernal Díaz del Castillo, Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España, 1568)
The observation that the captain çeçeava, together with the suggestion that this was normal in Seville (probably the province rather than the city), is certainly suggestive. Most probably, however, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, himself from Old Castile, was simply commenting disparagingly on Luis Marín’s pronunciation rather than making a statement about his phonemic inventory.

As regards the term seseo, this was originally used in respect of Valencian speech, where it referred to the converse merger to ceceo, i.e. one in which alveolar /s/ displaced the reflex(es) of the medieval dentals. Arguably modern Andalusian seseo is more analogous to the Valencian type of phenomenon than it is to ceceo. For although the /s/ used in Andalusian seseo lacks the retracted or apical character of the Valencian /s/, and indeed the Castilian /s/, it is recognizably a sibilant, whereas ceceo involves the non-sibilant /θ/.

Nevertheless, according to the standard view (see e.g. Lapesa 1981, Penny 2002 and Lispki 1994), both ceceo/çeçeo and Andalusian seseo represent a single phenomenon, synchronically and in historical terms. In that model, /ts/ and /dz/ deaffricated initially to laminal, i.e. denti-alevolar (Spanish: predorso-dental) sibilants, the voiceless member of the pair being essentially the same /s/ that is found in modern French words like façade or poisson ‘fish’. Over the course of the sixteenth century (later according to some authors), this laminal /s/ is assumed to have dissibilated and fronted in Castilian Spanish, resulting in /θ/, but to have remained as a laminal sibilant in Andalusian Spanish, where, together with its voiced counterpart, it had displaced the alveolar sibilants represented in the orthography by ss and s, this merger being initially referred to as ceceo/çeçeo but subsequently being reinterpreted as a species of seseo.

Within this overall pattern of development, what we now think of as Andalusian ceceo – in contradistinction to seseo – is said to have arisen when the above-mentioned laminal Andalusian sibilant, by then the unique reflex of /ts, dz, s, z/ in the regional dialect, fronted and dissibilated to /θ/, replicating to an extent what occurred to the laminal /s/ in Castilian Spanish. According to Penny (2000: 119–120) this latter process occurred in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries and began in the coastal regions of Andalusia.

In short, according to the standard view, ceceo in the modern sense is no more than the deployment of a locality-specific and relatively new fronted/dissibilated variant of the laminal /s/ that has always occurred in seseo. Implicitly, therefore, the historical phenomenon of ceceo/çeçeo alluded to by sixteenth-century observers such as Bernal Díaz del Castillo is, in modern terms, actually seseo. That is to say, historical ceceo/çeçeo, at least in the early decades of the sixteenth century, reduces to the use of a laminal sibilant in contexts in which Castilian Spanish had an apical one, given that both the Andalusian and the Castilian varieties of the time are assumed to have deployed the laminal sibilant in contexts in which modern Castilian has /θ/.

While an account along these lines appears likely to be correct, in broad terms at least, it should be noted that there is no unambiguous evidence to support the notion that the evolution from /ts/ to /θ/ involved an intermediate stage during which the sound in question was articulated as a laminal sibilant. All that can be known with certainty is that the end result is /θ/; indeed, even the existence of the medieval affricates /ts/ and /dz/ falls within the realm of plausible hypothesis rather than established fact.

2.2 Consonantal weakening
Another dominant theme of Andalusian Spanish is consonantal weakening. In syllable-initial position, this is reflected in the realization of /x/ as [h] (as in [ˈpaha] paja ‘straw’), in a tendency towards eliminating intervocalic or pre-liquid voiced obstruents (as in [besˈtio] vestido ‘dress’ and [ˈma
ɾe] madre ‘mother’) and in so-called CH-lenition, the realization of /tʃ/ as [ʃ] (as in [ˈnoʃe] noche ‘night’).

In syllable-final position, the weakening theme is reflected primarily in phenomena relating to /s/ and the liquids.

Syllable-final /s/ may be realized as [h] (as in [ehˈpaɲa] España), it may be elided (as in [laˈola] las olas ‘the waves’), or there may be a process of assimilation vis-à-vis the following consonant. When the following consonant is a voiceless obstruent or a sonorant, the output of the process is usually a geminate, as in [eloˈβippo] el obispo ‘the bishop’ or [ˈmimmo] mismo ‘same’. With voiced obstruents, on the other hand, the output is usually a single (voiceless) consonant: [laxaˈʝinah] las gallinas ‘the hens’, [laˈɸolah] las bolas ‘the balls’.

Among some speakers, elision of final /s/ may be accompanied by a lowering of the tongue position during the articulation of the preceding vowel. As a consequence, the morphological value expressed in standard Spanish by final /s/ comes to be marked by vowel quality. For example, the distinction between mano ‘hand’ and manos ‘hands’ comes to be reflected in a vowel quality opposition, viz. [ˈmano] ~ [ˈmanɔ]. In the same way, the distinction between tiene ‘he/she has’ and tienes ‘you have’ is indicated by the contrast between [e] and [ɛ]: [ˈtjene] ~ [ˈtjenɛ]. This process, which Spanish commentators usually refer to as a case of desdoblamiento fonológico (‘phonemic split’), is characteristic of Eastern Andalusian varieties of Spanish.


As regards syllable-final liquids, the trueque ‘confusion’ of [ɾ] and [l] is a notable feature of much unmonitored speech, with the tap [ɾ] often appearing where orthography calls for [l] and, less commonly, the lateral appearing in words which in the standard language have the tap: [baɾˈkon] balcón ‘balcony’, [aɾβaˈɲi] albañil ‘builder’, [ˈkwelpo] cuerpo ‘body’. In word-final position, liquids are frequently elided, as in the albañil example just given.


2.3 Retention of [h] < Latin f
Finally, the retention of [h] as a reflex of initial or post-prefix Latin /f/, as in [ahoˈɣaɾ] ahogar (< Lat. offocare ‘strangle’), is sometimes a feature of vernacular Andalusian Spanish. It is certainly one that regularly finds its way into representations of ‘deep’ Andalusian culture. For example the popular term for Flamenco music is cante jondo [ˈkante ˈhondo], which literally means ‘deep singing’. Spanish hondo ‘deep’ comes from Latin fundum, the initial f having no reflex in standard Spanish but surviving as [h], designated orthographically by the letter j, in the relevant speech varieties.


3. Grammar

An emblematic feature of Andalusian Spanish – in the west at least – is the use of ustedes as the unmarked second-person plural subject pronoun, i.e. in those contexts where Castilian Spanish has vosotros/-as. Among educated speakers, ustedes is always accompanied by third-person plural verb endings, although in vernacular speech, combinations such as ustedes habláis ‘you speak’, ustedes coméis ‘you eat’ etc. are not uncommon.


In eastern Andalusia – especially in the provinces of Granada and Almería – ustedes is usually limited to being a deferential pronoun, as in the Castilian standard.



4. Lexicon

Items that are characteristically Andalusian include the following: cachete ‘buttock’, cortijo ‘farm’, achancar ‘leave speechless’, churri ‘feeble/vapid’, arrevolver ‘to stir’, arrobal (= a unit of land measurement), azotea ‘roof terrace’, cachirulo ‘small pot’, cansino ‘tiresome’, cobija ‘blanket’, chuchurri(d)o ‘wilted’, escupidera ‘chamberpot’, gachón ‘charming/spoilt’, gazpachuelo (= soup-like dish with eggs), malaje ‘malign/disagreeable’, salmorejo (soup-like dish made with bread, garlic, tomatoes etc.), tabarro/tábarro ‘nuisance’, tejeringo ‘churro/fritter’, embuste ‘lie’, esmayado ‘starving’.

5. References 

Aldrete, Bernado de. 1614. Varias antigüedades de España, África y otras provincias. Antwerp: Juan Hasrey.

Armstrong, Nigel and Ian Mackenzie. 2018. ‘Speaker variables in Romance: when demography and ideology collide.’ In Manual of Romance Sociolinguistics, ed. by Wendy Ayres-Bennett and Janice Carruthers, pp.173–196. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Guitarte, Guillermo. 1992. ‘Cecear y palabras afines.’ In Actas del II Congreso Internacional de Historia de la Lengua Española. Tomo I, Madrid, Pabellón de España, pp. 127-164.

Hualde, José Ignacio. 2005. The sounds of Spanish. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lapesa, Rafael. 1981. Historia de la lengua española (9th edition). Madrid: Gredos.

Lipski, John M. 1994. Latin American Spanish. London: Longman.

Menéndez Pidal, Ramón. 1958. Manual de gramática histórica española (10th edition). Madrid: Espasa Calpe.

Nebrija, Elio Antonio de. 1492. Gramática castellana (BNE INC/2142).

Penny, Ralph. 2000. Variation and change in Spanish. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Penny, Ralph. 2002. A history of the Spanish language (2nd edition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.