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Review of  Sonido y sentido

Reviewer: John Joseph Stevens
Book Title: Sonido y sentido
Book Author: Jorge Guitart
Publisher: Georgetown University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Spanish
Issue Number: 16.964

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Date: Tue, 29 Mar 2005 12:09:26 -0500
From: John Stevens
Subject: Sonido y sentido: Theoria y práctica de la pronunciación del

AUTHOR: Guitart, Jorge M.
TITLE: Sonido y sentido
SUBTITLE: Teoría y práctica de la pronunciación del español con
audio CD
SERIES: Georgetown Studies in Spanish Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Georgetown University Press
YEAR: 2004

John J. Stevens, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures,
University of North Carolina Wilmington


This volume is an introduction to Spanish phonetics and phonology. It
is written entirely in Spanish and is intended mainly for English-
speaking undergraduate students of Spanish in the United States.

In the preface, Guitart states that this book will offer assistance to
those whose goal is to learn to communicate orally in Spanish based
on the following assumptions: First, the more a second language (L2)
learner approximates the pronunciation of the target language, the
easier it will be to understand him or her. Second, it is possible to
improve L2 pronunciation by combining conscious knowledge of the
language with practice such that this knowledge becomes
unconscious and is therefore applied automatically. Finally, an
awareness of how Spanish sounds are organized within a system
combined with a knowledge of the phonological processes to which
they are subject will facilitate the pronunciation and comprehension of
words and phrases in which these sounds appear (p. xix).

The book contains 20 chapters and includes a glossary of terms, a
select bibliography, and an index. Chapter 1 presents some
fundamental notions regarding human languages in general and the
Spanish language in particular. Chapters 2 through 4 introduce
articulatory phonetics and describe the sounds of Spanish in
traditional terms of voicing and manner and place of articulation.
Chapters 5 through 8 offer an introduction to the
theoretical/descriptive analysis of Spanish phonology from a
generative perspective, which assumes that there are invariable,
underlying psychological forms, variable surface forms and processes
that relate the two levels. Chapters 9 through 19 combine the
description of Spanish sounds with practice exercises designed to
improve pronunciation by reducing or eliminating the amount of
English ''accent'' exhibited in L2 Spanish. These practice exercises
are supported by a companion CD, which contains the audio version
of the exercises. Each of the chapters in this part of the book also
contains a section on the significant dialectal differences exhibited by
the phenomena being examined in that particular chapter (''Variación
lectal de interés''), as well as a section detailing important
pronunciation differences between Spanish and English (''Diferencias
principales con el inglés''). Finally, chapter 20 focuses on the most
common errors found among English-speaking learners of L2 Spanish
and offers advice on how to achieve a more native-like accent in


This is a very well written and organized book. Guitart provides clear
explanations of content generally considered difficult by
undergraduate students, especially those with no previous
background in phonetics or linguistics. As an aid to comprehension,
the author makes use of bold type script, summarizes key concepts
that appear in the margins of the text, gives occasional English
translations, and concludes each chapter with a summary section that
synthesizes the chapter's content and reviews important technical

Authors of Spanish phonetics and phonology textbooks have tended
to employ different phonetic alphabets to represent the sounds of
Spanish (e.g., Dalbor 1997; Hammond 2001; Teschner 1999). Guitart
solves this problem by wisely adopting the use of the International
Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) on the grounds that it is the most widely used
phonetic alphabet in the world. He offers ample opportunity to
practice using the IPA in the transcription exercises provided
throughout the book.

Perhaps the book's greatest advantage is its level of detail. Guitart
goes beyond a mere contrastive analysis of the differences between
Spanish and English by providing a complete account of Spanish
dialectal and stylistic variation. Throughout the book, the author's
descriptive analyses are supported by theoretical explanations that
emphasize the relationship between the physical manifestation of
speech sounds and the psychological aspects of speech production
and perception.

Paradoxically, the book's greatest strength--its level of detail and
theoretical support--may not make it the best choice for nonspecialists
merely interested in improving their Spanish pronunciation. For
example, the author states that [β ð ɣ] are continuant sounds that can be realized as either fricatives or approximants: These sounds are considered obstruents when they are fricatives, but should be considered as sonorants when they are approximants (p. 31). While this information may be important for a specialist, a student with no previous background may be intimidated and confused by the technical aspects of the description, especially because there are no special symbols designating the approximant pronunciation of these sounds. Similarly, the author describes voiced fricative variants [β ð ɣ] for the phonemes /p t k/, respectively, which occur post-nuclearly in an allegretto (moderately fast) style (p. 100). Again, while useful for the serious student specializing in Spanish phonetics, this additional information regarding the occurrence of the voiced fricatives may prove disconcerting to those students already struggling to sort out the allophonic distribution of the plosive/fricative alternation of the voiced plosive phonemes /b d g/.

Although Guitart does an excellent job of detailing variation among
different dialects of Spanish in the chapter sections entitled ''Variación
dialectal'', he fails to include the voiceless uvular fricative /χ/ in the chapter dealing specifically with fricatives. He does mention this sound in the beginning of the book as part of a short section on uvular sounds, where he states that in some sublects of the Spanish of Castile uvular fricative is pronounced instead of velar [x] (p. 37). The pronunciation of the uvular fricative is actually quite common in Spain. According to Canfield, ''the [x] of Spain (except the South) is usually uvular'' (1981, p. 10). If in the chapter devoted to fricatives Guitart describes the interdental /θ/ and the apico-alveolar /s̺/ fricatives as characteristic features of the dialects of central and northern Spain, he should then also include a detailed description of uvular /χ/, which is a common and very salient feature of these dialects.

The book's practice exercises are good. Guitart offers opportunities
throughout the book to practice phonetic transcription, and the ''Para
pensar'' sections provided in each chapter force students to think
critically about the topics discussed in that particular chapter.
Although the author does furnish an answer key for the ''Para pensar''
exercises, the book would have benefitted as well from the inclusion of
answers to the transcription exercises thereby enabling students to
check their own work.

The quality of the sound of the companion CD is not the best due to a
reverberation effect evident in the recorded practice exercises. The
CD program would have been strengthened by the inclusion of
recorded samples of dialectal variation, as well as samples illustrating
pronunciation differences between largo, andante, allegretto, and
presto styles of speech.

The above criticisms are not meant to diminish in any way the overall
excellence of this book and should be taken instead as suggestions
that may possibly benefit a future edition. All things considered, this
work represents a valuable contribution to the field and will be
especially useful for advanced students specializing in the field of
Spanish phonetics and phonology and/or Hispanic linguistics.


Canfield, D. Lincoln. 1981. Spanish Pronunciation in the Americas.
Chicago: U of Chicago P.

Dalbor, John B. 1997. Spanish Pronunciation: Theory and Practice.
3rd ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Hammond, Robert M. 2001. The Sounds of Spanish: Analysis and
Application (with Special Reference to American English). Somerville,
MA: Cascadilla Press.

Teschner, Richard. 1999. Camino oral: Fonética, fonología y
práctica de los sonidos del español. 2nd. ed. New York: McGraw Hill.

John J. Stevens received his Ph.D. in Hispanic linguistics from the
University of Southern California. He is currently an assistant
professor of Spanish at the University of North Carolina Wilmington,
where he teaches courses in Spanish language and linguistics. His
research interests include applied linguistics, sociolinguistics, and
phonetics. He has published articles on Spanish dialectal variation
and the acquisition of Spanish as a second language.

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 1589010264
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 344
Prices: U.S. $ 44.95