Why Spaniards “lisp”…

Ferdinand, the lisping kingIn class, yesterday, Forrest “Diego” Hull asked why it is that Spaniards pronounce words that have the letters “z” and “c,” (after the letters “i” and “e”) with what sounds like a lisp (or a soft “th” sound). I told the class the apocryphal story of the lisping King Ferdinand, in the 13th Century, whose subjects were so fearful of offending him, they took on the lisping “th” sound. Clearly, this story could not be true. If it were, Spaniards would pronounce words beginning with “s” with this same, soft “th” sound. (Admire the image of King Ferdinand, lisping on his throne…!)

Gerald Erichson, on the about.com website, provided a message from a Spaniard, who is a grad student in Spanish to explain this linguistic phenomenon. He expressed his irritation with those who repeat the “lisping king” story:

“Firstly, the ceceo is not a lisp. A lisp is the mispronunciation of the sibilant s sound. In Castilian Spanish, the sibilant s sound exists and is represented by the letter s. The ceceo comes in to represent the sounds made by the letters z and cfollowed by i or e.

“In medieval Castilian there were two sounds that eventually evolved into the ceceo, the ç (the cedilla) as in plaça and the z as in dezir. The cedilla made a /ts/ sound and the z a /dz/ sound. This gives more insight into why those similar sounds may have evolved into the ceceo.”

Read more at: Origins of the Spanish \"lisp\"

Have you found other explanations for the “ceceo”? Post them on the blog, on the “BCC Breaking News and Posts” page…

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