Spanish taps and trills: Phonological structure of an isolated opposition

John M. Lipski

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18 Scopus citations


The Spanish opposition of a tap [r] and trill [r] is unusual in several re-spects. Most contemporary phonological analyses postulate a single phoneme /r/, deriving the phonologically distinctive intervocalic trill from geminate /r-r/. This type of analysis fails to address several important issues. These include the fact that [r] is the only Spanish consonant which occurs onset-initially in word-internal position but cannot occur word-initially, and the fact that the intervocalic trill [R] is clearly onset-initial, thus requiring a derivation which radically changes the syllabic structure from an underlying heterosyllabic geminate to a superficial onset-initial trill. In the present study an attempt is made to unify surface [r] and [R] via reference to syllabic templates, which allow a maximum of two consonantal elements in the onset. Manifestations of [R] are analyzed as maximizing the syllabic template, while intervocalic [r] is derived from a more marked underlying structure, preattached to the prosodic skeleton. Non-preattached /r/ is expanded to a dual structure, which ultimately produces [R], in appropriate contexts. The relatively marked nature of the [r]-[R] opposition is demonstrated, and it is claimed that this opposition is not a carryover from Latin quantitative distinctions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)153-174
Number of pages22
JournalFolia Linguistica
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 1990

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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