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https://www.duolingo.com/beadspitter

z <=> c (?)

This is a post about trying to understand the internal logic of how language is written down and pronounced and the relationship between the two - like why the 'g' sounds are different in 'magazine' and 'magistrate'. If you don't care, please just pass on by.

I understand a lot of the orthographic changes in verb stems for different conjugations, tenses, and moods. I understand, for instance, why seguir is conjugated with no 'u' present in the first person, but it is present in the other conjugations (yo sigo, tú sigues, ella sigue, etc.).

(It's because consistently in Spanish - and commonly in English - a g followed by e or i is soft (English: gently, Spanish: gente), but a g followed by an o, a, or u is hard (English: gantry, Spanish: ganar). So since 'seguir' is pronounced with a hard g, there has to be a silent u keeping it hard when the following vowels are e or i, but not in 'sigo' where it's followed by an o. Similarly, diriger has a soft g, so the first person form uses a j: yo dirijo, tú diriges, el dirige, etc. C follows similar rules, which is why it gets replaced by a 'qu' in things like the preterite of 'buscar': yo busqué,buscaste, ella buscó. And why we get zc for c sounds that are meant to be soft: yo conozco, tú conoces, usted conoce. And so forth.)

I'm explaining all this to make it clear that I understand a lot of the orthographic necessities for verb form changes. I also, of course, understand that some things are just plain irregular and just have to be learned the way they are. There's no straight-forward explanation for why pongo, pones, pone in the present develops a whole different stem in the preterite and becomes puse, pusiste, puso. Probably there is a reason, but it's obscure enough that it makes more sense to treat it as random and just memorize it.

So my question is, is there an orthographic rule which dictates the change between z and c? For instance, the subjunctive of almuerzo, almuerzas, almuerza, almorzamos, almuerzan (including the plural forms now just because the nosotros form is so commonly an exception, but not here) is almuerce, almuerces, almuerce, almorcemos, almuercen. More familiarly, the preterite of hacer is hice, hiciste, hizo, hicimos, hicieron.

The second example is actually easier to understand, since it's almost identical to what I identified before with soft c's, except that instead of being 'zc' in front of the o, it's just 'z'. I presume that particular difference can be relegated to the 'just memorize it' camp.

But the first example is baffling me. Does z sound different in front of a, o, or u, the way g and c do? I hadn't thought so. But if it's always pretty much an 's' sound, then why change it to a c when the following vowel is an e? It looks like one of the same kind of orthographic - rather than truly irregular - changes, but I don't understand it.

Can anyone shed any light on this?

3 years ago

5 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/m.tastic
m.tastic
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As far as I can tell, z is only used before a, o, and u, and at the end of a word. It replaces the cedilla from Middle Spanish. So "empieça" becomes "empezar", but not "empece" because the c was already soft. At least I think so.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/beadspitter

You're right. I feel stupid that I never realized that before. It's not conclusive, but browsing wordreference.gom for Spanish words that start with 'ze' or 'zi' only comes up with loan-words, and many of those still have alternate spellings starting with 'c'.

So it's not that it changes pronunciation, it's that it doesn't (mostly) occur. The connection with ç makes perfect sense - in fact, since the first language I learned in classes was French, I have occasionally wondered vaguely why Spanish doesn't have a ç. Answer: because it has z instead.

Thank you!

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/J.R.Nogal
J.R.Nogal
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That is right. The phoneme /z/ generates the serie za, ce, ci, zo, zu. ca, co, cu are part of the series of the phoneme /k/: ca(ka), que(ke), qui(ki), co(ko), cu(ku)

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/F572D297

That seems logical to me and I know the "ç" it is used in Portuguese, but it sounds like a "S" or "Z"?

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/JoshBauer1

Si se conjuga un verbo o se hace una palabra plural y hay una "e" o "i" después de la "z", la "z" se cambia a una "c". La "c" se cambia a la "z", si está antes de la "a", la "o", o la "u". Hay una excepción, en el caso de verbos en que la "c" está después de una vocal, en ese caso la "c" se cambia a "zc", como el verbo "conocer" o "traducir", pero no en "vencer" porque hay un consonante antes de la "c".

3 years ago