Shwa for Spanish
El Alfabeto Shuá para Español

One often hears Spanish mentioned as an example of a language with good orthography, and there's a lot of truth to that. Spanish words are written as they're pronounced, and Spanish dictionaries don't even have pronunciation guides. But the choice of letters for sounds is in fact quite odd.

Spanish vowels are fine: there are only five vowels, always the same length, and a dozen or so diphthongs and tripthongs. The only oddity is that stressed e and o become ie and ue, respectively, but the orthography reflects that change, so it's not a problem. The problem is the consonants, which form a very regular system, but many of them are absent from the Roman alphabet, while others are represented by multiple letters or share a letter with other sounds.

Here is a summary of the problems:

In Shwa, we use voiced fricative letters bh dh zh gh between vowels and voiced plosive letters for b d dj g otherwise. Native Spanish speakers don't hear that difference, but Shwa is phonetic.

In addition to the problems above, Spanish - the world's second most spoken language with more than 330 million speakers - has substantial dialectical variation. In seseo dialects, including Andalusian and American Spanish, the th sound is missing altogether, and z is pronounced as s. In yeísto dialects, which include all the Spanish spoken outside of Castille and a strip of the Andes between Colombia and Paraguay, the ly sound is missing altogether and ll is pronounced as y. There are also dialects in which s is always pronounced as z (ceceo) or dropped (Cuba), in which ll is pronounced as sh (Argentina), in which x represents kh (Mexico), in which y is never affricated (Rio Plato), and many more.

When Spanish is written in the Roman alphabet, all these dialects write the words alike (with minor exceptions): Bilbaoans and Balboans agree that the word for match is spelled cerilla, they just don't agree whether it's pronounced therilya or seriya. But when writing Spanish in the Shwa alphabet, both dialects write it as they pronounce it, and we say they have two different words for match. That's no different from noticing that they also have different words for many other things, too.


Here are the Spanish consonants:

papel total chucho coquilla
bomba donde ya gringo
habia adios hoyo hogar
fosforo cerveza jengibre
mismo ninguno año
asno local llama huevo
siesta recorren orador


Here is a table showing the Spanish vowels:

i ui
e ie ue ey
a ia ua ay
o io uo oy
u iu uy

The first column shows the five vowels. They are written high when accented, low otherwise. The next three columns show diphthongs. The triphthongs (e.g. Uruguay) aren't shown, but they're straightforward.


Now that you've learned the letters, why don't you try reading a sentence?

No engendré yo hijo que fuese contra mi tierra.

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