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Yeísmo (Spanish pronunciation: [ɟ͡ʝeˈ]; literally "Y-ism") is a distinctive feature of certain languages, many dialects of the Spanish language in particular. This feature is characterized by the loss of the traditional palatal lateral approximant phoneme [ʎ] (About this soundlisten) (written ⟨ll⟩) and its merger into the phoneme [ʝ] (About this soundlisten) (written ⟨y⟩), usually realized as a palatal approximant or affricate. It is an example of delateralization.

In other words, ⟨ll⟩ and ⟨y⟩ represent the same sound [ʝ] (About this soundlisten) when yeísmo is present. The term yeísmo comes from the Spanish name for the letter ⟨y⟩ (ye[1]). Over 90% of Spanish dialects exhibit this phonemic merger.[2] Similar mergers exist in other languages, such as French, Italian, Hungarian, Catalan, Basque, Portuguese or Galician, with different social considerations.

Occasionally, the term lleísmo (pronounced [ʎeˈizmo]) has been used to refer to the maintenance of the phonemic distinction between /ʝ/ (spelled "y") and /ʎ/ (spelled "ll").[3][4][5]


Regions with the merger (yeísmo) in dark blue, regions with distinction in pink

Most dialects that merge the two sounds represented by ⟨ll⟩ and ⟨y⟩ realize the remaining sound as a voiced palatal fricative [ʝ] (About this soundlisten), which is similar to the ⟨y⟩ in English your, but with stronger friction. However, it sometimes becomes a voiced palatal affricate [ɟʝ] (About this soundlisten), sounding somewhat like ⟨j⟩ in English jar, especially when appearing after /n/ or /l/ or at the beginning of a word. For example, relleno is pronounced [reˈʝeno] and conllevar is pronounced [koɲɟ͡ʝeˈβaɾ] or [koɲdʒeˈβaɾ].

Zheísmo and sheísmo[edit]

In most of Argentina and Uruguay the merged sound is pronounced as a sibilant [ʒ];[6] this is referred to as zheísmo.

The [ʒ] sound itself may have originated in Argentina and Uruguay as an influence of local Amerindian languages on the colonial pronunciation of the Spanish language typical of the area's inhabitants of that time, a pronunciation that persisted after the mass immigration of post-colonial Italians and Spaniards into the region which otherwise transformed the demographics and affected aspects of the Spanish language there, including most noticeably intonation. Prior to this post-colonial mass immigration wave, as most other South American countries, their populations were similarly composed of a mestizo majority (those of mixed Spaniard and Amerindian ancestry). In Buenos Aires the sound [ʒ] has recently been devoiced to [ʃ] (sheísmo) among younger speakers.[7]

In the Andean Sierra region of Ecuador, by contrast, where the Amerindian-origin pronunciation of /ʎ/ as [ʒ] survives among the majority population of colonial-descended mestizos, the sibilant has not merged as in Argentina and Uruguay, and so a distinction is also maintained but with ⟨ll⟩ representing [ʒ] (rather than the original Spanish [ʎ] sound) and ⟨y⟩ representing [ʝ].[8] In the orthography of several Ecuadorian dialects of Quichua, under the influence of the orthography of Ecuadorian Andean Spanish, the grapheme /ll/ is also used to represent the [ʒ] sound.[9] Thus, the Andean Ecuadorian town of Pallatanga, in Chimborazo Province, is correctly pronounced as [paʒatanka] in Quichua[citation needed], where ⟨ll⟩ represents [ʒ] in the orthography of Ecuadorian Andean Spanish and Ecuadorian Quichua dialects, not as [paʝatanga] as it is pronounced by Coastal Ecuadorians and other yeísta Spanish-speakers.

Parts of Colombia, like the Andean regions of Ecuador, maintain a distinction between ⟨ll⟩ representing [ʒ] and ⟨y⟩ representing [ʝ]. This type of distinction is found in southern Antioquia Department and the southeast end of Norte de Santander Department. A greater portion of Andean Colombia maintains the distinction between [ʎ] and [ʝ]. Overall, Colombia presents great variety with regards to yeísmo.[10]

Rioplatense does not, however, use the sibilant sound for word-initial /i̯/ (spelt hi- + vowel). Therefore hierro [ˈjero] is distinct from yerro [ˈʒero]. These two words are merged in most other varieties of Spanish.[citation needed]

The same shift from [ʎ] to [ʒ] to [ʃ] (to modern [x]) historically occurred in the development of Old Spanish; this accounts for such pairings as Spanish mujer vs Portuguese mulher, ojo vs olho, hija vs filha and so on.

Extension of yeísmo[edit]

Currently, the highlands of Colombia are shifting to yeísmo with older people being the only keeping the distinction, which is completely lost in people born in the 1980s onwards.

The distinction between /ʝ/ and /ʎ/ remains in the Philippines, Andean Peru, Paraguay, Bolivia, and the northeastern portions of Argentina that border with Paraguay.[11]

Yeísmo has begun appearing in the speech of Ecuador's middle and upper classes.[12]

The retention of a distinction between /ʎ/ and /ʝ/ is more common in areas where Spanish coexists with other languages, either with Amerindian languages, such as Aymara, Quechua, and Guaraní, which, with the exception of Guaraní, themselves possess the phoneme /ʎ/,[13] or in Spain itself in areas with linguistic contact with Catalan and Basque.

In Spain, most of the northern half of the country and several areas in the south used to retain the distinction, but yeísmo has spread throughout the country, and the distinction is now lost in most of Spain, particularly outside areas with linguistic contact with Catalan and Basque.[14]

Minimal pairs[edit]

Yeísmo produces homophony in a number of cases. For example, the following word pairs sound the same to speakers of dialects with yeísmo, but they would be minimal pairs in regions with distinction:

  • haya ("beech tree" / "that there be") ~ halla ("he/she/it finds")
  • cayó ("he/she/it fell") ~ calló ("he/she/it became silent")
  • hoya ("pit, hole") ~ olla ("pot")
  • baya ("berry") / vaya ("that he/she/it go") ~ valla ("fence")

The relatively low frequency of both /ʝ/ and /ʎ/ makes confusion unlikely. However, orthographic mistakes are common (for example, writing llendo instead of yendo). A notable case is the name of the island of Mallorca: since Mallorcans tend to pronounce intervocalic /ʎ/ as /j/, central Catalan scribes assumed the authentic (and correct) name Maiorca was another case of this and hypercorrected it to Mallorca. This new form ended up becoming the usual pronunciation, even for native Mallorcans.[15]

Similar phenomena in other languages[edit]

Romance languages[edit]

  • Standard Portuguese distinguishes /ʎ/, /j/ and /lj/. Many speakers merge /ʎ/ and /lj/, making olho and óleo both /ˈɔʎu/. Some speakers, mainly of the Caipira dialect of Brazil, merge /ʎ/ and /j/, making telha and teia both /ˈtejɐ/. Some Caipira speakers distinguish etymological /ʎ/ and /lj/, pronouncing olho /ˈɔju/ and óleo /ˈɔʎu/.
  • In French, historical /ʎ/ turned into /j/, but the spelling ⟨ill⟩ was preserved, hence briller ([bʁ], originally [bʁi.ʎe]), Versailles ([vɛʁ.sɑj], originally [vɛʁ.sɑʎ]).
  • The Romanesco dialect and the Southern dialects of Italian pronounces standard Italian /ʎ/ as /j/.


  • In Hungarian, /ʎ/ in most dialects turned into /j/, but the spelling ⟨ly⟩ was preserved, hence lyuk [juk].
  • In Swedish, /lj/ turned into /j/, but the spelling ⟨lj⟩ was preserved, hence ljus [ˈjʉːs].

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "La "i griega" se llamará "ye"" Cuba Debate. 2010-11-05. Retrieved 25 November 2010.
  2. ^ Coloma (2011), p. 103.
  3. ^ Álvarez Menéndez (2005), p. 104.
  4. ^ Schwegler, Kempff & Ameal-Guerra (2009), p. 399.
  5. ^ Travis (2009), p. 76.
  6. ^ Martínez-Celdrán, Fernández-Planas & Carrera-Sabaté (2003), p. 258.
  7. ^ Lipski (1994), p. 170.
  8. ^ "Andean Spanish".
  9. ^ "OM_Quichua_of_Imbabura_A_Brief_Phonetic_Sketch_of_Fricatives" (PDF). Retrieved 17 September 2021.
  10. ^ Peña Arce, Jaime (2015). "Yeísmo en el español de América. Algunos apuntes sobre su extensión" [Yeísmo in the Spanish spoken in America. Some notes on its extension]. Revista de Filología de la Universidad de La Laguna (in Spanish). 33: 175–199. Retrieved 5 October 2021.
  11. ^ Coloma (2011), p. 95.
  12. ^ Klee & Lynch (2009), pp. 136–7.
  13. ^ Lapesa, Rafael. "El español de América" (in Spanish). Cultural Antonio de Nebrija.
  14. ^ Coloma (2011), pp. 110–111.
  15. ^ "Diccionari català-valencià-balear".


  • Álvarez Menéndez, Alfredo I (2005), Hablar en español: la cortesía verbal, la pronunciación estándar del español, las formas de expresión oral, Universidad de Oviedo
  • Coloma, German (2011), "Valoración socioeconómica de los rasgos fonéticos dialectales de la lengua española.", Lexis, 35 (1): 91–118
  • Klee, Carol; Lynch, Andrew (2009). El español en contacto con otras lenguas. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press. ISBN 9781589012653.
  • Lipski, John (1994), Latin American Spanish, New York: Longman Publishing
  • Martínez-Celdrán, Eugenio; Fernández-Planas, Ana Ma.; Carrera-Sabaté, Josefina (2003), "Castilian Spanish" (PDF), Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 33 (2): 255–259, doi:10.1017/S0025100303001373
  • Navarro, Tomás (1964), "Nuevos datos sobre el yeísmo en España" (PDF), Thesavrvs: Boletín del Instituto Caro y Cuervo, 19 (1): 1–117
  • Torreblanca, Máximo (1974), "Estado actual del lleísmo y de la h aspirada en el noroeste de la provincia de Toledo", Revista de dialectología y tradiciones populares, 30 (1–2): 77–90
  • Schwegler, Armin; Kempff, Juergen; Ameal-Guerra, Ana (2009), Fonética y fonología españolas, John Wiley & Sons, ISBN 978-0470421925
  • Travis, Catherine E. (2009), Introducción a la lingüística hispánica, Cambridge University Press

Further reading[edit]

  • Pharies, David (2007). A Brief History of the Spanish Language. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-66683-9.

External links[edit]