Basque 101

Basque has a distinction between laminal and apical articulation for the alveolar fricatives and affricates. In the laminal consonants the friction occurs across the blade of the tongue, while in apical ones, it occurs at the tip (apex).

The laminal alveolar fricative (IPA: [s̻]) is made with the tongue tip pointing toward the lower teeth; its affricate counterpart is [ts̻]. These are written with an orthographic z (z, tz). The apical fricative (/s̺/) is written s and is pronounced like the normal s in Castillian Spanish; that is, the tongue tip points toward the upper teeth. The corresponding affricate (/ts̺/) is ts. In the westernmost parts of the Basque country, only the apical s and the alveolar affricate tz are used.

Basque also features postalveolar sibilants (/ʃ/, written x, and /tʃ/, written tx), sounding like English sh and ch.

There are two palatal stops, voiced and unvoiced, as well as a palatal nasal and a palatal lateral (the palatal stops are not present in all dialects). These and the postalveolar sounds are typical of diminutives, which are used frequently in child language and motherese (mainly to show affection rather than size). For example, tanta "drop" vs. ttantta /ɟanɟa/ "droplet". A few common words, such as txakur /tʃakur/ "dog", use palatal sounds even though in current usage they have lost the diminutive sense; the corresponding non-palatal forms now acquiring an augmentative or pejorative sense: zakur "big dog". Many dialects of Basque exhibit a derived palatalization effect in which coronal onset consonants are changed into the palatal counterpart after the high front vowel /i/. For example, the /n/ in egin "to act" becomes palatal when the suffix -a is added: /egina/ = [egiɲa] "the action".

The sound represented by j has a variety of realizations according to the regional dialect: [j, ʝ, ɟ, ʒ, ʃ, x] (the last one is typical of the Spanish Basque Country).

The vowel system is the same as Spanish for most speakers. It consists of five pure vowels, /i e a o u/. Speakers of the Souletin dialect also have a sixth, front rounded vowel (represented in writing by ü but pronounced /ø/, much like a German ö), as well as a set of contrasting nasalized vowels.

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