3.4 The Consonants “ll” and “y”

Learning Objectives

In this chapter you will:

  • Learn about the historical assimilation of these two sounds.
  • Understand the point and manner of articulation of the resulting sound: /ʝ/ and its variant [ ɟ͡ʝ].
  • Learn about “yeísmo.”
  • Compare the pronunciation of the English “j” and that of “ll”/”y.”
  • Practice and record yourself saying words that contain this sound.


In this chapter, we introduce the letters “ll” and “y” with a caveat: they present a high degree of variation from region to region and even from person to person.  Therefore, you can expect to hear a fair amount of exceptions in the real world to what is presented here.  In the past, there existed a clear distinction between the sounds that these letters produce, where “ll” represented the sound /ʎ/, (“calle” sounds like “calieh,”) and “y” represents the sound /ʝ/,  (“caye”).  However, today, both in Spain and Hispanic America,  /ʎ/is  disappearing and it is converging with /ʝ/.  This is called “yeísmo.”  In order to simplify matters, we will obviate this difference present in very small areas of the world and will occupy our time with /ʝ/.

The /ʝ/ is a voiced palatal fricative, since 1) it requires a vibration of the vocal cords; 2) it is articulated when the tongue touches the palate, and 3) it requires friction in the oral cavity.  Its pronunciation is similar to the English “y” as in “yellow” but it is stronger and it requires more friction in Spanish.  Additionally, this sound has the variant or allophone [ ɟ͡ʝ], which is also voiced and palatal, but it is an affricate, not a fricative.  An affricate sound is produced by first stopping the airflow entirely, then allowing it to escape through a constricted channel at the place of articulation, causing turbulence.  Its pronunciation is similar to the letters “j” and “dg” as in “judge.”  These two sounds /ʝ/ and [ ɟ͡ʝ] are complementary, meaning that one occurs in contexts where the other does not occur. [ ɟ͡ʝ] occurs after “l,” “n,” or a pause (“el yate,” “conllevar,” “Yolanda”), while [ ɟ͡ʝ] occurs in all other contexts like between vowels (“mi yate”).

It is important that you understand what you have learned in this section.  Please take this quiz before continuing with your practice.

ATTENTION: A common mistake among English speakers is to pronounce the “ll” and “y” very faintly or not at all.  This causes erroneous pronunciation.  For example, “tortilla” becomes “tortía” instead of “tortiya;” “vaya” becomes “vaia” instead of “vaya.”  Remember, you must pronounce the “ll” and “y” either like /ʝ/, a strong “y” with lots of friction or like [ ɟ͡ʝ], the equivalent in English of the letters “j” and “dg” as in “judge.”

First, let us compare English words containing a “y” with Spanish words containing /ʝ/.  The difference can be very subtle so listen very carefully and then repeat after the speaker.

English with “y” Spanish with /ʝ/
mayor mayor
yellow le llevo
a yodel ayuda
yam me llamo
Yoruba la lluvia
Bayou bayú

In all of the following examples, “ll” and “y” sound like /ʝ/.  Please listen and repeat after the speaker.

subdesarrollo / coyuntura / cayera / ayer / les llevé / tortillas / Trujillo / ellos / hallaron / Vallarta / cayendo / caballero / a llevar / no llegó.

Now, let us compare English words containing “j” and “dg” with Spanish words containing the affricate [ ɟ͡ʝ].

English Spanish
Janet Yánet
jungle lluvia
injection inyección
wedges conlleves
Al Jamar el llamar
Joe yo
judo yudo
gem yema

In all of the following examples, “ll” and “y” sound like [ ɟ͡ʝ].  Please listen and repeat after the speaker.

Yazmín / llamó / Yura / Yamil / un yate / llegamos.

Let’s practice more.  Please listen and repeat after the speaker.  For the sake of clarity, the softer /ʝ/ sounds are marked in black bold and the harder [ ɟ͡ʝ] in red bold.  Once again, the difference between these two sounds can be very subtle so please listen carefully.

• El subdesarrollo provocó / que la coyuntura cayera.
Yazmín llamó a un Yura / pero él ya no acudió al llamado.
• Ayer le llevé las tortillas / a don Yamil Trujillo.
• Ellos lloraron / porque un yate llegó.
Llegamos a Puerto Vallarta / cayendo el sol / pero el caballero que nos iba a llevar / no llegó.

Self Analysis Activity

Listen to your recording and answer the following questions.  Answers will auto-save every 10 seconds.




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I'm All Ears by Jorge González Casanova is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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