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Cabécar Intro
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Home > Resources > Language > Cabécar > • Consonants


Many consonants are pronounced the same as in English or Spanish.

Spanish letters and supplements

Since the Cabécar alphabet follows the Spanish alphabet as far as possible, this leads to the following:

Cabécar Spanish English Description
j j h always sounds like "h".  This letter is also combined with other consonants (see below) to mark aspirated stops.
y   j Since the "j" is used as in Spanish, another letter is called into service for this non-Spanish sound.
sh   sh  
ch ch ch  
r r between vowels Scot dialect flapped-r, almost like a "d" between vowels (as in "ladder")
l l "retroflex"-l; similar to standard English "l", but the tip of the tongue is pointed upwards and goes up behind the alveolar ridge instead of on it/just behind the teeth.
ń ń    

Voiced, voiceless, aspirated stops

Cabécar has 3 varieties of stops (b, p, and pj), where English and Spanish have only two (b, p).  However, the differences between English and Spanish pronunciation of the "voiceless" stops (p) cover two of the different Cabécar consonants (voiceless p and aspirated pj).

"Stops" are formed when the lips or tongue stop the flow of air through the mouth.  This can be done at different points of articulation (locations) in the mouth.  For stops formed in the front of the mouth, Cabécar makes the distinction between voiced, voiceless, and aspirated; the distinction between these is the difference of how long it takes before the voicing for the following vowel (vibrations from your voice box) starts.

  • For voiced consonants, the voicing starts while the consonant is still formed--that is, before the consonant is released and air starts flowing through the mouth.
  • For voiceless consonants, the voicing starts at the precise instant that the consonant is released and air starts flowing through the mount.  This is the way Spanish makes voiceless consonants (p, t, k), but not English (except when preceded by an "s", as in "spit", "step", "skip").
  • For aspirated consonants, the voicing is delayed until after the consonant is released and air starts flowing through the mount.  This produces a puff of air that comes from the mouth before the vowel sounds that can be felt by holding your hand in front of your mouth.  This is the usual way English makes "voiceless" consonants (p, t, k), which is why English speakers at first have trouble with Spanish (and Cabécar) voiceless stops (above).

The Cabécar spelling for aspirated stops combines the voiceless letter and the letter "j" (which sounds like English "h") to indicate the puff of air that comes out.  These stops may be summarized as follows:

Articulation Voiced Voiceless Aspirated
(like English and Spanish)
(like Spanish; like English "spit")
(like English "p")
tip of tongue behind teeth
(like English and Spanish)
(like Spanish; like English "stir")
(like English "t")
tounge tip and body
against roof of mouth
(tongue starts from the same
position as used to produce ń)
back of tongue
(like Spanish; like English "skit")
(like English "k")

Listen to all stops:


Cabécar has at least 3 affricates written: ts, ch, and y (this last is pronounced like an English "j".

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