And finally, the vowels.
Conveniently, the traditional five vowel letters, <a, e, i, o, u> correspond to the five Castilian Spanish vowel phonemes, /a, e, i, o, u/. <Y> can also represent /i/. The two mid vowels, /e/ and /o/, have two positionally determined allophones: [e, ɛ] and [o, ɔ].
/e/ is [ɛ] adjacent to /r/ (written either <rr>, or, in initial position, <r>), before /x/, as the first element of a falling diphthong /ei/ or /eu/, and in closed syllables except before /m, n, s, θ/. Otherwise [e].
/o/ is [ɔ] adjacent to /r/, before /x/, as the first element of a falling diphthong, and in all closed syllables. Otherwise [o].
In addition, the close vowels, /i, u/ usually form diphthongs with another adjacent vowel, as [j] or [w]: Palacio [pa’laθjo] (phonemically /pa’laθio/); Huelva [‘welßa] (/’uelba/). /iu/ or /ui/ are usually rising diphthongs. Exceptions occur when the /i/ or /u/ are stressed, as in Paraíso /paɾa’iso/ or El Baúl /el ba’ul/. In these cases, there will always be an acute accent above the <i> or <u>.
Any other two consecutive vowels form separate syllables, e.g. Bilbao /bil’bao/ has three syllables.
Mapping these on to the English vowel system is harder than it may seem. For instance, Barcelona has a longstanding anglicisation /bɑːrsi’ləʊnə/ (italic /r/ to accommodate both rhotic and non-rhotic speakers), but Tarragona, not so well-known, tends to become /tærə’gɒnə/. Does this have to do with the first syllable having, in Barcelona, a long vowel, but in Tarragona a short one?
Spanish /a/ may be either /æ/ or /ɑ:/ in stressed syllables whether primary or secondary, and inevitably /ə/ in many unstressed syllables: Málaga /’mæləgə/; Granada illustrates /ɑː/ without the presence of an <r>: /grə’nɑːdə/. Argüelles illustrates /ɑː/in an unstressed syllable: /ɑːr‘gweljeɪs/. Palma is often pronounced /’pɑːmə/ but it would be better to pronounce the <l>: /’pælmə/ in order for it not to be confused with Parma in Italy. (Rhotic speakers do not have this problem).
Spanish /e/ may be English /e/, /eɪ/ or /eə/ in stressed syllables, as well as /eɪ/ or /ə/ in unstressed syllables: Valencia /və’lensɪə/; Toledo /tə’leɪdəʊ/; Formentera /fɔːrmən’teərə/; Teide /’teɪdeɪ/. This last would once have been /’teɪdi/, but with the ‘happy’ vowel becoming much more close over the years, it is now better replaced with the diphthong.
Spanish /i/ is English /i:/ or /ɪ/ in stressed syllables: Ibiza /ɪ’biθə/, Bilbao /bɪl’baʊ/, /ɪ/ in unstressed syllables, and /j/ or /i/ in rising diphthongs: Hierro /’jerəʊ/, Rioja /ri’ɒxə/. In falling diphthongs, it neatly fits into English /eɪ, aɪ, ɔɪ/, e.g. Bailén /baɪ’len/.
Spanish /o/, as we have seen, may be replaced with English /ɒ/ or /əʊ/ in stressed syllables, and /əʊ/ or /ə/ in unstressed syllables. Before Spanish /ɾ/, /ɔː/ is regular, while before Spanish /r/, /ɒ/ is usual: Torrelavega /tɒreɪlə’veɪgə/.
Spanish /u/ is English /uː/ or /ʊ/: Gutiérrez /guːt’jereθ/, including before Spanish /ɾ/: Murcia /’mʊərθɪə/. <U> has another purpose in Spanish orthography, as pointed out by Nigel Greenwood in a note to my previous post: before <e> or <i>, it acts to make a preceding <g> into a plosive which would otherwise be fricative, but is not separately pronounced. So Miguel is pronounced in Spanish /mi’gel/ (English /mɪ’gel/), Guevara is Spanish /ge’baɾa/, English /gə’vɑːrə/and Guipúzcoa is Spanish /gɪ’puθkoa/, English /gi’puːθkwə/ and Guillermo Spanish /gi’ʎeɾmo/, English /gɪl’jeərməʊ/. In order for the diphthong [we] or [wi] to appear following a /g/, the <u> gains a diaeresis: <ü>, as in Argüelles (Spanish /aɾ’gueʎes/, English /ɑːr’‘gweljeɪs/).
So, even for a language with such apparently simple phonology and phonotactics as Spanish, its mapping on to roughly equivalent sounds in English is not completely straightforward, even though it is a language that many English speakers think they can cope with easily.
Apologies for the font problems. When I’ve cleared them up, I’ll clean up the post.