Ether, Either, Eater

I’ve had a unique opportunity to parley with a friend over how the intervocalic “d” sounds in Spanish word endings such as “-ado,” “-edo,” “-ido,” “-odo,” and “-udo.”

English-speaking students of Spanish will tend to say such endings with the English “d” sound. It’s the sound Americans commonly produce when saying such words as  “letter,” “butter” and “eater” — phonetically described as a voiced alveolar flap.

The sound required by the Spanish endings is a voiced dental fricative, similar to the sound of the “th” in words such as “bother,” “leather” and “dither.”

It arose in our discussion that my friend had trouble recognizing the difference between the unvoiced dental fricative sound of English words such as “ethical,” “method” and “lethargic” versus the voiced variant in the “bother-leather-dither” trio. 

The phonetic symbol for the unvoiced variant is the Greek letter “theta”; the symbol for the voiced variant is the Old English and Icelandic letter “eth.”

When the Spanish word endings mentioned above are pronounced with the English flap “d” sound, a word such as Spanish “todo” (“all”) may be misunderstood as “toro” (“bull”).

A similar instance is furnished by Selena’s song transcribed as “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom,” where she was probably singing what Spanish would write as “biri biri bam bam.”

I’ve devised a fun game for my friend. There are 3 camps: the Ether camp, the Either camp, and the Eater camp. 

Which of the following English words belong in each camp?

matter, pithy, father, mythical, feather, otter, nothing, rather, frothy, other, monolithic, utter, northern, north, southern, south, fodder, Etheridge, fritter, Carthage, nether, oath, later, thistle, wither. (Hint: The Ether camp has 11. The Either camp has 8. The Eater camp has 6.)

Which of the following Spanish words belong in each camp? (Translations provided merely to satisfy curiosity.)

lodo (“mud”), moro (“Moor”), pero (“but”), vampiro (“vampire”), nudo (“knot”), estampido (“bang”), loro (“parrot”), módulo (“module”), matador (bullfighter), lirio (“lily”), nítido (clear-cut). (Hint: The Ether camp has 0. The Either camp has 6. The Eater camp has 5)

Note: In the Castilian dialect spoken in much of Spain, the Ether camp would be populated with words such as enlace (“link”), pozo (“well”), and raza (“race”). For my friend and me, that’s a discussion for another day.

(c) 2021 JMN

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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