Jon asked for a phonetic description of the Basque fricatives, and since the toerh reply wasn't precise enough for my taste, I thought I would offer an alternative.

Articulatorily, orthographic {s} is produced by putting the tip of the tongue against the back of the teeth, without touching (in other words, it is an apico-deltal fricative; apical = made with the apex or tip of the tongue). The phonetic symbol is an [s'], that is s with an accent mark or a little tooth-like mark underneath. This is the {s} sound of Castilian Spanish, but NOT of other varieties of Spanish.

Moving back in the mouth, orthographic {z} is produced farther back in the mouth: the blade of the tongue against the alveolar ridge of the palate, without touching (in other words, it is a lamino-alveolar fricative; lamino - made with the blade of the tongue; alveolar = the ridge at the top of the mouth). This sound is basically the same as the English (and non-Castilian Spanish) {s} and {c} (before e and i). The phonetic symbol is a plain [s].

Moving further back, orthographic {x} is produced even further back, against the post-alveolar part of the palate, between the alveolar ridge and the roof of the mouth. Thus it is a postalveolar fricative. This is equivalent, pretty much, to English {sh} and French {ch} (this sound hasn t been used in most varieties of Spanish for several centuries, since it mutated into the sound of {j} (or {g} before e and i)) (phonetic symbol [x]). The phonetic symbol is either an elongated [S] in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) or an s with a hatchek (little v) on top in the American tradition of transcription.

As it was already said, in Bizkaian /s/ and /s'/ have merged into /s'/.

Now here is an interesting thing. Acoustically, though not articulatorily, the [s'] {s} and the [S] {x} are quite similar (that is, they sound somewhat alike) which is why a lot of people who hear Basque people speak in either Basque or Spanish think they use English {sh} instead of {s}.

Anyway, this is probably more than anyone on the list cares to know, and it may not even be very clear to most people, but that s what you get when you ask a linguist. Fascinating stuff, isn t it?

Best, Jon Aske

Jon Aske