I have noticed that all the Romance languages (Spanish, Galician, Catalan, Portuguese, Romanian, Italian, and French) usually pronounce the "ll" like the "y" in "yacht". This feature is called "yeísmo"." Each of these languages also use other sounds for "ll" like the "j" in "jam", like the "sh" in "ship", like the "s" in "measure", like the "th" in "thin", or like the "th" in "this". What is the historical origin of these special pronunciations for "ll" in the Romance languages?

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    I like the question, but just wanted to point out that in Spanish, the word yeísmo has a more specific meaning. From Wikipedia: "This feature is characterized by the loss of the traditional palatal lateral approximant phoneme [ʎ] ... (written ⟨ll⟩) and its merger into the phoneme [ʝ] ... (written ⟨y⟩), usually realized as a palatal approximant or affricate. It is an example of delateralization. Jan 26, 2022 at 20:20
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    The question seems to be based on a lot of fallacies. ⟨ll⟩ does not generally represent /j/ (as in ‘yacht’) in any of those languages. In Spanish, Galician and Catalan (and only those), it represents /ʎ/, which is sometimes weakened to [j] with yeísmo. In Portuguese, /ʎ/ is written ⟨lh⟩, in Italian it’s ⟨gl(i)⟩. In French, /j/ (as in ‘yacht’) can indeed be represented by double ⟨ll⟩, but also by single ⟨l⟩, and only in very specific contexts; more commonly, they just represent ⟨l⟩ and /j/ is ⟨y⟩. Romanian uses ⟨i⟩ for /j/ and, as far as I know, doesn’t use ⟨ll⟩ at all. Jan 26, 2022 at 23:42
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    In various forms of Spanish, /ʎ/ has indeed evolved into other sounds phonetically: apart from [ʝ] mentioned above, common phonetic values include [ɟ] (similar to /dʒ/ as in ‘jam’), [ʃ] (as in ‘ship’) or even [ʒ] (as in ‘measure’). But those are all fairly recent developments which occurred within Spanish itself and go back no more than a few hundred years at most. And I know of no language, Romance or otherwise, which uses ⟨ll⟩ for /θ/. Jan 26, 2022 at 23:50
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    I think Welsh, a Celtic language, uses "ll" to spell the lateral fricative [ɬ], which I think is the sound I natural use for the /l/ in the ethnic name "Nahuatl." Jan 27, 2022 at 19:28
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    @Vegawatcher Welsh (and Greenlandic) does indeed use \<ll\> for /ɬ/ (systemically it’s /l̥/ in Welsh, but close enough), but that’s not the same as the /tɬ/ found in Nāhuatl. Note that Nāhuatl doesn’t have /ɬ/ by itself at all, only /tɬ/, which is a single phoneme. Icelandic also uses \<ll\> for [tɬ], but in Icelandic, that’s historically, and with a bit of jiggery-pokery arguably still, just /lː/ phonemically. Jan 27, 2022 at 21:25

1 Answer 1


As late Latin developed into the Romance languages, one of the processes that was quite frequent was palatization. The result differed from sound to sound and from language to language and even from dialect to dialect.

I think the palatization of "l" was often triggered by a following or proceeding /i/, a proceeding /g/ or /k/, or even any proceeding stop consonant. Again, the process was different from region to region.

The first result of the palatization of /l/ was generally the /ʎ/ sound, which is retained in some languages, such as Italian, Portuguese, old French, and a few varieties of Spanish. Since there was no standard way to spell it, different languages hit on different solutions. In Italian, I think they used "gl," since "g" was sometimes the trigger for the palatization (e.g. coagulare > coaglare> cagliare) and also similarly with the palatizatin of /n/ (e.g., cognatum > cognato). In Portuguese, they could use "lh," since "h" had no pronunciation by itself and at least suggested some kind of pronunciation further back in the mouth. In old French, the change generally happened after an "i," especially at the close of a diphthong, so no spelling change was necessary. In Spanish, the change happened in words already spelled with a "ll," such as "caballo" or in words with an initial stop that disappeared (plano > llano), so it was probably natural to spell the sound with "ll."

The sound /ʎ/ is generally unstable in most languages around the world, so it changed further in many of them. Wikipedia says it has been lost in Romanian and changed to /j/. I know it has been lost in French and in the vast majority of dialects of Spanish, where it is now /j/, usually realized as [j]. It is still going strong in Italian and Portuguese. I don't know about Galician, Catalan, or other Romance languages and dialects.

In many Spanish dialects, the /j/ has changed further into many other sounds.

For instance, in all types of Spanish, the old object pronoun combinations "le(s) lo(s)/la(s)" (it/him/her/them to it/him/her/them in reverse order) first changed to "lle lo(s)/la(s)" and then to "se lo(s)/la(s)," which now is homophonous with the original combinations using the "se" that was only the third person reflexive pronoun and never a general indirect object pronoun.

Instead of [j], I think I have heard Puerto Ricans say or ɟ in emphatic phrase initial contexts. I have heard ʝ from many speakers, especially in medial positions. From Argentinians, I think I hear ʂ and ʐ in all positions. As a non-native speaker, I tend to use ʝ phrase initially and j medially and am told I have a good neutral accent that is always from "somewhere else."

As was already alluded to by Janus Bahs Jacquet in a comment above, I know of no Romance language that uses /θ/ or /ð/ as a descendant of /l/, although the celtic language Welsh does use "ll" to represent /ɬ/, perhaps related to the practice of Spanish, but probably because other doubled letters were used in Welsh to represent different types of fricatives, such as using "dd" to represent [ð] as opposed to "d" representing [d] and using "ff" to represent [f] as opposed to "f" representing [v].

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    Note that Welsh has /ɬ/ (or /l̥/), not /ʎ/. The reason that double <ll> is used for that sound is probably that it historically comes from /lː/ in at least some cases. Given that other unvoiced resonants are written by adding an <h>, <lh> would have been a more obvious choice, but for some reason <ll> was chosen. <Dd> is odd too, since it represents the lenited outcome of <d>, the exact opposite of the relation found in <ll ~ l> and <ff ~ f>. Jan 27, 2022 at 23:12
  • You are of course right about the Welsh /ɬ/. I will correct my answer accordingly. I am familiar with the consonant mutation in Irish and Old Irish, but not in Welsh. After browsing the Wikipedia page on Welsh morphology, it seems that a following "h" was used to indicate devoicing, but a doubling was used to indicate an "unexpected" fricative sound, if you count "ll" as a fricative /ɬ/, rather than as a devoiced /l̥/. In Irish, "ll" would have been a good candidate to indicate the hard /l:/, which is pronounced longer and more forte that the lenited /l/ in some dialects. Jan 28, 2022 at 0:50
  • Welsh orthography systematically uses <h> to notate "aspirate mutation", which applies only to the unvoiced stops <c> <p> <t>. /f/ is written <ph> only when it arises in this way, otherwise being written as <ff>, even in a loanword such as eliffant, from English elephant. (The other two cases <th> and <ch> do not have an alternative spelling, and are used even when the sound is not synchronically a mutation).
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 29, 2022 at 22:01

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