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It seems that at least in the Andes, a lot of people say e.g. [awa] for "agua"[agwa]. What's the phonological rule behind this? Is it really [w]? Why did this happen in the first place?

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    Wouldn't that just be intervocalic lenition? – Gaston Ümlaut Jul 5 '14 at 1:21
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    Isn't it more like "g" becomes a velar approximant/glide/semivowel? – hippietrail Dec 4 '14 at 8:11
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    It's probably worth noting that the sequence gua was frequently used for the /wa/ sounds in transcribing Andean languages where modern Quechua orthography would have use w. @hippietrail Likely, but it, like b and d, is very weak when used intervocalically and certainly wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility to be elided entirely. – user0721090601 Dec 4 '14 at 14:40
  • Yes I haven't been to the Andes region but there were certainly a range of elided consonants through Central America. – hippietrail Dec 4 '14 at 15:00
  • @hippietrail's comment holds for standard versions of Spanish, so if Andean Spanish really is [awa], it's only a small further step to lose the already glided [g]. That is, the transcription [agwa] is not accurate. – Greg Lee Mar 4 '15 at 20:45
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At least from my experience as a native speaker (of Chilean Spanish), I think it's a more popular thing to hear that, as an example, I recall the word for someone with a big belly is guatón (guata = belly), which, as it's used in more informal contexts, could be heard as watón, while it should be written guatón.

Hope it helps.

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In the title line you speak of "intervocalic g", while you actually mean "g followed by u", which is different. Only the latter case bears a similarity to "w".

In all languages I know, speakers make a difference between careful speech and casual speech, and this I believe is the case hier: "aɣwa" is careful speech and "awa" is easygoing speech.

I would also keep in mind that for millions of people in Peru and Bolivia Spanish is just a second language, so I would not expect everybody's pronunciation to be fully academic.

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The pronunciation of ɣ and w are similar anatomically, as the rear part of the mouth rises, so agua [aɣwa] tends to become [awwa] by assimilation, and in loose speech this becomes [awa].

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