The letter “J” joins the ranks of least favourite Spanish letters amongst English speakers, because it is one of the hardest ones to pronounce. We’ve already talked about the sound itself because it is the same as one of the pronunciations of the letter G, which is the throaty sound like the “ch” in the Scottish word “loch”.
We saw that the letter G only makes this sound when followed in a word by an “e” or an “i”, whereas the letter “J” always makes this sound, wherever it appears in a word. You will find the letter “J” at the beginnings of words, such as “jugar” (to play), in the middle as in “rojo” (red) and at the end as in “reloj” (watch or clock). As I mentioned when we were looking at the letter G, if you find it impossible to produce a really harsh “j” sound, then you can lighten it down to a “h” sound; just make it as noisy as possible, as if you were panting having just run round the block. Alternatively, you could run round the block, but that is a bit drastic and not a very practical solution.
There is a wide variety of words beginning with “J” which remind us of similar English words, and here are just a few: jersey (jersey or jumper), jirafa (giraffe), jaguar (jaguar), justo (just), juvenil (youthful, without the negative connotations of juvenile), justicia (justice), justificar (justify), Japón (Japan), japonés (Japanese – notice that in Spanish nationalities do not start with capital letters.)
In recent years the Spanish have introduced foreign names in their society including many beginning with the letter “J”, such as Jessica and Jennifer. In these cases they usually pronounce them with a “y” sound, which is the nearest a Spanish speaker can usually get to the English “j” sound.
As usual there are words beginning with “J” that look like English but have a different meaning. One of these is the Spanish word “junta”. This means some sort of ruling or governing body, but does not have the negative connotation it has in English, where it is only associated with a military style of absolute rule. We have a “junta directive” for example which means a committee. Of course, you may have your own opinion about committees but they are not supposed to carry machine guns as a rule.
Two common “J” words in Spanish are the months June and July, which are “junio” and “julio”, the latter also being a man’s name, as both the month and the name come from “Julius Caesar”, or “Julio Cesár” as many Spanish men are called to this day. Similarly, another common “J” word means Thursday; that is “jueves”. “Jueves” also has a classical origin as it is the day of the planet Jupiter or the god “Jove”.
Another frequently heard word is the translation of “young” which is “joven”. Young people as a social group are referred to as “los jóvenes”. They are in contrast to another important section of society, those who are “jubilado” or “jubilada” meaning of course “retired”. Most of the retired people I know really like this word and prefer it to the rather prosaic “pensionista”. The next item isn’t exactly a word, but you will find it written in cartoons. It is “ji ji” which is the Spanish equivalent of “hee hee” or “tee hee”. In other words it is how Spanish cartoon characters snigger to themselves when they’ve just tipped black paint over that angry grown-up that has been chasing them down the street.
“Justo” is an interesting word as it shares a similar dual meaning as its English equivalent “just”. We can talk about a “just” person in English and a “persona justa” in Spanish, is someone who is fair, or who lives a morally correct life. From this we have the word “justice” which is “justicia” in Spanish. The two languages also share the other meaning of “just” as in “exactly” or “just right”. We can say “el precio justo” the right price or “el tamaño justo”, “just the right size”.
Probably the commonest name in Spain begins with the letter “J”, José. A curiosity about the name José is that it is very often abbreviated to Pepe. I was under the impression for a very long time that Pepe came from the religious term “Padre putativo” which was a name given to Joseph the supposed father of Jesus by the Church. However, I have found a more reasonable explanation which is that it is part of the old word for José or Josep, which is still reflected in the Italian equivalent “Guiseppe”.
This month’s saying contains the word juego meaning game, but in this case with the idea of gambling or “gaming” – “Afortunado en el juego, desafortunado en amores”. Lucky at gambling, unlucky in love. In other words, you cannot have everything going your way in this life. Well, I think most of us have learnt this already!
Jane Cronin, Spanish Classes and Talks.
Tel: 968 183 258