Calle 13 - Atrévete-te-te

Calle 13 loves to mix English into their lyrics, which no doubt is pretty natural for them with all the exchange between their homeland of Puerto Rico and the predominately English speaking mainland United States. But Spanish natives often pronounce English words a bit differently than native speakers. Oddly enough, some of these differences can clue us into an interesting facet of the Spanish language. Listen to the way Hato Rey (aka "Residente") raps the English word "starter" in this line:

Préndete, sácale chispas al "starter".
Turn yourself on, get sparks from the starter.
Caption 6, Calle 13, Atrévete.

Do you notice he says something like "estarter"?

He also does similar when he sings:

Que tú eres callejera, "street fighter".
You're a woman of the streets, street fighter.
Caption 9, Calle 13, Atrévete.

He pronounces the English word "street" as "estreet."

Spanish speakers seem to have trouble saying some English words that start with "s," adding an "e" sound to the beginning? But why would it be? Especially when Hato seems to be able to say "sippy" without turning it into "esippy":

Mira, nena, ¿quieres un "sippy"?
Look, babe, would you like a sippy [a little sip]?
Caption 40, Calle 13, Atrévete.

If Hato has no trouble with "sippy," why does he say "estreet" and "estarter" instead of "street" and "starter?" Furthermore, there are plenty of Spanish words that start with an unadulterated "s" sound that we hear him pronounce clearly throughout the song: "sácale," "sudor," "salte," "sacúdete," "seria," and so on. He seems to have no problem with those.

You may have already started to notice a pattern! While many Spanish words start with the letter "s" and an accompanying "s" sound, they almost always follow this leading "s" with a vowel. It's when the first "s" in an English word is followed by consonant (s + consonant) that Spanish speakers feel compelled to precede an English word with an "e" sound. Why? Because almost no Spanish words that start with an "s" are followed by a consonant. 

Spanish words that have an "s+consonant" near the beginning pretty much all start with an "e" as the first letter. Certainly you noticed that the language is "español" and not "spañol"? Or that the country from whence it all came is España (not Spaña)? Looking again to Calle 13 for clues, we hear:

Destápate, quítate el esmalte.
Show yourself, remove your nail polish.
Caption 3, Calle 13, Atrévete.

In the word "esmalte" (nail polish), there is an "s+consonant" near the beginning of the word, but, in line with norms of Spanish, it is preceded by an "e."

Modern life causes "stress" in English speakers but Spanish speakers experience "estrés." Why? It's because when this English word made its way into Spanish, it conformed to a typical Spanish pattern.  Likewise, when a shop that sells long bread rolls filled with meats and toppings opens up on Old San Juan, Residente and his buddies will no doubt be happy to grab "sandwiches" (or "saandweeches") at "Subway" (or "SOOBway"). The beginning "s" sounds in "subway" and in "sandwich" are no problem, because they are followed by vowels: "u" and "a", respectively --  a pattern Spanish speakers are well accustomed to. ¿Sí o no? -¡Supongo que sí!

Keep an ear open for Spanish words that begin with an "s" and with an "es." Does the theory fit? We hope so, or it will be an escándalo!

Side note: On the other side of the coin, the "es + consonant" phenomenon runs so deep in Spanish-language phonetics, and so many English "s" words have a corresponding similar Spanish "es" word, that Spanish speakers learning English sometimes mistakenly that think that "es + consonant" is only a Spanish-language thing. This will lead them to say specially for especially, state for estate, and streme for extreme, thinking that the "e"s are a hangover from their Spanish pronunciation. You just have to remember Ricky Ricardo from I Love Lucy, the Cuban immigrant musician and band leader who was always ready to admonish Lucille Ball's character with "Lucy! You've got some splainin' to do!

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