This is a translation by Emilio Márquez of the section “Base de articulación” of “Elementos de fonética general”, by Samuel Gili Gaya, 1966, 5th ed.
BASIS OF ARTICULATION
One of the circumstances which generally affect the whole phonetic system, and which constantly contribute to the synchronic physiognomy of languages and to the direction in which their diachronic alterations take place, is the articulatory basis. This is the denomination for the set of expression habits which do not affect one or various sounds but the whole articulatory mechanism, and which establishes a primary basic condition within which the whole system is shaped. If we compare different languages, we will immediately observe that the sounds within each one of them will be acoustically related to each other beyond the features that differentiate them. In French, for example, labial activity is rather intense and manifests itself in the frequent occurrence of varying degrees and types of lip rounding and lip spreading; the tongue usually adopts a convex shape and tends to move towards the front part of the oral cavity. The articulatory tendencies of English are characterized by their limited labial activity; the tongue adopts relatively flat positions or, conversely, by raising its tip or blade towards the high zones of the mouth (alveolar ridge or palate), it adopts a concave shape. This latter tendency determines the fact that various dental sounds from the French system (s, d, t) are represented, in the English system, by alveolar or palatal articulations.
In addition to these qualities arising from collective tendencies in the articulatory movements, we can find others which are not less important, such as the greater or lesser muscular tension in the pronunciation of each language or dialect, the relative value of the differences in intensity, the higher or lower normal pitch. For instance, the relatively high muscular tension and the shortness of the Spanish vowels contribute to the steadiness and uniformity of timbre in the Spanish vocalic system, not very inclined to contain middle, semi-diphthongized and relaxed vowels, which are so characteristic of the English language. It is more than likely that the considerable height of the normal pitch with which French is spoken, as compared to the relative low pitch of average Spanish, is balanced by the fact that the differences in intensity accent in French are less conspicuous than in Spanish.
The Spanish articulatory basis, especially in its Castilian variety, is characterized, according to Navarro Tomás, by the fact that the organs of speech move in the middle line of their normal position, without leaning towards the front or the back part of the mouth. Lip and jaw movements are rather noticeable, although less so than in French. The total amount of air exhaled in pronouncing something is relatively low, in contrast to what happens in the Germanic languages: however, the articulatory muscular tension is greater in Spanish than in English and German. There seems to exist a balancing relationship between the volume of exhaled air and muscular tension, in the sense that an increase in one of these qualities is accompanied by a decrease in the other.
The Andalusian pronunciation is, on the whole, less tense than the Castilian type, and therefore it is more likely to contain relaxed articulations; its articulatory movements tend to point towards the front part of the mouth, and the lips tend towards the horizontal dilation of their aperture. The ordinary articulatory basis in Galicia explains the idiomatic preference for close timbred sounds in this area, especially as regards its vowels. In the Catalan pronunciation we often find a lip rounding which, together with the opening of the jaw, gives vowels an open and, at the same time, concave hollow tinge.
However hard we try to imitate the place and manner of articulation of each and every one of the sounds of a foreign language, we are unable to achieve a good pronunciation except if we get rid of the articulatory basis of our mother tongue, substituting it with that of the new language. Roudet wisely observed that, even amongst people who speak two languages perfectly, it is very difficult to insert a quotation in a language into a speech pronounced in a different language, that is, to replace the articulatory basis suddenly. Shifting from one language to another involves a mental transition affecting the neuromuscular images which form a coherent systematic whole for each linguistic community.