In revising a paper on complex onset phonotactics involving laterals, a question has come up about the status of /tl/ in Mexican Spanish loanword adaptations from Nahuatl. First, a description from Hualde (1999:171-172):
A word such as atlas ‘atlas’ is pronounced [ˈa.tlas] in almost all of Latin America and in areas of western Spain, while in central and eastern Spain it is pronounced [ˈat.las] ~ [ˈað.las]. … In Mexican Spanish the /tl/ cluster appears even in word-initial position, in toponyms and borrowings from Nahuatl such as Tlaxcala (place name), tlapalería ‘hardware store’, etc.
Lope Blanch (1972:97-98) ascribes this characteristic of Mexican Spanish to the influence of Nahuatl, which has a voiceless dentoalveolar lateral affricate /tɬ/. Presumably, when Spanish speakers were confronted with this phoneme in Nahuatl loanwords and Aztec toponyms, they interpreted it as a bisegmental sequence of coronal /t/ followed by the lateral liquid /l/, both of which exist independently in Spanish. The other possibility is that what is typically transcribed as [tl] is still, in fact, a monosegmental affricate, which might explain why the heterosyllabic parse of medial [t.l] is out (at least for Nahuatl-Spanish bilinguals?).
So, I’m just curious as to what kind of arguments (empirical, theory-internal, or otherwise) would be necessary to motivate the mono- versus bisegmental status of Mexican Spanish /tl/…
Hualde, José Ignacio. 1999. La silabificación en español. Fonología generativa contemporánea de la lengua española, ed. by R. Núñez Cedeño and A. Morales-Front, 177-188. Washington: Georgetown University Press.
Lope Blanch, Juan M. 1972. Estudios sobre el español de México. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.