A usage-based account of sociophonetic variation: The case of syllable-final /r/ deletion in two Spanish varieties.

Manuel Diaz-Campos, Mary Carmen Ruiz-Sanchez

Indiana University


Sociolinguistic studies have traditionally included multiple linguistic factors in their efforts to find patterns of language variation, but they have neglected for the most part the role of lexical frequency in such variation. The results of some recent investigations, however, reveal that the inclusion of lexical frequency as an additional linguistic factor can help achieve a better understanding of the forces behind variation and language change (Bybee 2002, Brown 2004, Alba 2005, Díaz-Campos 2005, 2006, Ruiz-Sánchez 2006). The goal of this paper is to present a usage-based account of syllable-final /r/ in two varieties of Spanish to compare the development of the change in these dialects. Specifically, we examine the patters of lexical diffusion in each variety to determine similarities and differences.

The current paper investigates the variable phonological phenomenon of /-r/ deletion in two regions of the Spanish-speaking world: Andalusia (Spain) and Caribbean (Venezuela), taking into account the effect of the following linguistic factors: following phonetic context, grammatical category, following morphemic unit, and lexical frequency. A total of over 13,000 tokens taken from the corpora of the two language varieties were examined. The Andalusian corpus consists of 36 sociolinguistic-style interviews conducted with native speakers from the Andalusian town of Alcalá de Guadaíra in summer 2006, who were evenly grouped in terms of education (elementary, high school, and college/university), age (21-34, 35-55, and 56 and older), and sex (male and female). On the other hand, 36 speakers were selected from the corpus Estudio Sociolingüístico del Habla de Caracas (1987) with equal representation of socioeconomic levels (upper class, middle class, and working class), ages (14-29, 30-45, and 61 and older), and sex (male and female). The data were statistically analyzed with Goldvarb 2001 in order to determine the relative effect of the factors influencing /-r/ deletion in either language variety. Our prediction is that patterns of lexical diffusion could provide us with an indication of the change stage in each variety. On the one hand, the same paradigms could be affected by this change in both varieties, so that the change is at a similar stage. On the other hand, language usage could reveal particular spreading patterns to each variety indicating differences in the development of the change.

The results indicate that deletion of /-r/ tend to occur in similar phonetic contexts in both Andalusian and Caribbean Spanish. Additionally, the analysis of the linguistic factor group “grammatical category” points to an analogous behavior of infinitives with respect to /-r/ deletion. These similarities reveal that the change seems to be advancing at the same pace in both dialects. In other words, lexical frequency was found to display parallel patterns in both dialects as deletion of /-r/ is more likely to affect high-frequency words than low-frequency ones. These findings prove the advantages of including word frequency as an additional linguistic factor in determining the spreading of the change when comparing the same phenomenon in different dialects.

Session: Paper session
Variation 4 (Phonological)
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 15