Exploring the Role of Phonological Environment in Evaluating Social Meaning: The Case of /s/ Aspiration in Puerto Rican Spanish

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2023-08-04
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MDPI
Abstract

Research in sociophonetic perception has suggested that linguistic factors influence the social meaning of a particular variant, such that the strength of social meaning appears to be mediated by factors like grammatical category or phonological environment. Here, we further investigate the impact of linguistic factors on the perception of sociolinguistic variables by examining evaluations of /s/ aspiration in the speech of four male Puerto Rican Spanish speakers. We look at how evaluations of this variable pattern based on the phonological context (preconsonantal vs. prevocalic), the proportion of a given variant ([s] or [h]) in the stimuli, and the listener residence (Puerto Rico vs. mainland US). Our results replicate earlier work showing that /s/ realization contributes to status and masculinity ratings. However, we do not find evidence of an effect of incremental changes in the proportions of [s]:[h] variants in an utterance or an effect of listener residence. Critically, we do find that phonological context influences the evaluations of listeners: [s] is rated as less masculine than [h] in preconsonantal environments, but in prevocalic environments, there is no effect of variant. Given that [s] is rarely found in preconsonantal contexts in Puerto Rican Spanish, and even less so in male speech, this result is consistent with studies arguing that social meaning is stronger in marked contexts. Expected patterns for gender, phonological context, and dialect interact to make an [s] realization of preconsonantal /s/ particularly rare in male speech of this variety, which opens the door for more robust socioindexical meaning.

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García, C.; Walker, A.; Beaton, M. Exploring the Role of Phonological Environment in Evaluating Social Meaning: The Case of /s/ Aspiration in Puerto Rican Spanish. Languages 2023, 8, 186.