The effect of dialect contact and social identity on fricative demerger




Regan, Brendan Patrick

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This dissertation focuses on the phonetic demerger of the traditional dialectal feature of ceceo, [sθ], into the national prestige feature of distinción, [s] and [θ]. Based on 80 sociolinguistic interviews (40 male, 40 female; ages 18-87), the current endeavor analyzes the coronal fricative variation in the city of Huelva and the nearby rural town of Lepe. The aim of the research was four-fold: (i) to provide a sociophonetic assessment of the demerger of ceceo in connection to sociolinguistic theories of mergers and splits; (ii) to investigate which linguistic and extra-linguistic factors promote the demerger of ceceo to distinción; (iii) to compare a rural and an urban speech community in regards to the demerger; and finally, (iv) to determine the acoustic properties of these Andalusian coronal fricatives. The current analysis focuses on a reading passage and a word list from a larger four-part sociolinguistic interview averaging 60 minutes. The results indicate that significant predictors of demerged realizations are: orthography, gender, age, education, occupation and origin on the measures of center of gravity, variance, and mean intensity. The leaders of change are females, younger, those with more educational attainment, those with service and professionally oriented occupations, and those from Huelva. Those with distinción demonstrate a separation in phonemes with higher values for center of gravity and mean intensity for [s] and lower values for center of gravity and mean intensity for [θ], while those with ceceo demonstrate intermediate values for center of gravity and mean intensity. The implications of this study are fourfold: (i) large scale-societal changes of increased dialect contact, increased education, changes in sectors of employment, and changes in population have created the social context that allows for the convergence from traditional dialectal ceceo to standard Castilian distinción; (ii) the motivation for this community-wide split is inherently social, suggesting that sociolinguistic theory should incorporate more non-English examples to investigate long-standing claims regarding mergers/splits such as Garde’s and Herzog’s Principles; (iii) both urban Huelva and rural Lepe are moving from merged ceceo to demerged distinción in similar processes of linguistic change, but differing in rate of change, indicating that even smaller towns perceived as timeless carriers of dialectal features are susceptible to convergence to regional or national standards; and, finally, (iv) the feature of ceceo undermines the phonological categorical approach between phonemes as it presents a gradient phonetic continuum between and overlapping with /s/ and /θ/. The present study contributes to the on-going research of coronal fricatives and dialect convergence in Andalucía, dialect contact induced change in modern social dialectology, and variationist analysis of mergers and splits.


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