Sociolinguistic Studies, Vol 12, No 3-4 (2018)

Caribeño or mexicano, profesionista or albañil? Mexican listeners’ evaluations of /s/ aspiration and maintenance in Mexican and Puerto Rican voices

Whitney Chappell
Issued Date: 2 May 2019

Abstract


Mexican Spanish is generally recognized as a conservative variety that maintains syllablefinal /s/, while Puerto Rican Spanish consistently weakens it. To explore what social properties are indexed by coda /s/ variants and whether these variants alone can alter evaluations of speaker origin, 75 Mexican listeners participated in a matched-guise test. They listened to recordings of five Mexican and Puerto Rican Spanish speakers spliced to include only coda [s] or coda [h], evaluating speakers on a scale of social properties and identifying their perceived place of origin. Mixed effects models fitted to 6,750 evaluations demonstrate that [s] is associated with various measures of status, including intelligence, work ethic, confidence, and snobbishness. However, these evaluations are conditioned by listeners' stereotypes and regional expectations, as Mexicans were evaluated as speaking better Spanish when presented with [s] and Puerto Ricans as speaking better Spanish with [h]. Finally, listeners evaluated Puerto Rican voices as significantly more Mexican given coda [s] and Mexican voices as significantly more Caribbean given coda [h], with the most drastic shift for Mexican speakers. The paper concludes that manipulating a single salient variable (/s/) is sufficient to override other linguistic features, which play a much more limited role in social identification and evaluation.

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DOI: 10.1558/sols.34154

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