Variable production and indexical social meaning: On the potential physiological origin of intervocalic /s/ voicing in Costa Rican Spanish

Chappell, Whitney
Garcia, Christina
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De Gruyter

In several dialects of Spanish, men tend to exhibit more intervocalic /s/ voicing than women, e. g., oso ‘bear’ as [ozo], and this difference may have a physiological basis. File-Muriel et al. (2015, Disentangling the physiological from the socially-learned in gradient, sociophonetic processes: Evidence from s-realization in Barranquilla, Colombia. Unpublished manuscript) found that vocal tract size conditions /s/ aspiration in Barranquilla, and Nadeu and Hualde (2013, Reinterpretation of biomechanics as gender-conditioned variation in the origin of diachronic intervocalic voicing. Available at contend that speakers with larger vocal tracts may have greater difficulty controlling vocal fold cessation. The present work serves as a continuation of these studies, utilizing 18 sociolinguistic interviews to determine (i) what factors are most predictive of intervocalic [z] in Costa Rica and (ii) whether physiology can potentially explain its origin. The results of a statistical analysis using 1,647 tokens of /s/ show that both gender and physiological factors significantly condition voicing (p < 0.001), with more voicing in men’s speech, as F2 decreases, and as f0 decreases. However, one would expect more gradient voicing in men’s speech if physiological factors caused the gender-based voicing difference, but women voice more gradiently while men produce higher rates of 0 % and 100 % voicing. We conclude that while physiological factors may have been its original source, non-physiological factors currently condition /s/-voicing in Costa Rica, with male speakers aiming for categorical targets for social motivations.

Costa Rican Spanish, /s/ voicing, gender, physiology
Modern Languages and Literatures