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Article

Phonological Variation and Change in European Spanish  

José Antonio Samper Padilla

Spanish is a language characterized on the phonetic level by a rich variation in consonantism, especially in the syllable-final position (both word-inner and word-final), whereas vocalism shows a more fixed character and a less relevant variation. Thus, it is not strange that the majority of variationist studies have focused on consonantism. Investigations addressing prosodic variation are fewer and more recent and will not be broached here because of space limitations. In the field of consonant variation, studies focusing on the weakening effect on certain elements of the coda stand out. The most relevant among these phenomena is the one which affects /s/, and this is so for various reasons: (a) because has been considered to be one of the isoglosses that divide the two great norms of current Spanish (Castilian and Atlantic); (b) because of its geographical extent; and (c) because it has led to theoretical approaches about the possible impact on number (singular/plural) and grammatical person (second/third-person singular) differentiation that implies the frequent presence of word-final -s. Additionally, variation which affects the liquid consonants (/l/ and /r/), leading to processes of both weakening and change in these two types of consonants, has been studied quite extensively (at least in Andalusia and the Canary Islands). The weakening process affecting the final nasal consonant, with velarization as a first step and potential elision as a second one, has been less frequently studied in Spain (much less than in the case of Caribbean Spanish, for example). In the field of syllabic tension, there is another phenomenon that has often been studied due to its geographic extent: the weakening of intervocalic /d/, which yields very different data depending on dialectal variety (evidence of the greater or lesser degree of progress in that weakening process). Sociolinguistic analyses also focus on the increasing expansion of yeísmo, a phenomenon usually conditioned by age as an explanatory factor in this advanced stage of the process. In Andalusian Spanish, the alternation between different pronunciations of the phonemes /s/ and /θ/ (mainly distinction, seseo and ceceo), the defricativization of /tʃ/ and the alternation between the realizations of /x/ as [x] and [h] have also been analyzed. In the case of vowels, as has been said before, it should be pointed out that cases of sociolinguistic variation in Spanish are not as numerous or as relevant; therefore, they have been less appealing to researchers. Among the main phenomena, we shall discuss the vocalic metaphony registered in Cantabria and Asturias.

Article

Sociophonetics  

Gerard Docherty

Sociophonetics research is located at the interface of sociolinguistics and experimental phonetics. Its primary focus is to shed new light on the social-indexical phonetic properties of speech, revealing a wide range of phonetic parameters that map systematically to social factors relevant to speakers and listeners, and the fact that many of these involve particularly fine-grained control of both spatial and temporal dimensions of speech production. Recent methodological developments in acoustic and articulatory methods have yielded new insights into the nature of sociophonetic variation at the scale of entire speech communities as well as in respect of the detailed speech production patterns of individual speakers. The key theoretical dimension of sociophonetic research is to consider how models of speech production, processing, and acquisition should be informed by rapidly increasing knowledge of the ubiquity of social-indexical phonetic variation carried by the speech signal. In particular, this work is focused on inferring from the performance of speakers and listeners how social-indexical phonetic properties are interwoven into phonological representation alongside those properties associated with the transmission and interpretation of lexical-propositional information.

Article

Phonological Variation and Change in Italian  

Alessandro Vietti

The phonology of Italian is subject to considerable variability both at the segmental and at the prosodic level. Changes affect different features of the phonological system such as the composition of the inventory of phonemes and allophones, the phonotactic patterning of phonemes, and their lexical distribution. On the prosodic level, the variability takes the form of a composite collection of intonational patterns. In fact, the classification of intonational contours in geographical varieties appears fuzzier and less precise than the traditional division into geographical areas based on segmental features. The reasons for the high variability must be traced back, on the one hand, to the rapid and recent standardization and, on the other hand, to the prolonged contact with Romance dialects of Italy. Variation in Italian phonology can be traced back to two main dimensions: A geographic dimension, accounting for a large proportion of the total variability, and a social dimension that regulates variety-internal variation. The overall picture can be understood as a combination of vertical and horizontal sociolinguistic forces. Horizontal dynamics is responsible for the creation of a pluricentric standard, that is, a multiplicity of models of pronunciation that could be considered as geographical versions of the standard. Vertical dynamics brings about the formation of new norms at a local level and, most important, it generates a continuum of dialects ranging from the (regional) standard to the most local variety. Moving along this vertical continuum from the standard down to the local variety, there is an increasing of variability that represents a source for the emergence of social and stylistic values.

Article

Social Network Approach in African Sociolinguistics  

Klaus Beyer and Henning Schreiber

The Social Network Analysis approach (SNA), also known as sociometrics or actor-network analysis, investigates social structure on the basis of empirically recorded social ties between actors. It thereby aims to explain e.g. the processes of flow of information, spreading of innovations, or even pathogens throughout the network by actor roles and their relative positions in the network based on quantitative and qualitative analyses. While the approach has a strong mathematical and statistical component, the identification of pertinent social ties also requires a strong ethnographic background. With regard to social categorization, SNA is well suited as a bootstrapping technique for highly dynamic communities and under-documented contexts. Currently, SNA is widely applied in various academic fields. For sociolinguists, it offers a framework for explaining the patterning of linguistic variation and mechanisms of language change in a given speech community. The social tie perspective developed around 1940, in the field of sociology and social anthropology based on the ideas of Simmel, and was applied later in fields such as innovation theory. In sociolinguistics, it is strongly connected to the seminal work of Lesley and James Milroy and their Belfast studies (1978, 1985). These authors demonstrate that synchronic speaker variation is not only governed by broad societal categories but is also a function of communicative interaction between speakers. They argue that the high level of resistance against linguistic change in the studied community is a result of strong and multiplex ties between the actors. Their approach has been followed by various authors, including Gal, Lippi-Green, and Labov, and discussed for a variety of settings; most of them, however, are located in the Western world. The methodological advantages could make SNA the preferred framework for variation studies in Africa due to the prevailing dynamic multilingual conditions, often on the backdrop of less standardized languages. However, rather few studies using SNA as a framework have yet been conducted. This is possibly due to the quite demanding methodological requirements, the overall effort, and the often highly complex linguistic backgrounds. A further potential obstacle is the pace of theoretical development in SNA. Since its introduction to sociolinguistics, various new measures and statistical techniques have been developed by the fast growing SNA community. Receiving this vast amount of recent literature and testing new concepts is likewise a challenge for the application of SNA in sociolinguistics. Nevertheless, the overall methodological effort of SNA has been much reduced by the advancements in recording technology, data processing, and the introduction of SNA software (UCINET) and packages for network statistics in R (‘sna’). In the field of African sociolinguistics, a more recent version of SNA has been implemented in a study on contact-induced variation and change in Pana and Samo, two speech communities in the Northwest of Burkina Faso. Moreover, further enhanced applications are on the way for Senegal and Cameroon, and even more applications in the field of African languages are to be expected.