LINGUIST List 32.897

Thu Mar 11 2021

Review: Spanish; Phonetics; Sociolinguistics: Chappell (2019)

Editor for this issue: Billy Dickson <>

Date: 01-Jun-2020
From: Andrea Canavosio <>
Subject: Recent Advances in the Study of Spanish Sociophonetic Perception
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Whitney Chappell
TITLE: Recent Advances in the Study of Spanish Sociophonetic Perception
SERIES TITLE: Issues in Hispanic and Lusophone Linguistics 21
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2019

REVIEWER: Andrea de los Angeles Canavosio, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba


The edited volume presents Spanish sociophonetic perception research studies from three geographical areas of the Spanish world: Spain, South America and North America. The volume includes a final section with two chapters devoted to future research directions in the field of sociophonetic perception studies.

The book begins with an introduction by the editor, who refers to the motivations that prompted this project. Most studies in the field of Spanish sociophonetics have focused mainly on production, and on finding out or describing how linguistic variables correlate with social groups. However, in these production studies many questions about the reasons why speakers employ certain phonetic variants remain unanswered. By producing one specific feature, are speakers trying to reassert their indigenous identity or is it used just due to linguistic transfer? Why do different speech communities, such as women, working class people, or youngsters tend to favor certain variants over others? Most importantly, which are the social meanings that phonetic variants have in different contexts? For example, hiperarticulating the release of the /t/ sound, may be associated with different groups of people, such as gay men (Podesva, 2006), nerd girls (Bucholtz, 2001), or Orthodox Jewish boys (Benor, 2001). The use of this single phonetic variant may also index a range of permanent qualities, such as intelligence or elegance, for instance, and also certain stances, such as politeness or exasperation.

Sociophonetic perception studies in the last two decades have focused mainly on English variants and they show that listeners are able to perceive sociophonetic cues even though they may not be aware of having this ability. There is evidence showing the correlation between different English varieties or certain accents and access to housing (Purnell et al., 1999), education (Chin, 2010), and work (Cargile, 2000; Grossman, 2011), among others. Chappell highlights that linguistic information is not perceived in a vacuum, as it is interpreted in the light of other contextual and social information listeners may have about speakers, such as gender and regional backgrounds. The editor points out that there is a scarcity of research in Spanish sociophonetic perception studies, even though in the past decade there have been some interesting research work that shows evidence that lack of exposure to variation has a negative impact on perceptual accuracy (Schmidt, 2013), for example, or that language dominance affects the way variants are perceived (Ramírez & Simonet, 2017). Additionally, results have revealed how a variant such as [u] and [es] is perceived as being more rural in Asturian Spanish. Other examples have to do with the articulation of consonants, especially of the phoneme /s/, which shows great sociophonetic variation. Its retention, aspiration, elision or hyperarticulation may be associated with a certain status, a certain gender, a certain personality, or a certain age.

The first section of the volume is devoted to the region of Spain. Chapter 1, “The role of social cues in the perception of final vowel contrasts in Asturian Spanish”, by Sonia Barnes (Marquette University), explores how social information about the speakers influences listeners’ perception of different realizations –ranging from Spanish [o] to Asturian [u] - of the masculine singular morpheme in the city of Gijón, in the Northwestern region of Asturias, where there is a situation of language contact between Asturian and Spanish. The study intends to show how existing language attitudes and social expectations listeners have about speakers may condition the processing of linguistic variation, the perception of explicitly stigmatized phonetic variants in this case, finding more evidence to claim that the relationship between linguistic and social information is bidirectional. A short questionnaire and a binary, forced-choice identification task were used in the experiment; the survey was administered online through Qualtrics. All participants were exposed to the same auditory stimuli, but the visual information varied for each of the three groups. The first group viewed a photograph of a man in an urban setting; the second one viewed a man in a rural setting; and the third group did not view any image. The random forest and the logistic regression model results show that social information about the speaker affected vowel categorization significantly, especially in cases where there was ambiguity in the linguistic signal. Respondents who claimed to be in favor of Asturian being given co-official status showed increased sensitivity to social priming. These results provide further evidence to support exemplar theory and models that incorporate exemplar weighting.

Chapter 2, titled “Covert and overt attitudes towards Catalonian Spanish laterals and intervocalic fricatives” was written by Justin Davidson (University of California, Berkeley). This study explores implicit and explicit attitudes of Catalan-Spanish Barcelonan bilinguals and of monolingual Spanish speakers towards two phonetic variables of Catalonian Spanish: the velarization of clear [l] to dark [ɫ], and the voicing of intervocalic voiceless /s/ to [z]. Covert social evaluations towards these phonetic realizations were gathered through an expanded form of the Matched Guise Technique, addressing variables individually. The guise stimuli were carefully created to be read aloud by a trained bilingual phonetician. The samples were then digitally manipulated using Praat (Boersman & Weenink, 2018) to include the tokens needed in each recording. Listeners completed two rounds of match-guise questionnaires, a socio-demographic questionnaire and a 10-minute interview. Results show that the two Catalonian variants were evaluated independently and uniquely by the bilingual and the monolingual participants on five attitudinal categories--solidarity, power, accent, rurality and bilingualism--simultaneously showing both positive and negative evaluations of Catalonian Spanish as a whole.

Chapter 3, “Dialectology meets sociophonetics: The social evaluation of ceceo and distinción in Lepe, Spain”, by Brendan Regan (Texas Tech University), is the last chapter in the section devoted to studies about varieties in Spain. The study’s objectives are to identify social evaluations listeners make of two possible coronal fricative realizations –ceceo and distinción- in the community of Lepe, located in the province of Huelva, Andalucía; to analyze how these evaluations may vary depending on listener and speaker characteristics; and to examine if language attitudes are influenced by time away from the community. A matched-guise experiment was administered online among 101 speakers from Lepe, using the survey program Qualtrics. The stimuli consisted of twelve speakers’ spontaneous speech samples which were digitally manipulated. Statistical analysis indicates that speakers who produced distinción rated higher in socioeconomic status, education level, urban-ness, formality and occupational prestige than speakers who produced ceceo. When compared with listeners who have not lived away from Lepe, informants who have lived more years away from the community evaluated speakers who produced distinción higher and speakers who produced ceceo lower. Age and gender of listeners also influenced evaluation. The study shows that even small communities can experience changes in language attitudes, and it also highlights how these language attitudes may have an influence on dialect convergence toward national standards at the cost of regional ones.

The second section of this volume is devoted to studies of South American varieties. Chapter 4 is titled “Regional identity in Highland Ecuador” and was written by Christina García (Saint Louis University). This study focuses on the interface between sociolinguistic perception and perceptual dialectology by comparing attitudes of 219 Ecuadorians from four different cities towards intervocalic /s/ voicing. The experiment was built and administered using Qualtrics. The stimuli used for the matched-guise experiment was taken from sociolinguistic interviews made to four speakers from Loja and some of the samples were digitally manipulated to suit the research objectives. The findings show that the use of intervocalic [z] is a Highlands regional marker, and it is associated with younger speakers, less pleasant-sounding speech, and lower status, but only for female speakers. No significant differences were found in the ratings of the male speakers, as the use of intervocalic [z] is expected and does not carry social meaning among males, whereas females’ use of the variant is marked and it is associated with certain social information. Surprisingly, listener origin did not have an effect on listeners’ perception of the two variants either.

Chapter 5, titled “Spanish and Palenquero: Language identification through phonological correspondences”, was written by John M. Lipski (The Pennsylvania State University). It examines the bilingual environment in the village of San Basilio de Palenque, where Spanish and the creole Palenquero co-exist. These languages are generally mutually unintelligible, mostly because of their disjoint grammars, but there is considerable overlap between them, especially in cognate lexicons. The study aims at finding out to what extent being aware of these correspondences may contribute to rapid language identification in Palenquero - Spanish speakers. Three experiments were used to collect the data: a language identification task of single words, an on-line rapid language identification task through eye movement and an on-line processing task of identification of language switches through eye movement. The findings indicate that language identification is slightly facilitated when cognates exhibit regular phonological correspondences, illustrating how sociophonetic variation may have a reinforcing role in language processing. Results are relevant to the language revitalization process that Palenquero is undergoing and to research on revitalization efforts of other minority languages which are considerably cognate with the dominant language.

Chapter 6, by Lauren B. Schmidt (San Diego State University), is titled “The role of social networks in cross-dialectal variation in the perception of the Rioplatense assibilated pre-palatal [ʃ]”. The study’s objective is to explore the way the degree of dialectal contact, either through social networks or other forms of exposure such as media, influences the perception of [ʃ] –sheísmo-, a non-native regional Spanish sociophonetic variant which is frequent in some Argentinian varieties, among yeísta listeners. The participants were two groups of listeners who belong to yeísta speech communities, one from La Rioja, Northwestern Argentina, and the other from Bogotá, central Colombia. The informants completed an identification task where they categorized pseudowords’ consonants into either weak palatal fricative [j] or voiceless assibilated pre-palatal [ʃ]. They also responded to a language background and dialect contact questionnaire. The results reveal that both groups assigned the variant [j] to the intended phonetic category, mirroring their own regional production norms. However, when asked to categorize the non-local variant [ʃ], identification varied depending on how much contact with Rioplatense speakers participants had had in the past. Findings reveal that experience may modify listeners’ perceptual and processing norms without their necessarily adopting the use of the specific sociophonetic variant.

Chapter 7 is titled “The social perception of intervocalic /k/ voicing in Chilean Spanish” and its authors are Mariška A. Bolyanatz Brown and Brandon M. A. Rogers (Occidental College / Ball State University). This research study aims at determining whether the novel allophonic trend of producing /k/ voicing in utterance-medial intervocalic position among young Chilean women is identified by listeners, and if listeners’ perception of this feature matches findings in production. A pseudo matched-guise experiment conducted online through Qualtrics was used for data collection. The stimuli were extracted from sociolinguistic interviews made to four male and female speakers from Santiago de Chile; it consisted of two to three-word utterances containing intervocalic /k/, which were then digitally manipulated to include a voiced and a voiceless guise. Participants had to be native speakers of Chilean Spanish and reside in Chile. Results show that the voicing of intervocalic /k/ may function as a marker of local identity. Male speakers were perceived as more Chilean if they used the voiced variant. However, even though young female speakers showed a higher tendency to use the voiced /k/, the feature was not associated with any social information by listeners. The fact that this allophonic variant is in the process of emerging and has low perceptual salience may account for the mismatch between production and perception findings.

Chapter 8, “The sociophonetic perception of heritage Spanish speakers in the United States: Reactions to labiodentalized <v> in the speech of late immigrants and U.S.-born voices” was written by Whitney Chappell. The study aims at finding out the degree of heritage speakers’ awareness of sociolinguistic information present in phonetic variants and the social properties they associate with the labiodental and the bilabial realizations of <v> through a matched-guise experiment. The stimuli contained sixteen digitally manipulated recordings of two groups of Spanish speakers: late Mexican immigrants and heritage speakers. A survey which gathered the seventy-five listeners’ demographic information and experience with the Spanish language was also administered. The results of the experiment reveal that variant (labiodental vs. bilabial) was a predictor of heritage listeners’ social evaluations at three different dimensions, confirming that listeners were able to, and did, perceive phonetic variants as socially meaningful markers. However, interpretation of variants was not static; it varied depending on the sex of the speaker, and it seemed to be associated with prestige and status when speakers were female. Even though the production of heritage speakers is many times different from that of Mexican monolingual Spanish speakers, their perceptions coincide, which gives evidence of heritage speakers’ rich sociophonetic knowledge.

Chapter 9 is titled “Spoken word recognition and shesheo in Northwestern Mexico: A preliminary investigation into the effects of sociophonetic variability on auditory lexical access”, by Mariela López Velarde and Miquel Simonet (University of Arizona). When considering the phonetic variants of (ch) in norteño Mexican Spanish, speakers are usually exposed to free variation between [tʃ] and [ʃ]. The study aims at exploring auditory lexical processing patterns of these two phonetic variants among speakers of this Spanish variety. The participants were 48 people who were born in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, and who were living there when the study was carried out. The data was collected using a lexical decision task with immediate auditory priming to find out whether the variants are considered identical or similar by measuring recognition time. The stimuli was made up of 24 target words which always contained the consonant (ch) in word-initial position, and which were produced with variants [tʃ] and [ʃ]. They were preceded by related and unrelated primes. Results show that long-time Hermosillo residents are equally likely to accept or recognize both word-initial variants of (ch) when identifying possible Spanish words. The difference between matching and mismatching priming conditions was not significant. However, the informants’ response latencies were faster for [tʃ] than for [ʃ], suggesting than the former variant may be privileged in phonological representations that contain (ch), probably due to its frequency or social salience.

Chapter 10 is the last one of the sections about North American Spanish. It was written by Natalia Mazzaro and Raquel González de Anda (University of Texas at El Paso) and it is titled “The perception-production connection: / tʃ/ deaffrication and rhotic assibilation in Chihuahua Spanish”. The research study investigates the production and perception of / tʃ/ deaffrication and rhotic assibilation in speakers of Chihuahua Spanish so as to find out whether social salience, frequency and phonological context may have an impact on the relationship between perception and production. The 35 participants were native Spanish speakers recruited in El Paso, Texas and Ciudad de Juárez, México. They were asked to narrate the story Little Red Riding Hood and to talk about their favorite food to elicit production data. The perception experiment consisted in completing a discrimination task based on oral stimuli that was composed of speech samples produced by a female Spanish speaker from Chihuahua. The findings reveal that on the production side, assibilation was more frequent among the youngest generation and also slightly more common among women. Higher rates of deaffrication were found in the youngest group and in men. As regards perception, assibilation was successfully perceived by very few participants. In contrast, almost all participants perceived deaffrication, which revealed greater sociolinguistic awareness and a closer production-perception relationship for this variant. The authors state that the relationship between perception and production is strongly influenced by the phonological context of the variable, its frequency, and its salience in the speech community.

The fourth and last section in the volume contains two chapters which are devoted to future directions in the field of sociophonetic perception research. Chapter 11 was written by Sara Mack (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities) and its title is “Of intersectionality, replicability, and holistic perspectives”. The author highlights the interdisciplinary nature of sociophonetics. She states that sociophonetic production studies are much more widespread, whereas research in the perception arena has just started to expand. She puts forward some practical and theoretical considerations to make a contribution to this expanding field. The concepts that she focuses on are intersectional approaches and reproductibility, as they are considered essential to advance in this area. Intersectional approaches help in the analysis of language use and social identity, as they provide the necessary theoretical framework to understand complex and dynamic social relationships which influence and at the same time are influenced by the social, historical and interactional contexts. Variables need to be seen as working together, co-creating and adapting to each other to constitute social meaning (Levon, 2015). As regards reproductibility, the author claims that Spanish sociophonetic perception studies need to aim at their results being reproducible if they want this field to move forward. Overcoming the replication crisis that many theories in the social sciences have undergone would mean a step forward in legitimizing the discipline.

Chapter 12, the last one in the volume, is titled “Future directions for sociophonetic research in Spanish” and was written by Nicholas Hendriksen (University of Michigan). It takes the form of an epilogue which provides an overview of the 11 chapters presented in the volume, the subtopics and themes developed, methodologies and theoretical approaches used, and points in common between the research studies. In the second section of the chapter, the author refers to possible future research empirical directions, especially focusing on variables which could be of interest: vocalic variation and prosodic (mainly intonational) variation, as he claims there is still much room for research in these areas, not only in bilingual or multilingual settings but also in monolingual ones. The need to further study the link between production and perception by integrating methodologies and techniques is stressed, as it is vital to have a thorough understanding of how individual listeners and speakers take part in sound change phenomena. The author also makes reference to the exploration of non-linguistic factors that mediate the relationship between production and perception as a promising field to delve into in order to have insights on language variation and change.


This volume is a must for all graduate and undergraduate linguistic students and scholars interested in having a comprehensive view of variation in the Spanish-speaking world, as it gives you an insight into what is being done in the area of Spanish sociophonetic perception nowadays and how much is yet to be explored within this fascinating field. There are no books devoted exclusively to perception studies in the Spanish language, as most research studies have focused their attention mainly on the production side of Spanish sociophonetics. The volume provides state of the art studies carried out by renowned researchers from different countries. They analyze the phenomena from different perspectives, showing theoretical advancements in the field and helping us understand how synchronic social evaluations may lead to diachronic language change. Including the three main geographical areas of the Spanish world and devoting one section to each of them is a plus of the volume, as it aims at including as many varieties and regions as possible. However, there is still much to be observed and studied about the large number of Spanishes that can be heard in South America, for instance. South American varieties show as much or possibly even more research potential than varieties from the other regions, as many of them are in contact with aboriginal languages. The final section of the volume gives further coherence and closure to the book, pointing out how the studies included relate to each other and suggesting methodologies and paths for future research. I consider there is still much research to be done also on the interface between Spanish sociophonetic perception-production studies and second language acquisition. As it was clearly stated by the editor, the volume is intended as a stepping stone and as an invitation for researchers to keep on exploring the plethora of ways in which we can analyze Spanish sociophonetic variation, which is still literally a world of possibilities.


Benor, S. (2001). The learned /t/: Phonological variation in Orthodox Jewish English. In T. Sanchez & D. E. Johnson (Eds.), Penn Working Papers in Linguistics: Selected papers from NWAV 2000 (pp. 1/16). Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Department of Linguistics.

Bucholtz, M. (2001). The whiteness of nerds: Superstandard English and racial markedness. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 11, 84-100.

Cargile, A. C. (2000). Evaluations of employment suitability: Does accent always matter? Journal of Employment Counseling 37,

Chin, W. Y. (2010). Linguistic profiling in education: How accent bias denies equal educational opportunity to students of color. Scholar 12, 355-443.

Grossman, L. A. (2011). The effects of mere exposure on responses to foreign-accent speech (Unpublished MA thesis). San José State University.

Levon, E. (2015). Integrating Intersectionality in Language, Gender, and Sexuality Research. Language and Linguistics Compass 9(7), 295-308.

Podesva, R. (2006). Phonetic detail in sociolinguistic variation: Its linguistic significance and role in the construction of social meaning (Unpublished PhD dissertation). Stanford University.

Purnell, T., Idsardi, W., & Baugh, J. (1999). Perceptual and phonetic experiments on American English dialect identification. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 18, 10-30.

Ramirez, M., & Simonet, M. (2017). Language dominance and the perception of the Majorcan Catalan //-// contrast: Asymmetrical phonological representations. International Journal of Bilingualism, 1-15.

Schmidt, L. B. (2013). Regional variation in the perception of sociophonetic variants of Spanish /s/. In A. M. Carvalho & S. Beaudrie (Eds.), Selected proceedings of the 6th Workshop on Spanish Sociolinguistics (pp. 189-202). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project.


My name is Andrea Canavosio. I work as an English Language and Phonetics and Phonology lecturer at the National University of Córdoba, Argentina. I have an MA in English Applied Linguistics. I am currently doing a PhD in Linguistics at the University of Northumbria, Newcastle, UK. My research interests revolve around Spanish and English phonetics and phonology, sociophonetics, assessment of oral proficiency, and second language acquisition. I have also done research on second language writing and assessment.

Page Updated: 11-Mar-2021