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Academic Paper

Title: A New Sonority Degree in the Realization of Dental Affricates /ts dz/ in Italian
Paper URL:
Author: Chiara Meluzzi
Email: click here TO access email
Institution: Scuola Normale Superiore
Linguistic Field: Phonetics
Subject Language: Italian
Abstract: This study deals with the realization of dental affricates /ts dz/ in the variety of Bozen Italian, and shows the emergence of a new sonority degree between voiceless and voiced.
The town of Bozen represents a unique case in Italian sociolinguistic landscape, since the region of South Tyrol is officially trilingual (Italian, German, and Ladin), with German as the most spoken language in the whole area, whereas Italian is limited to the main town such as Bozen. Moreover, the Italian community of Bozen came from different regions of Italy during the last century, thus constituting a very heterogeneous community of speakers. Quite surprisingly, no study has been dedicated to the linguistic investigation of this variety.

For this study a sociophonetic approach has been chosen, with the aim to describe the variation between fine-grained phonetic variation and social variables. 42 Italian speakers of Bozen were recorded for a total amount of about 43h42’ recordings. Speakers were of different ages, sexes, levels of education, and districts of residence in Bozen. Leaving aside spontaneous speech, in this paper the analysis will concentrate on the 4244 tokens elicited through a word list. Each token has been annotated in PRAAT following a specific annotation protocol prepared for this study, to allow the recognition of the sonority degree, and to automatically take some measurements on the different portions of the affricates.
At the sonority level, the acoustic analysis has shown the presence of three sonority degrees: a whole voiceless affricate [ts], a whole voiced affricate [dz], and an in-between phone with the occlusive part produced as voiced and the fricative part produced as voiceless. This new phone was called “mixed” in the data annotation, and treated as a different voicing degree in the statistical analysis of data. The analysis showed that, in terms of duration, “mixed” affricates are shorter than voiceless ones, but longer than voiced, thus constituting a real intermediate voicing category. Regarding the phonological distribution of these phones, it appears that “mixed” affricates are more common after a sonorant but regardless of the following vowel (e.g. pranzo “lunch”, calzino “little sock”, forzuto “strong man”). Sociophonetically speaking, “mixed” affricates show the highest percentages of use in the production of women, old speakers, and speakers with a low degree of instruction. The use of these affricates decreases in younger speakers, men, and speakers with an high degree of instruction (e.g. BA or MA).

This distribution leads to the hypothesis that this unattested sonority degree has been developed in the Italian variety of Bozen due to contact between different regional varieties of Italian. As a matter of fact, there is great variation in the distribution of the sonority degree of dental affricates among different regional varieties: for instance, the affricate in pranzo “lunch” is mainly realized as voiceless [ts] in North Western varieties, but it is voiced [dz] in many Southern varieties. The same variety, however, can allow both the realization, according to the dialectological literature actually at disposal. Thus, speakers coming from different dialectal backgrounds may have development a new sonority degree of dental affricates as a sort of accommodation strategy between voiced and voiceless alternatives.

This “mixed” realization seems to be less used by youngest speakers, at least in the very formal setting elicited through word list reading. A case study exploring the diaphasic variation of these realizations in a specific group of speakers (i.e. five members of the same family) showed, however, that younger speakers do use “mixed” affricates in a more spontaneous speech (e.g. during the interview). This seems to indicate that this variable is perceived as characteristic of the Italian of Bozen, but not prestigious, at least for the youngest speakers.
Type: Individual Paper
Status: Completed
Publication Info: Challenging Sonority - Cross-linguistic Evidence’. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 252-275. ISBN 9781781792278. DOI: 10.1558/equinox.25680
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