Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

Syllable-Initial /S/ in Traditional New Mexican Spanish: Linguistic Factors Favoring Reduction Ahina

Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

Syllable-Initial /S/ in Traditional New Mexican Spanish: Linguistic Factors Favoring Reduction Ahina

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. This study presents results of the first large-scale (N = 5633), empirical analysis of syllable-initial /s/ reduction in TRADITIONAL NEW MEXICAN SPANISH. The variable aspiration and deletion of syllable-initial /s/, occurring in approximately a third of the lexical types and a quarter of the tokens analyzed, is found in word-initial position (Hi, henor Si, SENOR) and in word-medial position (ahina ASINA). Long considered a phonological trait characteristic of the Spanish of New Mexico (e.g. Espinosa 1909), to date little is known about the variable realizations of /s/ in syllable-initial position. Linguistic factors such as phonological environment, prosody and frequency are shown to correlate significantly with rates of reduction. *

INTRODUCTION. In the Traditional Spanish of New Mexico today, a phonological weakening process occurs, unexpectedly, in syllable-initial position. Syllable-initial position, generally more resistant to reductive processes compared to syllable-final position (Bybee 2001:86), is the locus of variable weakening of the sibilant /s/. Processes affecting this New Mexican /s/ in syllable-initial position include aspiration and deletion (regarded as REDUCTION in this analysis), which are found in both word-initial [Hi; henor (Si, senor) YES, SIR] and word-medial positions [ahina (asina) SO, THIS WAY, ?que paha? ?que pasa?) WHAT'S HAPPENING?).

In his analysis of the Spanish of New Mexico, Espinosa (1909:72) identifies and describes reduction of the sibilant in syllable-initial position as a feature common to the speech of the region, and this phonological trait has been noted in many valuable publications through the years (e.g. Bills 1997, Bills & Ornstein 1976, Bills & Vigil 1999, Cardenas 1975, Cobos 1983, Cotton & Sharp 1988, Gutierrez 1981, Lipski 1996, Sanchez 1982).

Clearly, the variable reduction of syllable-initial /s/ has not gone unnoticed. Disagreement persists, however, regarding the nature of this variable reduction (Alonso 1967). Obaid (1973:64) notes that the lack of consensus regarding syllable-initial /s/ reduction likely arises from '... the scarcity of available studies, especially those of a comprehensive nature' that focus on this variable. More than three decades have passed since Obaid made this observation, and nearly a century since Espinosa (1909) notes reduction in syllable-initial position, yet the number of comprehensive studies remains largely unchanged--specifically for New Mexico.

This work takes a step toward addressing this paucity of research. The present analysis is a large-scale examination of 5633 tokens of syllable-initial /s/ (word-initial, word-medial) in the spoken Traditional Spanish of New Mexico. The quantitative analysis discussed below reveals linguistic factors that significantly constrain realizations of syllable-initial /s/ in this very important variety of Spanish in the United States.

1. BACKGROUND. Traditional New Mexican Spanish refers to the variety of Spanish spoken in New Mexico and Southern Colorado by descendents of the first settlers to the region. The first permanent Hispanic settlement was established in 1598 north of present day Santa Fe, making the Spanish of these settlers one of the earliest European varieties found in the United States (Bills 1997). The Hispanic presence continued to grow during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as more and more Spanish speakers came to the area. Since the time of the first settlement, Spanish has been spoken continuously in the region, except for the 12 year period after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 in which the Spanish settlers were forced to flee.

Albuquerque was founded in 1706, and throughout the eighteenth century the Spanish-speaking population grew, primarily in the Rio Grande area, to about 25,000 people (Bills & Vigil 1999). Mexico's independence from Spain (1821) in the nineteenth century resulted in an increase in settlements and population in La Nueva Mexico. …

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