The resolution of hiatus (heterosyllabic adjacent vowels) has long been a topic of interest in Spanish phonology, yet with few exceptions it has not been studied empirically. Previous accounts, limited mainly to consideration of structural factors such as vowel quality and stress, have fallen short of an adequate explanation of this phenomenon as it occurs in real language use, largely because they have failed to account for the variability encountered therein. The current study is the first to deal with this issue of hiatus resolution within the theoretical framework of usage-based phonology, which proposes that patterns of use play a key role in creating and shaping the form and content of the sound systems of languages. This study focuses specifically on the variability found in hiatus resolution between words in New Mexican Spanish, and assesses how frequency of use, in addition to structural and other factors, contributes to this variability. The methodology is variationist. 1,912 tokens of hiatus were extracted from a large corpus of spoken discourse and coded for a variety of factors, including stress, vowel quality, syllable structure, word class (content vs. function), previous mention, and token frequency. Multivariate analysis was performed to evaluate the relative contribution of these factors as they operated simultaneously, revealing that frequency (specifically patterns of lexical co-occurrence), in addition to structural factors (especially vowel quality and stress), played a significant role in determining how hiatus was resolved. The results enhance our understanding of hiatus resolution by shedding light on important factors that have previously gone unexplored, and also provide support for the notion of phonological structure set forth in the usage-based model of phonology.
Selected Proceedings of the 9th Hispanic Linguistics Symposium
edited by Nuria Sagarra and Almeida Jacqueline Toribio
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