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Increasing Periodicity to Reduce Similarity: An Acoustic Account of Deassibilation in Rhotics
Laura Colantoni
22-34 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


Alternations and changes from trills to assibilated rhotics have been documented in several Latin American Spanish varieties. Assibilation can be accounted for by recent articulatory studies on trills (e.g. Solé 2002), which show that when the precise aerodynamic conditions for trilling are not met, assibilated rhotics are produced instead. A change in the opposite direction, although less likely, has also been observed (e.g., De los Heros 1997), and is currently taking place in some areas of Argentina. In those same areas, non-assibilated palatals are being substituted by assibilated post-alveolars. It is hypothesized that (1) loss of assibilation in rhotics is motivated in part by their similarity with the new assibilated post-alveolars; and (2) that this process involves a decreasing noise level in assibilated rhotics leading to a continuum whose opposite extreme is represented by rhotic approximants, i.e., sounds with a periodic source and no noise. In order to test these hypotheses, both the spectral properties (spectral moments) and the periodicity (cepstral peak amplitude) of the rhotics were studied. The analysis of the speech of 8 natives of two Argentine provinces reveals that: (1) realizations transcribed as trills were indeed approximants; (2) assibilated rhotics and post-alveolar fricatives do not differ in their periodicity levels (e.g., cepstral values); (3) non-assibilated rhotics have periodicity levels that are identical to those reported for trills; (4) assibilated rhotics share some spectral properties with post-alveolar sibilants (e.g., third spectral moment) but differ from them in the location of the constriction. Thus, results support the analysis of fricatives and approximants as members of an articulatory continuum in opposition to standard trills. Deassibilation affects mainly the degree of the constriction, and, as a consequence, the degree of voicing. On the other hand, approximants resemble acoustically (and probably perceptually) the standard trill as concerns the degree of periodicity. As such, increasing the periodicity in an assibilated rhotic may lead to the perception of the trill, even if it is not present.

Published in

Selected Proceedings of the 2nd Conference on Laboratory Approaches to Spanish Phonetics and Phonology
edited by Manuel Díaz-Campos
Table of contents
Printed edition: $180.00