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Changing Perceptions: The Sociophonetic Motivations of the Labial Velar Alternation in Spanish
Natalia Mazzaro
128-145 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


The labial-velar alternation is a common feature of widely dispersed Spanish dialects. The bilabial approximant alternates with its velar counterpart when preceding <u> and the diphthongs <ue> and <ui>. Thus, a word such as burro 'donkey' is realized as *gurro and abuelo 'grandfather' as *aguelo by children and illiterate speakers. This article investigates the acoustic and perceptual motivations of the labial velar alternation. The study analyzes data from sociolinguistic interviews and production and perception experiments. The author hypothesizes that the labial-velar alternation is triggered by the perceptual similarity between labial and velar approximants, which arises in the context of round vowels and diphthongs. The results from the sociolinguistic analysis show that the variation is constrained by back/round vowels and diphthongs. Moreover, labial-velar alternation occurs more frequently in the illiterate population. The results from the perception experiment show that illiterate speakers are also the ones with more discrimination errors. These results may suggest that acoustic similarity leads to confusion, which is a pre-condition for variation in speech. Literacy helps to prevent the spread of this perceptually driven variation.

Published in

Selected Proceedings of the 4th Conference on Laboratory Approaches to Spanish Phonology
edited by Marta Ortega-Llebaria
Table of contents
Printed edition: $205.00