University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics


This study focuses on the incorporation and distribution of two Spanish phonemes, voiced and voiceless bilabial obstruents, into a pre-existing allophonic distribution of dental and velar obstruent voicing in Copala Triqui, an Otomanguean language from Oaxaca, Mexico. While a more traditional approach may assume that these phonemes will follow native rules of voicing, there has also been a recent concern about the trend to make maximal generalizations. In this line of thinking, people should make just the specific generalizations for which they have evidence (Hale and Reiss, 2008). Using data collected from live radio broadcasts, an article on lexical assimilation (Hollenbach, 1973b), a Spanish-Triqui dictionary (Hollenbach, 2004b) and formal elicitations, I show that these bilabial obstruents do follow pre-existing rules of voicing but also do not follow native patterns of devoicing. While on the surface this may seem to support Hale and Reiss’ warning, a more detailed look at the linguistic factors and sociolinguistic patterns reveals that (1) Triqui rules of voicing can be generalized beyond dental and velar obstruents to include bilabial obstruents although there are linguistic factors and sociolinguistic patterns mitigating this process. (2) Linguistically, a closer look at patterns of voicing in Triqui obstruents reveals that only the voiceless bilabial is imported directly. The voiced bilabial, in turn, is actually adapted as the native bilabial glide, which has an obstruent-like realization. (3) Finally, we see that the borrowed phoneme is much less likely to follow native rules in contexts of higher formality such as elicitations even when they follow native rules in less formal contexts such as radio broadcasts. By paying attention to the sociolinguistic context it becomes apparent that both careful and free speech need to be taken into account in order to fully understand possible generalization of native rules as well as sociolinguistic factors that may impede or even expedite this process.