The Sociolinguistic Variable: Where is it?

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University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics
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Fleming, Andrew P

By examining speakers of Salvadoran heritage in Boston through a model of structural continuity, this paper seeks to understand the how speakers’ use of the salient phonological variable of coda /s/ reduction and the supposed non-salient syntactic variable of subject placement change as Spanish speakers spend longer in the United States. Whereas past studies have suggested that Spanish speaker’s use of coda /s/ reduction changes according to complex negotiations of sociolinguistic identity, their use of syntactic variables changes due to the effects of the new linguistic environment of the U.S. Rather than addressing these hypotheses directly, the analysis of this study’s nine speakers calls attention to the need to better understand the conceptual binaries of salient vs. non-salient and phonological vs. syntactic in the study of sociolinguistic variables. While sociolinguistics often uses terms like coda /s/ reduction and subject placement to refer to “sociolinguistic variables,” this study finds evidence that this terminology obscures the nature of salient and non-salient variation among speakers. The data suggests that when Spanish speakers of Salvadoran heritage seek to obscure the regional origins of their speech to avoid raciolinguistic discrimination, they do so by increasing the production of frication of coda /s/ before non-consonants and/or word-finally, and by post-posing more subjects with experiencer-presentative verbs. These results indicate that both these sites of variation in Spanish may hold social meaning in constrained social and linguistic contexts, a finding which demands a new understanding salient and non-salient sociolinguistic variation.

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