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Abstract

This work presents preliminary research into determining value judgments of socioeconomic class and educational level of speakers based on the allophones of the alveolar tap /ɾ/ and trill /r/ in found in Costa Rican Spanish speech. The population of speakers is male and female professionals living in the Greater Metropolitan Area (GAM) [23-46 years]. Data was collected through written questionnaires and recordings. Speakers were asked about their linguistic attitude to their own variant. Speakers were also asked if they had had any negative experiences regarding their individual speech. Each speaker was also asked to evaluate the variant in a series of guises read by another speaker in the study population. All speakers performed the tap as vibrant in most positions; vibrant and retroflex realizations of the tap were observed before nasal. Vibrant, fricative, and retroflex variants were observed as allophones of the trill. Most speakers maintained a single variant for the alveolar tap and trill, although the variants used differed among the individual speakers. All speakers showed allophonic realizations to the alveolar tap and alveolar trills consistent with those found in Costa Rican middle or upper class. It was not possible to determine if the perception of a lower educational level could be related to a perception of the voice as that of a younger person. The main limitation of this study is that the sample of speakers is small, and that the speakers belong to similar socioeconomic backgrounds.

Introduction

Migration processes and the geography of Costa Rica have given rise to a complex dialect reality in this country. There are areas within the country that are geographically separated, but that share phonetic features (QUESADA PACHECO, 1991; 2013).

A particular set of variables of interest correspond to the alveolar trill /r/ and the alveolar tap /ɾ/. These rhotics present several allophones, some associated with different localities and phonological environments. Likewise, social processes and the influence of academic authority figures and the press have led to the stigmatization of some of these variants. This is the case of rural speech, the voiceless alveolar approximant allophone of the alveolar tap, and the voiced alveolar approximant of the alveolar trill. (QUESADA PACHECO, 2000).

In this work1 we explore, in a preliminary way, the perception of social class and educational level that may be associated with different allophones of the rhotics. For the purposes of this work, perception is understood as the impression that a listener has regarding a recording of an unknown speakers’ socioeconomic class and educational level, in the absence of additional social clues. Additionally, self-perception refers to the impression that a speaker has that their speech reflects their socioeconomic class.

The sample of speakers used in this study are all middle-class Costa Rican professionals, and inhabitants of the Central Valley, although they come from different regions of the country. Unlike in other previous studies of listener perception (CAMPBELL-KIBLER 2006; NIEDZIELSKI 1999), the listeners in our study were not provided with information regarding the social characteristics of the speakers.

We consider whether the different allophones of the alveolar tap and alveolar trill may be related to different sociocultural perceptions. In particular, our hypothesis is that the use of the voiceless alveolar approximant as an allophone of the tap and the assibilated realizations of the trill are related to listener perceptions of the speaker as belonging to a lower socioeconomic class or having lower educational level.

1. Theoretical framework

This work focuses on the alveolar tap /ɾ/ and trill /r/, as well as their various allophones within Costa Rican speech. This study is focused on the strings of segments that contain the alveolar tap in combination with other consonants, as is the case with the segment /tɾ/ and /dɾ/.

According to the work of Quesada Pacheco (1996) the alveolar tap has four allophones:

1. Voiced alveolar tap [ɾ]: this allophone is found across all regions of the country.

2. Voiceless alveolar approximant [ɹ̥]: this allophone has been described by Quesada Pacheco both as voiceless alveolar fricative (QUESADA PACHECO 1996) and as voiceless prepalatal fricative (QUESADA PACHECO 2000). However, the symbols used in both works suggest that the allophone corresponds to an approximant in the current IPA terminology. It is found before /s/ and in the string of segments /tɾ /. This allophone is found in the Central Valley, although it is currently receding, and it is stigmatized by the urban youth population (QUESADA PACHECO 2000).

3. Voiced alveolar approximant [ɹ]: this allophone is described as voiced alveolar fricative in (QUESADA PACHECO 1996), although the symbol used corresponds to the alveolar approximant. It is found in complementary distribution with [ɹ̥].

4. Voiced retroflex tap [ɽ]: found in the Central Valley and to a smaller extent in the Northwest, South and Atlantic regions of the country.

An additional variant of the alveolar tap described by Quesada Pacheco (1996) corresponds to the elision of /ɾ/ before enclitic pronouns (except in the case of the pronoun -te). Elision of the alveolar tap in the infinitive before enclitic pronouns is considered a stereotypical element of rural speech. Even the school system and the media fight this variant (QUESADA PACHECO, 2000).

In the case of the alveolar trill /r/, Quesada Pacheco (1996) describes the following allophones:

1. Voiced alveolar trill [r]: found in all regions of the country and more frequently in the northwest, north, Atlantic, and South Pacific regions.

2. Voiced alveolar approximant [ɹ]: this allophone is described by Quesada Pacheco (1996) as voiced alveolar tense fricative, however, the symbol used corresponds to the current voiced alveolar approximant. This is the most common allophone of /r/ in Costa Rica.

3. Voiced alveolar affricate [dɹ]: this allophone can be found after pause, nasal or lateral.

4. Voiceless alveolar approximant [ɹ̥]: found only in final position. This allophone was described by Quesada Pacheco (1996) as voiceless alveolar fricative.

5. Voiced retroflex approximant [ɻ]: found more frequently in the young population.

6. Voiced uvular trill [ʀ]: found only in the Puriscal region and stigmatized by the educational system

Other authors have studied the phonetic variation of rhotics in Costa Rican speech, particularly in San José (CALVO SHADID, 1995; CALVO SHADID; PORTILLA CHAVES, 1998; VÁSQUEZ CARRANZA 2006), and have observed more allophones than those described above. However, we consider that the work by Quesada Pacheco (1996) provides a summarized overview of the allophones of rhotics present in Costa Rican speech, as it considers speakers from different regions of the country.

A previous study by Calvo Shadid and Castillo Rivas (2014) has shown that Costa Rican speakers in the Central Valley perceive the speech variety from the Central Valley as distinct from that of the other regions in the country.

The perception of socioeconomic characteristics of a speaker based on audio samples has been found to be dependent on social information regarding the speakers (NIEDZIELSKI 1999; CAMPBELL-KIBLER, 2006). A study by Niedzielsky (1999), done on English language speakers in Canada, showed that listeners make use of social information, including stereotypes, when considering their perception of a speaker’s variety. The aforementioned study also showed that speakers can provide inaccurate assessments of their own variety. Due to the possible influence of social information on the perceptions of speakers, Niedzielsky concludes that research in speech perception and language change must take this effect into account.

The work of Campbell-Kibler (2006), although focused on the variable (ING) in English pronunciation, further showed that the perception of listeners is based on social and linguistic contexts. The social information available is connected in various ways by the different listeners and used to construct inferences about the speakers. These inferences may include aspects such as origin, region, education, and even sexual orientation of the speaker. Even a single variable, such as (ING), is linked to a complex network of social meanings. As a consequence, studies must take into consideration that social information available to listeners plays a crucial role in determining listener perception.

2. Methodology

The population of interest in this study corresponded to a group of professionals living in the Greater Metropolitan Area (Gran Area Metropolitana, GAM) originally from both this area and from other regions of the country. The study population consisted of 12 people aged between 23 and 46 years. Eight people were women and four were men. The details of this population are found in Table 1. The sample was composed of speakers available to the researchers. All speakers are identified with the H# label, where # corresponds to a sequential identification number arbitrarily assigned to each participant.

All participants provided informed consent to participate in this study. They were volunteers and did not receive any form of payment for their participation in this work.

Informant Gender Profession Age Origin Years living in GAM Primary High school University
H1 Female Economist 33 San José 30 Private Private Private
H2 Female Teacher 36 Pavas 36 Private Private Mixed
H3 Female Teacher 46 Puriscal 5.5 Public Public Public
H4 Female Teacher 43 San José 33 Public Public Public
H5 Female Coach 26 San Rafael Alajuela 26 Public Public Public
H6 Male Administrator 43 Guayabo de Mora 43 Public Public Public
H7 Female Economist 37 Hatillo 37 Public Private Public
H8 Female Physiotherapist 36 Hatillo 36 Public Private Public
H9 Female Administrator 36 Pavas 25 Public Public Private
H10 Male Sociologist 26 Turrialba 6 months Public Public Public
H11 Male Physiotherapist 23 Turrialba 4 Private Private Private
H12 Male Political scientist 28 Turrialba 1 Public Public Public
Table 1.Table 1. Study population

The data collection was carried out in two questionnaires. The questionnaires used are included in their entirety as part of the supplementary documentation to this work.

The purpose of the first questionnaire was to serve as an instrument to identify the allophonic variants of the alveolar tap and trill used by the studied population. It also sought to identify the self-perception of the participants to their own variety. In addition, it provided audio samples of phrases with alveolar taps and trills in different environments (as summarized in Table 2), as well as audio of their speech in the answering of the questions. Additionally, a question was included to identify whether participants have had a negative experience regarding how other people perceive their speech.

The initial questionnaire was divided into four parts:

a. Technical data sheet to collect personal information from the participant.

b. Evaluation of the self-perception that the subject has regarding their own speech.

c. Description of negative sociolinguistic experiences of the participant.

d. Reading of sentences (guises) containing /ɾ/ and /r/ in different positions.

Segment Number of occurrences Environments Examples
/r/ 9 initial robot
/ɾ/ 7 intervocalic (5); end (2) será
/tɾ/ 6 initial (4); intervocalic (2) tranquilo, astro
/dɾ/ 2 intervocalic; between nasal and vowel pedrería, Alejandro
/pɾ/ 2 initial; between nasal and vowel principito, compraron
/bɾ/ 3 initial; intervocalic; between nasal and vowel brotan, obra, sembró
/ɾ/ + nasal (/m/, /n/) 4 after vowel carne
/ɾt/ 1 intervocalic descubierto
Table 2.Table 2. Occurrence of the allophones of interest in the reading task.

The second questionnaire was sent two weeks after the first. In this questionnaire the participants were instructed to listen to one of the audios generated by other participants reading the sentences. The speaker-listener pairs were assigned arbitrarily. Members of each pair were not aware of the geographic origin, education level nor socioeconomic group of one another. The speakers were also asked to answer three single choice questions. The questions were intended to determine the perception that each participant had of the corresponding speaker in the following categories:

a. Speech is characteristic of the GAM.

b. Education level.

c. Socioeconomic group.

Each of the categories is associated with a scale, as shown in the supplementary documentation. All responses to the first questionnaire were received as audio recordings via WhatsApp (FACEBOOK INC., 2020). The responses to the second questionnaire were received as WhatsApp images where the desired option was marked.

The realizations observed in sentence readings were classified as assibilated (Asi), approximant (Apr), fricative (Fri), retroflex (Ret), tap (Tap) or trill (Tri) according to their phonetic features via auditory coding by a single coder. The use of a single coder is a limitation of this study, as it does not consider possible differences across coders (HESELWOOD; PLUG; TICKLE, 2008).

3. Results and Discussion

In the sentence reading task, all speakers performed the alveolar tap as [ɾ] in the intervocalic and final locations, as well as in the group [ɾt]. Similarly, it was realized as an alveolar tap in the context of the groups [tɾ], [dɾ] and [bɾ]. Most of the speakers, except for H1, performed the group [pɾ] as tap. In the case of H1, one of its realizations was perceived by the coder as a fricative, although the coder considered it to be very close to a tap. Despite the lack of acoustical analysis to determine fricative noise, it was decided to code this instance as a fricative to show the slight variation in this case with respect to clearer realizations of the tap.

The realizations of the alveolar tap in the pre-nasal environment showed greater variability, as shown in Table 3. The tap allophone was most common; all the speakers presented at least one case with this variant.

Variant H1 H2 H3 H4 H5 H6 H7 H8 H9 H10 H11 H12
tap [ɾ] 1 1 2 4 4 2 1 4 3 4 4 4
retroflex [ɽ] 3 3 2 0 0 2 3 0 1 0 0 0
Table 3.Table 3. Distribution of observed variants of the alveolar tap located before nasal in sentence readings. The predominant variant, when one was found, is shown in bold.

In the case of the alveolar trill, the observed variants corresponded to trill [r], approximant [ɹ], fricative [ɹ̝] and retroflex [ɽ]. The distribution of the variants for each speaker is shown in Table 4. No occurrences of the assibilated variant [ɹ̠] were found in the reading of the sentences. For the most part, the speakers maintained a single variant throughout all the sentences. In the case of the speakers who showed several variants, at least one was considered predominant over the others and was present in more than half of the occurrences.

Variant H1 H2 H3 H4 H5 H6 H7 H8 H9 H10 H11 H12
trill [r] - - - - 6 - - - 1 1 - 3
fricative [ɹ̝] 9 - 9 9 2 9 6 - - - - 1
approximant [ɹ] - 9 - - 1 - - 9 7 8 9 5
retroflex [ɽ] - - - - - - 3 - 1 - - -
Table 4.Table 4 Distribution of observed variants of the alveolar trill during reading of sentences. The predominant variant, when one was found, is shown in bold.

The variants observed for each speaker in the audios answering the questions are detailed in Table 5. Due to variation in the number of occurrences and variant location for each speaker it is not possible to make a comparative distribution, such as the ones shown in Tables 3 and 4. No instances of elision were found across this study.

Allophones: H1 H2 H3 H4 H5 H6 H7 H8 H9 H10 H11 H12
Alveolar tap /ɾ/ Tap Tap Apr Tap Asi Asi Fri Apr Apr Apr Apr Apr
Asi
Ret Tap Tap Ret Ret Fri
Tap
Alveolar trill /r/ Fri Apr Apr Fri Apr Fri Fri Apr Fri Apr Apr Apr
Asi
Fri Fri Tri Ret Ret Fri Fri Fri
Table 5.Table 5 Allophone variants observed in the answering of questions.

A comparison of the variants summarized in Tables 3, 4 and 5 shows that most of the speakers showed consistency in their use of the different allophones (Table 6). Across most speakers, the variants observed in the reading of the sentences were also present in the answering of questions. In general, more variants were observed in the answering of questions than in the reading of sentences (Table 6).

Speaker Allophones of /ɾ/ Allophones of /r/
Reading of sentences Answering of questions Reading of sentences Answering of questions
H1 Ret Tap Fri Fri
Tap
H2 Ret Tap Apr Apr
Tap Fri
H3 Ret Apr Fri Apr
Asi
Tap Ret Fri
Tap
H4 Tap Tap Fri Fri
H5 Tap Asi Apr Apr
Fri Asi
Tap Tri Tri
H6 Ret Asi Fri Fri
Tap Tap
H7 Ret Fri Fri Fri
Tap Ret Ret Ret
H8 Tap Apr Apr Apr
H9 Ret Apr Apr Fri
Tap Ret Ret Ret
Tri
H10 Tap Apr Apr Apr
Tri Fri
H11 Tap Apr Apr Apr
Fri
H12 Tap Apr Apr Apr
Fri Fri Fri
Tri
Table 6.Table 6. Summary of variants observed in reading of sentences and answering of questions.

Table 7 shows a summary of the reports from the speakers of experiences related to their speech and their self-perception regarding their own speech. Most of the speakers considered that their own speech reflects a GAM middle class status (9 out of 12 speakers).

The speakers reported an assortment of experiences related to their speech: differences in the pronunciation of words, speed of speech, perception of the variety as foreign or from a different region and perception of a different socioeconomic status.

Other experiences reported by the speakers are related to the perception of the speech variety by non-Costa Ricans or were related to lexical or idiomatic differences. These experiences were considered outside the scope of this work because their origin is not phonetic.

Although in the questionnaire the were asked to include negative incidents, several of the speakers included experiences that they did not consider negative. It should be noted that even if the speakers themselves do not perceive the incidents as negative, the incidents may still correspond to instances of negative linguistic attitudes.

Informant Does your speech reflect the middle class of the GAM? Experiences due to their way of speaking Observations
H1 Yes ▪ Perception of pronunciation [r] by other Latin Americans (Colombians) X
H2 Yes ▪ Derogatory perception of elision of syllables (entonces as [tons]) ▪ Perception of higher socioeconomic status X
H3 Yes ▪ They did not understand the meaning of some words in another region (Puntarenas) Does not consider it a negative experience
H4 No ▪ Speech speed perception X
H5 Yes ▪ Differences in the pronunciation of words Does not consider it a negative experience
H6 Yes ▪ Perception of pronunciation [r] by other Latin Americans (Venezuelans) Does not consider it a negative experience
H7 Yes ▪ They asked her if she is a foreigner; notice something different in the accent X
H8 Yes ▪ Only when she lived abroad; attracted attention for being different Does not consider it a negative experience
H9 Yes ▪ They told her that the accent was from the city and when she moved to the rural area, they told her that her accent had changed Does not consider it a negative experience
H10 No No experiences reported. X
H11 No ▪ Sometimes says phrases that people do not understand Does not consider it a negative experience
H12 Yes ▪ In Turrialba he uses usted more and in the Central Valley he uses vos; when he changes his form, they criticize him for the change. X
Table 7.Table 7. Self-perception and experiences related to the way of speaking.

Table 8 shows the perception of speech of each speaker in the reading of the sentences according to one of the other participants in the study. In most cases, the speakers were perceived as members of the middle class of the GAM, and even in a couple of cases they were perceived as members of a higher socioeconomic group. The only exception was H11 on which the listener could not determine the social class based on their speech.

It is noteworthy that even though all the speakers have completed university education, most of them were perceived by the listeners as having barely a secondary education (7 cases). This perception of the educational level was found for both men and women of different ages, therefore we do not consider that this is an effect related to the gender of the speaker.

Another possible factor at play is the perceived age of the speaker. It was not possible to determine if this perception may be related to the perception of the speaker voice as that of a teenager. If such were the case, it is reasonable for listeners to assume that the highest educational level possible is secondary education. However, in the absence of data on the listener perception of age of the speaker it is not possible to determine if was factor is at play.

Speaker Does the speech reflect the middle class of the GAM? Academic degree of the speaker Socioeconomic group Listener
H1 Totally agree III cycle of secondary Middle H
H2 Agree University Middle H
H3 Agree IV cycle of secondary Middle H
H4 Totally agree University High H
H5 Totally agree IV cycle of secondary Middle H
H6 Agree IV cycle of secondary Middle H
H7 Agree University High H
H8 Totally agree University Middle H
H9 Totally agree IV cycle of secondary Middle H
H10 Agree IV cycle of secondary Middle H
H11 Neither agree nor disagree IV cycle of secondary Middle H
H12 Agree University Middle H
Table 8.Table 8 Listener perception of the speakers reading sentences.

According to the results obtained and shown in Table 9, none of the allophones used by the speakers in the reading of sentences corresponds to the non-prestigious allophones mentioned by Quesada Pacheco (2000), in particular, the voiceless alveolar approximant as an allophone of the alveolar tap and assibilated variants of the trill. These results are consistent with the perception of the speakers as people belonging to a middle- or upper-class socioeconomic group. According to what was observed in the analysis of the speech in the answering of questions, some of the speakers presented isolated assibilated realizations of the rhotics. However, the assibilated realizations were not present in the reading of sentences, which corresponds with careful speech.

Speaker Allophones of alveolar tap (before nasal Allophones of trill Academic degree of the speaker Socioeconomic group
H1 Ret Fri III cycle of secondary Middle
H2 Ret Apr University Middle
H3 X Fri IV cycle of secondary Middle
H4 Tap Fri University High
H5 Tap Tri IV cycle of secondary Middle
H6 X Fri IV cycle of secondary Middle
H7 Ret Fri University High
H8 Tap Apr University Middle
H9 Tap Apr IV cycle of secondary Middle
H10 Tap Apr IV cycle of secondary Middle
H11 Tap Apr IV cycle of secondary Middle
H12 Tap Apr University Middle
Table 9. Table 9 Comparison between predominant variants and external perception.

4. Conclusions

From the results obtained in the reading of sentences, we can conclude that the speakers belonging to the studied sample show allophonic realizations to the alveolar tap and alveolar trill consistent with those found in middle- or upper-class Costa Ricans. None of the variants observed by listeners in the reading of sentences corresponded to less prestigious variants and all the speakers were perceived as belonging to middle- or upper-class groups.

As has been mentioned before, social information influences listener perception, and as such, further developments of this research must take these social variables into account. Some of the social information that must be considered include perceptions of age, gender, origin, locations in which the speaker may have lived previously and trustworthiness of the speaker.

Despite these limitations, the present study provides a preliminary view into the current realizations of rhotics in Costa Rican middle-class individuals.

5. Acknowledgements

The authors wish to acknowledge the contributions of Prof. Ximena del Río Urrutia and Lander Arias in this work and in the corresponding presentation at the Linguistweets 2020 conference. The authors also wish to thank the participants in this study. This work would not have been possible without their collaboration.

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