Heritage Mexican Spanish Speakers’ Sociophonetic Perception of /s/ Aspiration

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Whitney Chappell


The present study explores the sociophonetic perception of second-generation Mexican Americans in the United States to determine (a) whether heritage Spanish speakers associate coda /s/ aspiration with social meaning, (b) if their perceptions align with those of monolingual Mexican Spanish speakers, and (c) how coda /s/ variation is perceived in in-group (Mexican) and out-group (Puerto Rican) voices. To answer these questions, 75 listeners participated in a matched-guise study in which they rated Mexican and Puerto Rican male voices presented with coda [s] and coda [h] along a matrix of social properties (e.g., niceness and intelligence). Mixed-effects linear and multinomial regression models fitted to 7,500 evaluations showed that heritage Spanish speakers perceive coda [h] as a marker of lower status and confidence, older age, and a Caribbean identity (p < 0.01), similar to the social evaluations held by
monolingual Mexicans in a previous study (Chappell, 2019a), but speaker origin played a pivotal role in heritage listener evaluations. In-group Mexican voices received nuanced evaluations based on phonetic variant, while social evaluations of the Puerto Rican voices were less variable. Additionally, the listeners’ written comments, which often made use of local relationships or community knowledge, support the notion that heritage listeners perceive new voices in light of their own lived experiences and expectations of their family’s variety of Spanish. Through its combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, this article highlights the sociolinguistic competence of second-generation speakers, repudiating deficit perspectives toward heritage Spanish.

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