Dissertation Defense - Gylfadóttir

The Effective Borrowing of a Phonemic Contrast -

Language change often leads to the merger of phonemic categories, but the addition of new categories is rarely attested. In the southern Spanish city of Seville, contact with the prestigious standard variety to the north is leading to the emergence of a contrast between /s/ and /θ/. 
   The speech of 24 young adult speakers from Seville analyzed in this dissertation contains a mixture of [s] and the new sound [θ] in standard /θ/ contexts. However, when naturalistic production is examined individually, a systematic pattern is revealed: most of the speakers categorically limit [θ] to /θ/ contexts. They are also able to distinguish [θ] from [s] in low-level perception experiments. I argue that this is evidence for an underlying phonological contrast whose borrowing may have been made possible by its high level of social awareness.
    In a semantic priming experiment with a local talker, the same speakers show a processing advantage for words with standard /θ/ that are produced with the local form [s] over words produced with [θ]. I hypothesize that this seemingly incongruent result may be evidence for talker-based phonemic flexibility in perception. 
   This dissertation underscores the complexity of the notion of phonemic contrast and motivates the investigation of more ongoing changes involving consonants. In general, it highlights the potential benefits of combining naturalistic and experimental approaches to variable phenomena.
Supervisor: Meredith Tamminga
Committee: David Embick, Donald Ringe
  
Date: 
Friday, November 16, 2018 - 10:00am - 12:00pm
Location: 
Department Seminar Room