Linguistics and English Language

Linguistic Circle

Speaker: Scott Sadowsky (Catholic University of Chile/Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History)

Title: Using contemporary phonetic and phonological data to shed light on historic contact situations: the case of Mapudungun and Spanish

Abstract: It is commonly held that Spanish has somehow been particularly resistant to the influence of the indigenous languages spoken in the New World territories to which it was transplanted. In monolinguals not involved in recent contact situations, which make up the vast majority of speakers, it is at most conceded that a small number of non-structural items, such as certain lexemes and intonational patterns, are of likely indigenous origin. These cases of language change are typically dismissed as trivial, due to their non-structural nature. Most other changes are attributed to Spanish-internal dynamics.

This talk proposes that Chilean Spanish has indeed undergone a series of deep structural changes as a result of its centuries-long contact with Mapudungun, the language of the country’s largest indigenous group, the Mapuches. I examine three phonetic and phonological features which lie below speakers’ threshold of conscious perception, and which therefore have the potential to persist regardless of any anti-indigenous linguistic or social attitudes. The first is the Chilean Spanish vowel system, which is analyzed in terms of both the location of its phonemes and the size of the acoustic space it utilizes. The second and third are the phonemes /p/ and /k/, which even in Hispano-Chilean speakers manifest a series of allophones which are not attested in other varieties of Spanish, but which are characteristic of the speech of Mapudungun-Spanish bilinguals. The distribution of all three of these features varies according to speaker sex, socioeconomic status and/or ethnicity.

From this I draw three main conclusions. First, that the Chilean Spanish vowel system was rephoneticized under the influence of Mapudungun: the five phonemes of Spanish were maintained, but their phonetic expression was modified significantly. Second, that contact with Mapudungun also led to the reorganization of the Chilean Spanish phonological system in the cases of /p/ and /k/, merging a series of phonemic distinctions. And third, that all three of these phenomena acquired new sociolinguistic meaning at some later date, particularly among Hispano-Chilean speakers, leading to distributions in this group which are determined by speaker sex and/or SES.

Contact details

Dr Chris Cummins

Jan 31 2019 -

Linguistic Circle

2019-01-31: Using contemporary phonetic and phonological data to shed light on historic contact situations: the case of Mapudungun and Spanish

Room S1, Psychology Building, 7 George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9JZ