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Rethinking Gender Principles in El Salvador: Evidence from /s/ Weakening

Authors
  • Brogan, Franny D.
  • Yi, Deborah
Type
Published Article
Journal
Studies in Hispanic and Lusophone Linguistics
Publisher
De Gruyter
Publication Date
May 10, 2022
Volume
15
Issue
1
Pages
1–31
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1515/shll-2022-2054
Source
De Gruyter
Keywords
License
Yellow

Abstract

Previous research on /s/ weakening in Spanish has consistently aligned with Labovian principles: women prefer the prestige variant, usually [s], while men favor nonstandard, lenited variants. However, in Salvadoran Spanish—a dialect that weakens /s/ across syllable positions and shows allophonic variation beyond the tripartite paradigm of [s]/[h]/[∅]—gender-based lenition patterns contradict this generalization. This study examines the production of phonological /s/ by 72 Salvadorans balanced for region, urbanicity, age, and gender who participated in sociolinguistic interviews in El Salvador in 2015. We find that women not only lenite /s/ at higher rates than men overall, but also produce significantly more of the variants that carry the most local stigma. We further find that, counterintuitively, women are significantly more likely than men to lenite /s/ in utterance- and word-initial prosodic positions, which are stronger and more perceptually salient than medial and final tokens. We argue that these discrepancies are best understood by taking El Salvador’s unique historical and sociopolitical context into account. Specifically, we propose that a culture of state-sanctioned violence against women and the unprecedented threat of gangs in El Salvador have led to the social segregation and linguistic isolation of women, affording them little access to standard linguistic forms even as globalization, urbanization, industrialization, and migration facilitate a shift toward linguistic standardization.

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