The phonetics of sociophonetics: Validating acoustic approaches to Spanish /s/

Michael S. Gradoville, Earl Kjar Brown, Richard J. File-Muriel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


In many varieties of Spanish, syllable- and word-final /s/ is subject to a process of reduction from sibilance [s] through aspiration [h] to deletion. Sociolinguistic studies have traditionally used a three-way classification scheme on the basis of impressionistic coding; however, in the last decade, instrumental acoustic measurements have been favored. The present study examines several potential acoustic correlates of Spanish /s/ variants, including the often-used center of gravity, in their ability to faithfully represent the original perceptually-based observation of variation. The results indicate that many measurements can capture the contrast between sibilance [s] and aspiration [h]; however, fewer measurements (center of gravity after high-pass filter, skewness after high-pass filter, intensity without high-pass filter, zero crossing rate after high-pass filter, mel-frequency cepstrum coefficient 1 without high-pass filter) are also capable of detecting the contrast between aspiration [h] and deletion without making a priori assumptions about the appearance of non-zero variants. We propose that a combination of these measurements using Principal Component Analysis, which extracts the commonalities in the measurements, better represents the [s] > [h] > 0 cline than any one measurement by itself. We discuss the need for stricter evaluations of acoustic correlates of sociophonetic categories, especially regarding consonantal variation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101125
JournalJournal of Phonetics
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • Impressionistic coding
  • Instrumental acoustic measurements
  • Reduction
  • Sociophonetics
  • Spanish /s/ realization
  • Validity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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