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Speech Rhythm and Intonation of Buenos Aires Spanish and L2 Castilian Spanish Produced by Italian Native Speakers

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 May 2014

Christoph Gabriel*
University of Hamburg
Elena Kireva
University of Hamburg
*Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Christoph Gabriel, Department of Romance Studies, University of Hamburg, Von-Melle-Park 6, 20146 Hamburg, Germany. E-mail:


A remarkable example of Spanish-Italian contact is the Spanish variety spoken in Buenos Aires (Porteño), which is said to be prosodically “Italianized” due to migration-induced contact. The change in Porteño prosody has been interpreted as a result of transfer from the first language (L1) that occurred when Italian immigrants learned Spanish as a second language (L2; McMahon, 2004). This article aims to examine if and to what extent prosodic features that are typical of Italian show up in Porteño and in L2 Castilian Spanish produced by Italian native speakers. Specifically, we investigated speech rhythm and the realization of yes-no questions in Porteño and L2 Castilian Spanish in comparison to Italian and L1 Castilian Spanish. We hypothesized that Italian, Porteño, and L2 Castilian Spanish would exhibit similar rhythm patterns, showing high values for the percentage of vocalic material, the variation coefficient of vocalic intervals, and the speech-rate-normalized pairwise variability index for vowels as well as high frequencies of rising prenuclear accents, with the peak located at the end of the syllable (L+H*) and falling final contours in yes-no questions, in contrast to Castilian Spanish. The results confirm our predictions for speech rhythm but not entirely for the intonation of yes-no questions.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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The recordings of the Castilian Spanish, L2 Spanish, and Italian speakers were made by Dr. Ariadna Benet (University of Osnabrück, Germany), to whom we are deeply obliged. We would also like to express our gratitude to Andrea Pešková and Jonas Grünke (both at the University of Hamburg, Germany) for their substantial help with the segmentation of the materials as well as for fruitful discussions. Further thanks go to Vasyl Druchkiv (University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Germany) for his help with the statistical analyses.


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