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Rhotic variation in the Spanish spoken by Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico and Western Massachusetts

The Spanish trill is known to present a wide range of phonetic variation in Puerto Rican Spanish (PRS), attested not only on the island but in the diaspora. Combining auditory and acoustic analysis, this research project studies acoustic data on onset /r/ in Holyoke, MA, the city with the largest per capita population of Puerto Ricans living outside the island. The aim of this dissertation is to analyze whether there is trill variation in the PR community in Holyoke, and, whether it mirrors the variation found in Puerto Rico. Special attention is paid to glottal, velar, or uvular /r/ realizations. Recent work suggests that the phonemes /r/ and /h/ have been contextually neutralized in perception, which would result in the loss of a phonemic contrast. Therefore, this project also investigates whether there is evidence for this production neutralizationusing measurements that had never been acoustically examined for this dialect (center of gravity, skewness, and kurtosis).Three experimental production tasks were designed and employed: a picture description task, a map task and a reading task. Forty-five participants performed the experimental tasks: 21 were recorded on the island and 24 in Holyoke. As a result, a total of 4,393 phonemic /r/ and /h/ were analyzed. Results indicate that there are substantial similarities in rhotic variation as well as some variation between Puerto Rico and Holyoke: (1) the same trill realizations are found and (2) the means of center of gravity, skewness and kurtosis are significantly different between /h/ and /r/ in both locations, suggesting an absence of neutralization. However,different linguistic and sociolinguistic variables affect (1) the use of the backed /r/ and (2) phonemic /h/-/r/ distinction.Findings suggest that the PR community in Holyoke tries to maintain their language, one of the most noticeable signs of immigrants’ origin, to strengthen authenticity in the same way that they keep other PR cultural experiences. The differences found suggest that, although Holyoke maintains a close bond with Puerto Rico due to the back and forth migration waves, diasporas are still changing communities which create sites of super-diversity, with different patterns as a result of these new dialect contact situations.