The Social Construction of ‘Foreign’ Sounds in Quechua-Influenced Spanish


This year’s events:

“The Social Construction of ‘Foreign’ Sounds in Quechua-Influenced Spanish” a talk with Dr. Anna Babel, September 7, 2012

Dr. Anna Babel is assistant professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Ohio State University.  She  is a sociolinguist and a linguistic anthropologistwhose research draws on quantitative and qualitative data from a Quechua-Spanish contact region in central Bolivia.  Dr. Babel investigates how linguistic features are linked to social representations and the way that complex social factors are integrated into language structure.  Her talk drew a diverse crowd of faculty and students from various academic disciplines including linguistics, romance languages, anthropology, folklore, and education.

In her talk entitled, “The Social Construction of ‘Foreign’ Sounds in Quechua-Influenced Spanish” Dr. Babel explored questions of language contact, foreignness, and social context.  She focused on research conducted in the valley region of central Bolivia among Spanish speakers who speak little or no Quechua.  Dr. Babel discussed how and why speakers of Andean Spanish use aspirates and ejectives of Quechua origin despite their dissimilarity to the canonical Spanish sound system.  She played several recorded examples of both of these linguistic features to illustrate their use, attention-grabbing quality, and dissimilarity to Spanish.  Dr. Babel suggested that Spanish speakers use these Quechua origin sounds and loanwords consciously to index ideologies linked to Quechua and Quechua speakers as well as a general concept of ‘foreignness.’  She noted that under this construction many dissimilar elements are lumped together: a foreign sound could be classified as Quechua sounding, from La Paz, or English.  Dr. Babel also demonstrated comically that when people wish to mimic English, they fill their speech with these Quechua origin aspirates and ejectives, which are not present in English.  Dr. Babel’s research also suggests that Spanish speakers are more likely to utilize these Quechua origin loanwords and sounds in familiar contexts as opposed to official or institutional contexts, further reinforcing the notion that these sounds are used consciously to draw a particular affective stance.


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