The interaction between faithfulness constraints and sociolinguistic variation

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The present paper examines the constraints governing the acquisition of sociolinguistic variables. More specifically, it investigates the acquisition of the school variety of Venezuelan Spanish characterized, according to previous research, by increased levels of retention of [&#240;&#61492;] in lower-socioeconomic-class children. The paper offers a quantitative analysis that provides empirical evidence for faithfulness effects in high activation domains, as well as a formal account of the data framed within Optimality Theory (OT). Positional faithfulness constraints are shown to interact with extra-linguistic variables such as socioeconomic class, age, indicating the acquisition of stylistic variation. The results of the empirical investigation reveal a pattern of deletion of intervocalic [&#240;&#61492;] in younger lower-socioeconomic background children that is consistent with the informal variety spoken in the immediate community. This favorable tendency toward deletion is overruled when intervocalic [&#240;&#61492;] is located in high activation domains, such as stressed syllable and word-initial position. In contrast, the older, lower-socioeconomic background children have fewer instances of deletion. The results suggest that the grammar of older, lower-socioeconomic class children contains two rankings, one favoring deletion and another one (acquired later) favoring retention. These rankings get activated as a consequence of external constraints such as <i>socioeconomic class</i>, <i>age</i>, and <i>style</i>. Probabilistic weights attached to each one of the rankings account for the general likelihood of selection of each ranking.


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