Clarity and Contrast: Attributes of Montevideo Female Intonation
Brandon Goodale, PhD candidate in Spanish Linguistics, UW-Madison
Abstract: Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, is home to nearly half of the country’s population of 3.5
million people. Despite sharing a common history with Buenos Aires Spanish (BAS), there are
some differences (Bertolotti, 2011; Moyna, 2017). The present study is an acoustic analysis of
Montevideo Spanish (MS) intonation patterns, which have not been adequately documented or
compared to BAS. The only published study treating MS intonation is an MA Thesis which
treats broad-focus declaratives and Yes/No questions (Araujo, 2013), but counts on a small
homogenous group of informants.
The data of the present study employs the Autosegmental-Metrical (AM) Model (Ladd,
2008; Pierrehumbert, 1980; among others) and the Spanish Tones and Breaks Indices (Sp_ToBI)
(Beckman et al., 2002; Hualde & Prieto, 2015; among others). This study consists of 30
informants: 15 men and 15 women, from Montevideo, Uruguay, across three generations: ages
18-35, 36-59, and 60+, with 8-13 participants per generation. These informants were recorded in
person in 2022. Each informant completed a series of speaking tasks, including the discourse
completion task analyzed in this study. This study uses Praat (Boersma & Weenick, 2021) to
measure and compare the acoustic correlate of pitch, fundamental frequency (F0), and analyzes
these contours for both broad-focus declaratives (BFDs) and narrow-focus declaratives (NFDs).
Spanish BFDs are characterized by downstepping, but Spanish dialects vary regarding
peak alignment in relation to the stressed syllable (i.e., early vs. late peaking) and how that
alignment changes when an element of the statement is under focus. This study describes these
intonational patterns and compares them to the patterns found in MS (Araujo, 2013), which
concludes that MS intonation patterns after Castilian Spanish (CS) intonation rather than BAS.
Araujo (2013) finds that MS prefers the BFD prenuclear pitch accent L+<H* and nuclear pitch
accent L+H*, whereas BAS prefers L+H* in prenuclear position and H+L* in nuclear position
(Colantoni & Gurlekian, 2004; Gabriel et al., 2010; among others). Araujo (2013) did not
investigate NFDs, making this study the first to evaluate these patterns.
The results of the current study reveal a confluence of intonational patterns. In MS, not
all stressed words in BFDs are characterized by a rising pitch accent, with attempts to do this in
MS resulting in unnatural-sounding utterances. Of the prenuclear rising pitch accents, L+H* is
the most common; however, L+<H* is also used and is more than just “occasional”, as described
for BAS. L+<H* is not random but is used to increase visibility and contrast without denoting
narrow focus. Both males and females used pitch accent L+<H* in specific environments (See
Figure 1), but elsewhere, females use this pitch accent over twice as frequently. This pattern
suggests that females mark greater intonational contrasts. Contrarily, males deaccent at a higher
rate than females. In BFD nuclear position, both males and females prefer L* over H+L* (BAS)
and L+H* (CS) without drastic differences between males and females.
In NFD prenuclear position, MS prefers L+H* for words not under focus, and the tritonal
pitch accent L+H*+L to denote narrow focus. Furthermore, females use the tritonal pitch accent
and upstep more than males. This pattern suggests that females speak more energetically and
express narrow focus more undeniably. These intonation patterns make MS unique to both CS
and BAS, and more BAS-like in NFDs than in BFDs, which arguably comes from their shared
history and influence of Italian immigration (Colantoni & Gurlekian, 2004; Goebel, 2010).
Additionally, these patterns substantiate the linguistic opinions of the informants, on a prosodic
level, which claim first that MS and BAS are not identical, that BAS has greater Italian
influence, and second that females speak more cautiously, formally, and refined.