Measures of speech rhythm and the role of corpus-based word frequency: a multifactorial comparison of Spanish(-English) speakers


  • Michael J. Harris
  • Stefan Th. Gries
Keywords: speech rhythm, syllable-timed vs. stress-timed, PVI, Spanish, English, monolingual vs. bilingual, corpus frequencies


In this study, we address various measures that have been employed to distinguish between syllable and stress- timed languages. This study differs from all previous ones by (i) exploring and comparing multiple metrics within a quantitative and multifactorial perspective and by (ii) also documenting the impact of corpus-based word frequency. We begin with the basic distinctions of speech rhythms, dealing with the differences between syllable-timed languages and stress-timed languages and several methods that have been used to attempt to distinguish between the two. We then describe how these metrics were used in the current study comparing the speech rhythms of Mexican Spanish speakers and bilingual English/Spanish speakers (speakers born to Mexican parents in California). More specifically, we evaluate how well various metrics of vowel duration variability as well as the so far understudied factor of corpus-based frequency allow to classify speakers as monolingual or bilingual. A binary logistic regression identifies several main effects and interactions. Most importantly, our results call the utility of a particular rhythm metric, the PVI, into question and indicate that corpus data in the form of lemma frequencies interact with two metrics of durational variability, suggesting that durational variability metrics should ideally be studied in conjunction with corpus-based frequency data.


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Author Biographies

Michael J. Harris

is currently pursuing a PhD in Spanish with a focus on Iberian Linguistics from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His primary research interest is Speech Rhythms in Spanish, Portuguese, and English. Other research interests include corpus linguistics and the Portuguese Inflected Infinitive. He has presented at several national conferences on subjects including bilingual speech rhythms, acoustic correlates of Spanish speech rhythms, the accusative-oblique alternation in Spanish clitics, and syntactic priming of the Portuguese inflected infinitive. Current projects include a corpus study of the Portuguese inflected infinitive and a study of dialectal variation in the realization of Spanish vowels, as well as ongoing work on Speech rhythms of Iberian languages.

Stefan Th. Gries

is Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is a quantitative corpus linguist at the intersection of corpus linguistics, cognitive linguistics, and computational linguistics, who uses statistical methods to investigate linguistic topics such as morpho-phonology, syntax, the syntax-lexis interface, semantics, and corpus-linguistic methodology. Theoretically, he is a cognitively/psycholinguistically- oriented linguist. He has written three books, co-edited four volumes, and (co-)authored more than 30 journal articles as well as more than 50 articles in edited volumes. He is founding editor-in-chief of the journal Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory, associate editor of Cognitive Linguistics, and performs editorial functions for a variety of international peer- reviewed journals.
How to Cite
Harris, M. J., & Gries, S. T. (2011). Measures of speech rhythm and the role of corpus-based word frequency: a multifactorial comparison of Spanish(-English) speakers. International Journal of English Studies, 11(2), 1–22.