I arrived with local undergrad research assistant Romeo Damico, promptly at 11, and we exchanged polite introductions with the secretaries and a few doctoral researchers dissertating in the neighboring rooms. We then retreated to the institute’s quaint library, filled with a pleasing collection of historic Hispanic linguistics texts, and set up shop for the day. This was still our first day meeting in person too, so we took our time settling into the new environment and adjusting to working with one another. I had just finished my second year in the Linguistics graduate program at UC Berkeley – equipped with CLAS Tinker grant funds, this was my first time doing “fieldwork,” let alone traveling south of Florida. Damico had just finished his first year of college, already with an established interest in all things philosophical – initially he wasn’t quite sure what he’d signed up for with me, but he was inquisitive and excited to learn about the project.
Our first session together had actually been earlier that day, with Damico’s sister, so we both had a chance to warm up to the flow of the experiment in the comfort of her home. From her apartment I had just taken my first Subte ride, feeling a mix of satisfied by the success of the initial session and frazzled by my innumerable tiny Spanish miscalculations, which I expressed to Damico to his gentle bemusement.
After a few fairly successful sessions with participants on my own, I was grateful to have him there to help put the remaining participants further at ease as a first-language Porteño Spanish speaker. The goal was to get each participant talking, about anything, really, especially if it would get them impassioned and focused more on the topic at hand than on how they were speaking. I would of course be looking at how they produced their “st” sounds in this informal setting, interested in how closely they might resemble Andalusian speakers (of southern Spain)1 in not only aspirating, but perhaps post-aspirating the “s” sound – think of the word “pasta” produced as patʰa, with a large puff of air after the “t”.