Use of both ceceo and seseo by individual speakers without register distinction

Noted the other day in the speech of a couple of elderly working class immigrants from Cádiz in the Poblenou district of Barcelona. Ceceo (the characteristic Andalusian lisp which assimilates /s/ and /θ/ to [θ]) has traditionally been considered socially inferior to seseo (assimilation to [s], associated particularly with Seville and New World dialects), as well as to standard peninsular usage, which maintains the distinction.

I asked them whether they used one or the other for particular purposes or in particular contexts, and they said that they did not, that it was just something they did. I have a feeling that it works on a similar basis to the swapping backwards and forwards between Catalan and Spanish I’ve heard among older harbour and other workers in the Barceloneta district. (Interestingly I don’t think it occurs as much among younger people.)

I like being able to explain this kind of thing in simple functional terms, so I must say that I find it completely extraordinary, but maybe I don’t get out enough. I hope it is documented somewhere else, although most of the linguists I know here studied medieval philology and little else before becoming shelf stackers. Given the disgust some of them have expressed for modern urban “Catalan” and “Spanish”, one wonders whether something quite interesting is being ignored in deference to political dogma.

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  1. The Spanish Wikipedia articles on the phenomena (seseo, ceceo, standard Castilian pronunciation) are surprisingly (that is, and unfairly, qualitatively) better than their English and German counterparts; they do document, that this this phenomenon exists, but perhaps not as clearly as one could hope for.

  2. I kind of hope that, hidden away in a university somewhere in Spain, is a detailed study of the whole thing, with maps and interviews and blahblah. I kind of suspect that there ain’t.

  3. There’s a common technique like that in Cádiz which I think is aesthetically driven: you mix the two styles in phrases so neither /s/ nor /θ/ dominate

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