We offer an acoustic study of variation in the realization of intervocalic alveolar fricatives in Catalan and Spanish. We consider the effects of phonological inventory (Catalan has a distinction between /s/ and /z/ that Spanish lacks) and position in word (i.e. effects of word boundaries). An analysis of a corpus of Map Task interviews in Catalan and Spanish revealed that Spanish word-medial and initial intervocalic /s/ segments are shorter than in Catalan. Whereas our results are consistent with the predictions of theories incorporating functional principles (i.e. contrast preservation), we also consider other possible explanations of the facts. The analysis also revealed that Spanish word-final intervocalic /s/ segments are weaker along the two dimensions that we examined (duration and voicing) than their initial and medial counterparts. We suggest that this apparently morphological effect on lenition has an articulatory explanation in terms of gestural coordination. © 2014 S. Karger AG, Basel

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