Department of Spanish and Portuguese
Department of Spanish and Portuguese

“I'm sounding very Latino”: Sociolinguistic variation and social meaning in Washington, D.C. Latino English

Amelia Tseng

Tue, January 21, 2014 | BEN 2.104

4:00 PM - 5:00 PM

Immigration offers rich potential for identity construction and new dialect development through contact of languages and peoples. In this presentation, I examine the development of Latino English dialects in a hitherto unstudied site of Latino immigration: Washington, D.C. Latino English in D.C. has much to offer our understanding of the relationships between group and individual identities, and personal experience in the development of emergent multilingual repertoires and practices. While Chicano English has been studied in the western United States, little comparable research exists on other Latino immigrant groups. In this talk, I present results of a quantitative sociolinguistic study of a particular phonetic variable, the low-front vowel /ae/ (as in “cat”), in the speech of first- and second-generation immigrants of diverse Latino origins in D.C. This variable has been demonstrated to hold stylistic potential for identity work due to its varying between an “ethnolectal” pronunciation associated with Chicano English (in which /ae/ sounds almost like [a] as in “father”) and the general American pattern (in which /ae/ sounds like [ae], as in “cat,” or sometimes even [eI], as in “Kate”). The analysis reveals that Latino speakers in D.C. indeed use the “ethnic” pronunciation, lending support to the argument that the variant has its roots in language contact between Spanish and English in the U.S. At the same time, however, my analysis shows a good deal of variation across and within speakers, based on factors such as educational background and racialization. The quantitative findings are supplemented by qualitative investigation of the discourse contexts in which the “Latino” and “general American” variants occur, which helps reveal the social-psychological motivations that may underpin different individuals’ use of the “ethnolectal” or “general American” pattern. (For example, speakers may use the “ethnolectal” pronunciation to highlight Latino identity in different social situations, such as in-group solidarity in Latino social settings or to emphasize difference when surrounded by non-Latinos.) I conclude with a discussion of future directions for research on Latino linguistic repertoires.


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