Phonetic simplification processes in the English of the Barrio: A cross-generational sociolinguistic study of the Chicanos of Los Angeles

Otto Santa Ana A., University of Pennsylvania


I investigate the phonetic realization of syllable structure in Chicano English (=ChE) to characterize its status as a language contact dialect, its relation to the target language, and the changes it undergoes. I study two simplification processes, one consonantal and one vocalic, in the vernacular of a balanced sample of forty-five adult Chicanos (=Mexican-Americans), non-native and native speakers, across five generations using methods of empirical linguistics. A well-studied sociolinguistic variable, /-t,d/ deletion, serves to linguistically situate ChE in the absence of a description of the matrix dialect. When compared to a cross-dialectal characterization of the variable, I find differences in ChE. I discover no cross-generational changes, or convergence in the constraints of /-t,d/ deletion (including non-native speaking immigrants); although one morphological change is attributed to differences in language use of two age-groups. Increased deletion is correlated both with: greater sonority in the preceding segment; and lower sonority in the following segment. I attribute the latter findings to specific aspects of English syllable structure. The less-studied variable, in sociolinguistic terms, is unstressed vowel reduction. Spanish, the substrate, has no vowel reduction while English does, so I investigate how ChE develops vowel reduction. Formant frequency measurements are made of stressed and unstressed vowels for four speakers. I find that Euro-American vowel reduction is not 'acquired' by ChE native speakers. Neither generation, language use at home, bilingualism versus monolingualism, or any linguistic factor plays a developmental role. Rather, a distinctive ChE pattern is found: mid vowels reduce while mid vowels do not reduce. When a fifth speaker is considered, a regular progression is tentatively suggested: vowel reduction develops in proportion to the amount of exposure to matrix dialect speakers. I did not consistently find native speaker resolution of interference-type confusions in speech of the non-native speaker. The dialect's distinctive constraints on the simplification processes are shared by non-native and monolingual native speakers alike; generation is not significant. In a sense, the contact dialect establishes its characteristics before it has native speakers. Accommodation to the matrix dialect is an independent social process that involves the nature of contact between dialects.

Subject Area

Linguistics|Language arts|American studies|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Santa Ana A., Otto, "Phonetic simplification processes in the English of the Barrio: A cross-generational sociolinguistic study of the Chicanos of Los Angeles" (1991). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9200383.