The English and Spanish of young adult Chicanos

Carmen Richardson Fought, University of Pennsylvania


Many sociolinguistic studies have focused on majority communities, particularly on speakers of Anglo ethnicity in urban settings. This study examines phonological variation among Latino speakers in Los Angeles, in order to determine how patterns of language variation in a minority community parallel or differ from those of a majority community. Sociolinguistic interviews were conducted with young adult Latino speakers of Chicano English. An analysis of their English vowels revealed evidence of some sound changes taking place among California Anglos. Three phonological variables of this type were found: the fronting of /u/, the backing of /ae/, and the raising of /ae/. A statistical examination of the use of these variables by the Latino speakers showed that the linguistic variation reflects the unique social structure of the community. To explain the variation, it was necessary to include culturally specific social factors such as gang membership in the analysis. Furthermore, interactions between social categories were crucial. In the case of /u/-fronting, for example, women and men showed different effects of the interaction of social class and gang status. The Spanish of these young adult speakers also revealed some surprising effects. First, the speakers showed varying levels of phonological nativeness in Spanish, despite having acquired Spanish at home from infancy. In an experimental setting, some speakers were consistently rated by other speakers from the community as having a native accent, while others received very low accent ratings. The two factors that correlated with Spanish fluency were the presence of a Spanish-monolingual parent in the home, and the interaction of sex and social class. The latter pattern shows a striking parallel to the gender effect that was seen for the English variables, suggesting that the same intersecting social norms may influence both languages in a bilingual community.

Subject Area

Linguistics|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Fought, Carmen Richardson, "The English and Spanish of young adult Chicanos" (1997). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9727220.