Latino Language Variation

Spanish spoken in the United States

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Although African American Vernacular English has been well documented by sociolinguists over the last half century, less attention has been paid to the English varieties spoken by Latinos, a group that seems to have had their ethnicity imposed upon them in large part by the 1980 Census to document people with a Spanish language background.  Researchers such as Wolfram investigated the dialect of Puerto Ricans in New York, for example, the late 1960s, but other researchers may have been hampered by the need to prove that the language patterns of U.S. Latinos were a dialect rather than interlanguage phenomena from Spanish interference.  Bayley, Mendoza-DentonThomas, and Santa Ana have contributed substantially to our understanding of these varieties, and Fought’s (2002) landmark study of Chicano English in California appears to have generated substantially more interest in them. 

                Despite the imposition of the ethnic label by outsiders, some research suggests that the growing Latino population may sometimes embrace a unified identity (including Ocumpaugh 2010).  This seems to be a situational phenomenon, and it does not appear to erase other categories that reflect cultural differences within the group.  Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and Cubans, for example, come from very different cultures and have had very different experiences with the United States government.  At the same time, the common linguistic background does create bonds and market forces (both large scale, like Telemundo, and small scale, like local Spanish newspapers and ethnic grocery stores) have probably helped to foster a shared sense of ethnicity.  (Though, one should note that many Latino immigrants today speak languages other than or in addition to English and Spanish.)

                My own research has focused mainly on the acoustic patterns of Mexican Americans in Benton Harbor, MI, and I have used data from this emerging community to explore the possibility of regional variation in the dialect (e.g. Ocumpaugh and Roeder 2007, Preston, Ocumpaugh and Roeder 2009, Ocumpaugh 2010, and Ocumpaugh forthcoming).  This has been an understudied area of research in Latino English varieties, although a number of other scholars are also beginning to investigate these varieties acoustically (including, for example, Phillip Carter, Carmen Fought, Kenneth Konopko, Mandy Menke, Dennis Preston, Rebecca Roeder, Erik Thomas, and Walt Wolfram). I hope it will lead to a greater understanding of the relationship between second language acquisition and dialect acquisition and change, two areas of research that would benefit from greater contact with one another.

 

 

(This page is still under construction. If you are interested in other areas of linguistic variation found in Latino varieties of English or in Spanish variation, please do not hesitate to email me at jocumpau@odu.edu. I also welcome comments and suggestions.)

 

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