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American Varieties

Chicano English Quiz

Click the speaker's name to listen to them speak.  Then decide if they're bilingual, or if they speak only English:

Tomás Bilingual Monolingual
Mario Bilingual Monolingual
Carlos Bilingual Monolingual
Salvador Bilingual Monolingual
mexican bakery in los angeles

videoIn the Neighborhood
Carmen Fought discusses the Chicano English dialect with Robert MacNeil.

Quiz! Bilingual vs. Monolingual Speakers

Carmen Fought has developed an exercise to see if you can tell from the way some people speak English if they also speak Spanish. If they speak only English they are considered monolingual. If they speak English and Spanish, they are bilingual.  Find out, too, what is meant by code-switching. Hint: You need a be fairly fluent in another language to be able to do it.

The examples in this exercise are from young Chicanos and Chicanas in Los Angeles. The exercise focuses on a dialect of English known as Chicano English. Originally people thought that Chicano English wasn't even a separate dialect of English, that it was just the way that people spoke when their first language was Spanish ("making mistakes", and with an "accent"). Even some linguists who did early research on language among Latinos and Latinas in the U.S. thought this. But while Chicano English is influenced by Spanish in a general way, we now know that it is its own separate dialect, not just a "Spanish accent." How did linguists figure this out? How could you prove that Chicano English is not just the influence of someone's first language being Spanish? Can you guess?

Because there are monolingual English speakers who don't know any Spanish, and yet still speak Chicano English. This dialect can't just be a 'Spanish accent' if it's used by millions of people who don't speak Spanish! But because this dialect developed in contact with Spanish, historically, many people hear Chicano English and assume that what they are hearing is the 'accent' of someone who speaks Spanish as their first language.

Can you tell from the way someone speaks English if she or he also speaks Spanish? The answer is no, if we are talking about people born here in the U.S. Try the following exercise to see how much you can tell. Listen to each of these four speakers, Tomás, Mario, Carlos, and Salvador (these aren't their real names by the way), in the exercise above. For each one guess whether he is bilingual (speaks English and Spanish) or monolingual (only speaks English). When you've listened to all of the speakers and made your guesses, click on the link labeled Answers.

What is Code-switching?

Code-switching is not the same thing as Chicano English. Somebody who speaks Chicano English might choose to mix in words in Spanish. But if they only speak English, like some of the people in the exercise above, they can't really mix in Spanish much, can they? So they'll speak Chicano English but they usually won't code-switch.

Hear some code switching.

If you want to hear what some young people in Los Angeles think about code-switching, click on the link below.

Three young people talk about switching back and forth from Spanish and English within a conversation.

Despite what I said above about people having negative attitudes, these kids have a pretty positive view of code-switching. Who knows? Maybe it's the wave of the future. Just in case, I've decided to be prepared. I ordered a t-shirt off the web that says got spanglish?

Suggested Reading/Additional Resources

  • 'Facts and myths about Chicano English.' Language Magazine, vol. 1, no. 3, November 2001.
  • 'A majority sound change in a minority community: /u/-fronting in Chicano English.' Journal of Sociolinguistics, vol. 3, no. 1 (February 1999): 5-23.
  • Chicano English in Context . Palgrave/MacMillan Publishers, 2003.
  • Tiffany Ana López, ed., Growing Up Chicana/o: An Anthology. New York: W. Morrow, c1993.
Carmen Fought is an associate professor of linguistics, Pitzer College in Claremont, California, and author of Chicano English in Context (Palgrave/Macmillan) and the editor of Sociolinguistic Variation (Oxford University Press). Her research focuses on the dialects of California, from those associated with Latinos and Latinas to the infamous "Valley Girl" way of speaking. Dr. Fought is also studying the representation of language in the media, including films, television and commercials.
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