Chicano English, or Mexican American English, is an ethnic native dialect of American English spoken primarily by Mexican Americans (sometimes known as Chicanos), particularly in the Southwestern United States, ranging from Texas to California, but also apparently in Chicago. Chicano English is sometimes mistakenly conflated with Spanglish, which is a grammatically simplified mixing of the Spanish and English languages; however, Chicano English is a fully formed dialect of English, not "learner English" or interlanguage. It can even be the native dialect of speakers who know little to no Spanish.
A high level of Mexican immigration began in the 20th century with the exodus of refugees from the Mexican Revolution (1910) and the linkage of Mexican railroads to the U.S. (Santa Ana, 1991). The Hispanic population is one of the largest and fastest-growing ethnic groups in America. In the Los Angeles area alone, they form 40% of the population (roughly 1.4 out of 3.5 million, in the 1990 Census). The result of this migration, and the segregated social conditions the immigrants found in California, is an ethnic community that is only partly assimilated to the matrix Anglo (that is, European American) community. It retains symbolic links with Hispanic culture (as well as real links through continuing immigration), but linguistically is mostly an English-speaking rather than a Spanish-speaking community, though its members have a distinctive accent.
The phonological inventory appears to be identical to that of the local Anglo community. For example, the long and short vowels are clearly distinguished, as are the relatively rare English vowel classes /æ/. Speculatively, it seems that the main differences between the Chicano accent and the local Anglo accent are first, that the Chicanos are not participating in the ongoing phonetic changes in the Anglo communities (the raising of /æ/).
As Spanish-speaking people migrated from other parts of Hispanophone world to Southwest, Chicano English is now the customary dialect of many Hispanic Americans of diverse national heritages in Southwest. As Hispanic Americans are of diverse racial origins, Chicano English serves as the distinction from non-Hispanic and non-Latino Americans in Southwest.
Chicano English has many features, especially in the phonology, that show the influence of Spanish.
- The rhythm of Chicano English tends to have an intermediate prosody between a Spanish-like syllable timing, meaning syllables take up roughly the same amount of time with roughly the same amount of stress, and General American English's stress timing, meaning that only stressed syllables are evenly timed. Most Romance languages (of which Spanish is one) are syllable-timed.
- Chicano English also has a complex set of non-standard English intonation patterns, such as pitch rises on significant words in the middles and ends of sentences, or initial-sentence high pitches, often accompanied by the lengthening of the affected syllables.
- The alveolar stops /t, d/ are realized as laminal denti-alveolar [t̪, d̪]. Dentalization is also common in European American dialect.
- The devoicing of /z/ in all environments: Examples: [ˈisi] for easy and [wʌs] for was.
- The devoicing of /v/ in word-final position: Examples: [lʌf] for love, [hæf] for have, and [waɪfs] for wives.
- Chicano speakers may realize /v/ bilabially, either as a stop [b] or a fricative/approximant [β], so that very [ˈbɛɹi] or [ˈβɛɹi].
- Absence of dental fricatives so that think may be pronounced [ˈtiŋk], [ˈfiŋk] or [ˈsiŋk], Mexican and other Latin American Spanish dialects have an important feature called seseo wherein /θ/ merges with /s/.
- /j/ and /dʒ/ may merge into [dʒ], so that job may sound like yob and yes may sound like jes.
- In the syllable coda, the Nasals /m, n, ŋ/ merge into one sound. Phonetically, its realization varies between alveolar [n] and velar [ŋ].
- /tʃ/ merges with /ʃ/ so sheep and cheap are pronounced alike. The outcome of this merger varies; it can be either a fricative [ʃ] (so that both cheap and sheep sound like sheep), or an affricate [tʃ] (so that both cheap and sheep sound like cheap).
- The cot–caught merger is complete, approximately to [ä].
- The salary–celery merger is occurring, in which /æ/ and /ɛ/ merge before /l/.
- /ɪŋ/ sounds like /iŋ/: sink sounds like seenk and also sing sounds like seeng. (This is also a feature of general California English.)
- The distinction between /ɪ/ and /iː/ before liquid consonants is frequently reduced, making fill and feel homophones. (This is also a feature of general California English.)
- // is slightly fronted, as in most U.S. and many British dialects, but less fronted than in mainstream California English.
- Some realizations of /iː/, /eː/, /oː/ and other long vowels were transcribed as monophthongs. This may be an effect of Spanish, though other American dialects (Minnesota, and Wisconsin, for example) also show monophthongization of these vowels, which are most commonly diphthongs in English. Also, these vowels are underlyingly long monophthongs, so the general effect here is to simplify the system of phonetic implementation, as compared with the /ij, ej, ow, uw/ of many other English dialects.
A fair to strong degree of variation exists within Chicano English phonologically, and its precise boundaries are difficult to delineate, perhaps due to separate origins of the dialect in the Southwest as well as the Midwest. One sub-variety, referenced as Tejano English, is used mainly in southern Texas, and California sub-varieties are also widely studied, especially of metropolitan Los Angeles.
Notable lifelong native speakers
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (October 2015)|
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- Santa Ana, 2004b, p. 375
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- Hector Becerra, "East L.A. speaks from its heart", Los Angeles Times October 24, 2011
- La Coacha
- Dialects recordings of Chicano English
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