Chicano English

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Chicano English, or Mexican American English, is a native dialect of American English spoken primarily by many Mexican Americans (sometimes known as Chicanos), particularly of the Western and Southwestern United States.[1] One major variation of Chicano English is Tejano English,[2] used mainly in south Texas. Chicano English is sometimes mistakenly conflated with Spanglish, which is a mixing of the Spanish and English languages; however, Chicano English is a fully-formed variety of English, not "learner English" or interlanguage.

Origins and history[edit]

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.

Phonological features[edit]

Chicano English has many features, especially in the phonology, that show the influence of Spanish. Vocabulary includes words like simon meaning "yes", firme meaning "good", flika meaning "picture", vato meaning "guy", and feria meaning "money".

Consonant variations[edit]

  • The rhythm tends to be syllable-timed, meaning syllables take up roughly the same amount of time with roughly the same amount of stress. Standard American English is stress-timed, meaning that only stressed syllables are evenly timed. Most Romance languages (of which Spanish is one) are syllable-timed.[citation needed]
  • The alveolar stops /t, d/ are realized as laminal denti-alveolar [, ]. 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]: Examples: very [ˈbɛɹi] or [ˈβɛɹi], invite [imˈbaɪt] or [imˈβaɪt].
  • 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 [], so that job may sound like yob and yes may sound like jes.[citation needed]
  • In the syllable coda, the Nasals /m, n, ŋ/ merge into one sound. Phonetically, its realization varies between alveolar [n] and velar [ŋ].[citation needed]
  • /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).[citation needed]

Vowel variations[edit]

  • /æ/ may merge with /ɛ/ before /l/. This feature is also found in New Zealand English.
  • /ɪŋ/ sounds like /iŋ/: sink sounds like seenk and also sing sounds like seeng.
  • The distinction between /ɪ/ and /iː/ before liquid consonants is frequently reduced, making feel and fill homophones.

Vowel structure[edit]

Most American dialects do not distinguish the word classes NORTH and FORCE (though Southern dialects like that of Anniston, Alabama, do keep them separate).[citation needed] Like other American Englishes, the Chicano accent is a flat-BATH dialect. That is, it classes the BATH set with the TRAP set rather than with the PALM set.[clarification needed][citation needed]

Because of phonetic similarity and complementary distribution, stressed and unstressed /e/ (NURSE, LETTER) are the same phonological class. Similarly, stressed and unstressed high-front-peripheral vowels (FLEECE, HAPPY) are classified together as /iː/ (unlike in older RP (cultivated Southern British), where HAPPY ends with the vowel in KIT).[3]

The non-high front vowels before intervocalic /r/ are presumably merged in this dialect (as in the local Anglo dialect and in Chicago, but not in Philadelphia, and various Eastern dialects). That is, Mary, merry, marry are pronounced identically. This phonological collapse has two simplifying effects. First, it eliminates a rather tenuous distinction based on syllable structure rather than segmental features: Mary and merry are elsewhere distinguished phonologically as /meː.ri/ and /mer.i/.

Since /æ/ does not exist in Spanish, the fall of /l/ cannot be attributed to Spanish influence. On the contrary, the fall of /l/ seems to be a purely English sound change that happens to occur in this particular ethnic group. /uː/ is somewhat front, as in most American and many British dialects. Anglo speech in Southern California shows even greater fronting of /uː/, to such an extent that /uː/ and /ʊ/ overlap with /iː/ and /ɪ/ in formant space.

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.[4]

Notable lifelong native speakers[edit]

See also[edit]


  • Bayley, Robert; & Santa Ana, Otto. (2004). Chicano English grammar. In B. Kortmann, E. W. Schneider, K. Burridge, R. Mesthrie, & C. Upton (Eds.), A handbook of varieties of English: Morphology and syntax (Vol. 2, pp. 167–183). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Briggs, Charles L. Competence in Performance: The Creativity of Tradition in Mexicano Verbal Art. University of Pennsylvania Press conduct and communication series. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, (1988).
  • Castaneda, L. V. and Ulanoff, S. H. (2007). Examining Chicano English at school. In C. Gitsaki (Ed.). Language and Languages: Global and Local Tensions, (pp. 328–345). Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
  • Fought, Carmen. (2003). Chicano English in context. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Galindo, Letticia D. (1987). Linguistic influence and variation of the English of Chicano adolescents in Austin, Texas. (PhD dissertation, University of Texas at Austin).
  • Liu, Jennifer Anchor dissects American English Stanford Daily, February 23, 2005
  • Ornstein-Galicia, J. (1988). Form and Function in Chicano English. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House Publishers.
  • Penfield, Joyce. Chicano English: An Ethnic Contact Dialect. Varieties of English around the world, General series; v. 7. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: J. Benjamins Pub. Co., (1985).
  • Sanchez, Rosaura. Chicano Discourse: Sociohistoric Perspectives. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House Publishers, (1983).
  • Santa Ana, Otto. (1993). Chicano English and the Chicano language setting. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 15 (1), 1-35.
  • Santa Ana, Otto; & Bayley, Robert. (2004). Chicano English phonology. In E. W. Schneider, B. Kortmann, K. Burridge, R. Mesthrie, & C. Upton (Eds.), A handbook of varieties of English: Phonology (Vol. 1, pp. 407–424). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Veatch, Thomas Los Angeles Chicano English (2005)
  • Wolfram, Walt. (1974). Sociolinguistic aspects of assimilation: Puerto Rican English in New York City. Washington, D.C.: Center for Applied Linguistics.
  • A Handbook of Varieties of English[5]


  1. ^ Newman, Michael. "The New York Latino English Project Page." Queens College. Accessed 2015. "Almost all recent research on Latino English in the US has been done in the Southwest, particularly California. NYLE [New York Latino English] differs in two respects from these forms."
  2. ^ Santa Ana, 2004, p. 433
  3. ^ Archived May 14, 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Archived May 14, 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ A Handbook of Varieties of English: CD-ROM. Retrieved 2015-02-18. 

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