Chicano English, or Mexican American English, is a 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 apparent in Chicago. Chicano English is sometimes mistakenly conflated with Spanglish, which is a grammatically simplified mixing of Spanish and English; however, Chicano English is a fully formed and native dialect of English, not a "learner English" or interlanguage. It is even the native dialect of some speakers who know little to no Spanish.
Communities of Spanish-speaking Tejanos, Nuevomexicanos, Californios, and Mission Indians have existed in the American Southwest since the area was part of New Spain's Provincias Internas. Most of the historically Hispanophone populations eventually adopted English as their first language, as part of their overall Americanization.
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 US (Santa Ana, 1991). The Hispanic population is one of the largest and fastest-growing ethnic groups in the United States. 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 the migration and the segregated social conditions of the immigrants in California made an ethnic community that is only partly assimilated to the matrix Anglo (European American) community. It retains symbolic links with Hispanic culture (as well as real links from continuing immigration), but linguistically, it is mostly an English-speaking, not a Spanish-speaking, community. However, its members have a distinctive accent.
The phonological inventory appears to be identical to that of the local Anglo community. For example, long and short vowels are clearly distinguished, as is the relatively rare English vowel /æ/. Speculatively, it seems that the main differences between the Chicano accent and the local Anglo accent are that the Chicanos are not participating in the ongoing phonetic changes in the Anglo communities (such as 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 Hispanics are of diverse racial origins, Chicano English serves as the distinction from non-Hispanic and non-Latino Americans in Southwest.
A common stereotype about Chicano English speakers, similar to stereotypes about other racial/ethnic minorities in the United States, is that Chicano English speakers are not proficient in English and are generally uneducated. This language ideology is linked to negative perceptions about Chicano Americans and Hispanics in general.
Chicano English has many features that are influenced by Spanish.
The rhythm of Chicano English tends to have an intermediate prosody between a Spanish-like syllable timing, with syllables taking up roughly the same amount of time with roughly the same amount of stress, and General American English's stress timing, with only stressed syllables being evenly timed.
Chicano English also has a complex set of nonstandard English intonation patterns, such as pitch rises on significant words in the middle and at the end of sentences as well as initial-sentence high pitches, which are often accompanied by the lengthening of the affected syllables.
Consonants are often pronounced as in Spanish.
Pronunciation patterns can resemble those of African American English (AAE). For example, the "th" sound may be replaced by a "d" sound, as in "dese" and "dem" instead of "these" and "them".
t/d deletion occurs at the end of a word. For example, "missed" becomes "miss".
The /z/ undergoes devoicing in all environments: [ˈisi] for easy and [wʌs] for was.
The /v/ is devoiced after the last vowel of a word: [lʌf] for love, [hæf] for have, and [waɪfs] for wives.
Dental fricatives change pronunciation so think may be pronounced [ˈtiŋk], [ˈfiŋk] or [ˈsiŋk]. Most Latin American Spanish dialects, such as Mexican Spanish, have undergone a feature called seseo, with /θ/ merging with /s/.
/tʃ/ merges with /ʃ/ so sheep and cheap are pronounced alike. The outcome of the merger varies and can be either a fricative [ʃ] (both cheap and sheep sound like sheep) or an affricate [tʃ] (both cheap and sheep sound like cheap).
English [lˠ] is develarized and so it is pronounced similarly to a Spanish alveolar lateral approximant.
/ɪŋ/ sounds like /iŋ/: sink sounds like seenk and also sing sounds like seeng. That is also a feature of general California English.
Some realizations of /iː/, /eː/, /oː/, and other long vowels are pronounced as monophthongs. That may be an effect of Spanish, but other American English dialects (Minnesota, and Wisconsin, for example) also show monophthongization of such vowels, which are more commonly diphthongs in English.
Also, such vowels are underlyingly long monophthongs so the general effect thus is to simplify the system of phonetic implementation, compared to the /ɪi, eɪ, oʊ, ʊu/ of many other English dialects.
A fair to strong degree of variation exists in the phonology of Chicano English. Its precise boundaries are difficult to delineate, perhaps because of its separate origins of the dialect in the Southwest and the Midwest.
One subvariety, referenced as Tejano English, is used mainly in southern Texas. California subvarieties are also widely studied, especially that of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, such as East Los Angeles Chicano English, which includes elements of African American Vernacular English and California English.
One Chicano English sub-variety is native to north-central New Mexico. A recent study found that native English-Spanish bilingual Chicanos in New Mexico have a lower/shorter/weaker voice-onset time than typical native monolingual English speakers. Northern New Mexico Chicano English, transcending age, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, has been reported as having its own vowel shift as follows: /i/ is [ɪ] before a final /l/ (so feel merges to the sound of fill), /u/ is [ʊ] before any consonant (so suit merges to the sound of soot), /ɛ/ is [æ] before a final /l/ (so shell merges to the sound of shall), and /ʌ/ is [ä] before any consonant (so cup merges to the sound of something like cop).
Notable native speakers
- Gloria Anzaldúa — "I spoke English like a Mexican. At Pan American University, I and all Chicano students were required to take two speech classes. Their purpose: to get rid of our accents."
- César Chávez — "His speech was soft, sweetened by a Spanish accent"
- George Lopez — "Chicanos are their own breed. Even though we're born in the United States, we still have accents."
- Cheech Marin — "a hint of a Chicano accent" — "a Spanish accent or stereotypical East Los Angeles cadence like Cheech Marin"
- Paul Rodriguez
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- Santa Ana, 2004b, p. 375
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- Hernández, Pilar (1993). "Vowel shift in Northern New Mexico Chicano English. Mester 22: 227-234.
- Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1999. p. 75-76.
- Chavez, Cesar (1975). "Preface." Cesar Chavez: Autobiography of La Causa. University of Minnesota Press. p. xxi.
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