Chicano English

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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,[1][2] but also apparently in Chicago.[3] 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.[4] Most Romance languages (of which Spanish is one) are syllable-timed.[citation needed]
  • 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.[5]
  • 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.[citation needed]
  • 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 [], 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]


  • The cot–caught merger is complete, approximately to [ä].[6][7]
  • The salary–celery merger is occurring, in which /æ/ and /ɛ/ merge before /l/.[8]
  • /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.[9]
  • 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.[10]


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.[11] One sub-variety, referenced as Tejano English,[12] is used mainly in southern Texas, and California sub-varieties are also widely studied, especially of metropolitan Los Angeles.[11]

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
  • Maddieson, Ian, and Manuel Godinez Jr. "Vowel differences between Chicano and General Californian English." International Journal Of The Sociology Of Language 1985, no. 53 (May 1985): 43-58. Communication & Mass Media Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed October 15, 2015).
  • 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. (2004a). 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.
  • Santa Ana, Otto; & Bayley, Robert. (2004b). Chicano English: morphology and syntax. In E. W. Schneider, B. Kortmann, K. Burridge, R. Mesthrie, & C. Upton (Eds.), A handbook of varieties of English: Phonology (Vol. 2, pp. 374–390). 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[13]


  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, 2004b, p. 374
  3. ^ Santa Ana, 2004b, p. 375
  4. ^ Santa Ana & Bayley, 2004a, p. 426
  5. ^ Santa Ana & Bayley, 2004a, pp. 427, 429
  6. ^ Maddieson & Godinez, 1985, p. 45
  7. ^ Santa Ana & Bayley, 2004a, p. 421
  8. ^ Guerrero, Jr., Armando. (2014). " 'You Speak Good English for Being Mexican' East Los Angeles Chicano/a English: Language & Identity." Voices, 2(1). ucla_spanport_voices_22795.
  9. ^ Maddieson & Godinez, 1985, p. 56
  10. ^ Archived May 14, 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ a b Santa Ana, 2004a, p. 419
  12. ^ Santa Ana, 2004a, p. 433
  13. ^ A Handbook of Varieties of English: CD-ROM. Retrieved 2015-02-18. 

External links[edit]