Chicano English

History and Demographics

This webpage provides an overview of Chicano English, including its history and many of its linguistic features, as a frame of reference for speech-language pathologists working with Chicano English speakers.

There is a rich and lengthy history of Latinos living in the USA, where English-speaking and Spanish-speaking populations often come into contact. Chicano English was borne out of the contact and interplay between English and Spanish; particularly from migrant arrivals from Mexico, who then learned English as a second language. Carmen Fought, a prominent researcher in the study of Chicano English, informs us that over time, dialectal features representative of their English dialect began to settle and become a consistent dialect with its own set of linguistic norms. The majority of her research and fieldwork have been done with members of the Chicano population in Los Angeles, California.

Fought describes Chicano English (CE) as “a non-standard variety of English, influenced by contact with Spanish, and spoken as a native dialect by both bilingual and monolingual speakers.” Mallinson explains that “CE has a history that extends from early contact between English and Spanish, having now evolved form an interlanguage into an autonomous dialect that retains evidence of its bilingual source.”

Speakers of Chicano English live throughout the United States. Research for this webpage examined Chicano English in California, Texas, New Mexico, and Illinois.

About the Word “Chicano”

It is important to acknowledge that the word “Chicano” itself elicits mixed reactions from speakers of CE. Some view the term as neutral, some consider the term to be of important and positive ethnic significance, while others view the word negatively. In her (2003) book, Chicano English in Context, Carmen Fought uses the terms ‘Mexican-American’ ‘Chicano’ and ‘Latino’ interchangeably to describe a speaker's ethnicity. She uses the term ‘Chicano’ in certain contexts to emphasize that a speaker is US-born. In this webpage we are also using the term “Chicano” in this way.

Demonstration of Chicano English dialect.

Four Myths about Chicano English

  • Myth #1
    • Chicano English is spoken by people whose first language is Spanish, and whose Spanish introduces mistakes into their English.
  • Myth #2
    • Chicano English is the same as ‘Spanglish.’
  • Myth #3
    • Chicano English is a dialect spoken mostly by gang members and not used by middle-class Latinos and Latinas.
  • Myth #4
    • Chicano English is merely incorrect grammar.

Phonology of Chicano English

The following examples have been collected from a variety of sources on the subject of CE and are cited at the end of this document.  Chicano English has features that are unique compared to Standard American English (SAE). Chicano English phonology is heavily influenced by Mexican Spanish; yet, it would be a mistake to hear the CE dialect and equate it with 2nd language learner status, since many speakers of CE are native English speakers. However, it is true that certain phonological features of Chicano English are similar to that of English language learners whose first language (L1) is Spanish.

Phonological Features of Chicano English (as observed in Los Angeles):

Word final cluster reduction

mind = /ma͜ɪnd/ → /ma͜ɪn/

doesn’t = /dʌ.sɪnt/ →  /dʌ.sɪn/                                 

prized = /pɹa͜ɪzd/ → /pɹa͜ɪs/

Elimination of consonant clusters /ft, sk, sp, pt/

left = /lɛft/ → /lɛf/

disk = /dɪsk/ → /dɪs/

kept = /kɛpt/ →/kɛp/

Substituting /t͡ʃ/ for /ʃ/

teacher = /ti.t͡ʃɚ/ → /ti.ʃɚ/

chop = /t͡ʃɑp/ →/ʃɑp/

Substituting /ʃ/ for /t͡ʃ/

shy = /ʃa͜ɪ/ →  /t͡ʃa͜ɪ/)

sure = /ʃɛɹ/ → /t͡ʃɛɹ/

Final /z/ devoicing. /z/ → /s/ 

fuzz = /fʌz/ → /fʌs/

Substitution of /v/ → /f/

lives = /la͜ɪvz/ → //la͜ɪfs/

save = /se͜ɪv/ → /se͜ɪf/

Different stress patterns, often placed on prefixes

today = /tə.ˈde͜ɪ/ → /ˈtu.de͜ɪ/

Other Documented Features of Chicano English

Substitutions

/hw/ → /w/

/ʌ/ → /a/

Less frequent vowel reduction

Frequent lack of glides

Tense realization of /ɪ/

/ʊ/ → /ʉ/

/θ/ and /ð/ becomes stops /t̪/ and /d̪/

Prosody

Prosody in CE has also been reported to be a distinctive feature, incorporating a unique rhythm and melody compared to SAE. CE has been reported to use syllable-timed stress patterns, like Spanish, rather than stress stress-timed that is typically found in English.

Phonetic Differences between CE and Non-Native English speakers who have Spanish as their native language.

  • NNE speakers from Spanish-speaking backgrounds have /x/ in their phonetic inventory, while it is absent in the phonetic inventory of CE speakers.
  • CE speakers will often tense /i/ in the -ing morpheme, but not often in other places. Conversely, NNE speakers have a much higher rate of this feature.
  • CE speakers maintain a contrast between /æ/ and /ɛ/, whereas NNE speakers use /æ/ and /ɛ/ interchangeably for /æ/.
  • CE speakers contracts /ə/ and /ɑ/, whereas NNE speakers tend to substitute /a/ for /ə/.

Morphology, Syntax, and Semantics of Chicano English

This section explain some of the morphological, syntactic, and semantic differences between Mainstream American English and Chicano English. Morphology refers to rules for combining sounds (such as root words and prefixes or suffixes) into basic units of meanings, or words. Morphological markers identify concepts such as plurality and verb tense. Syntax refers to rules for arranging words into acceptable phrases, clauses, and sentences. Semantics refers to word meanings. Chicano English shares certain syntactic and morphological features with other languages. Fought (2003) suggests that these similarities are drawn from the context in which languages were acquired, such as oppression and forced assimilation. She also notes that while syntactical features of Chicano English may be similar to other languages, the syntactical structure is independent.

Pronunciation of the Article ‘the’

In Standard American English, speakers typically pronounce the in two different ways, based on whether the subsequent word starts with a consonant or a vowel.

SAE: the bus =                   ‘thuh bus’ →                      /ðə bʌs/

SAE: the ocean =              ‘thee ocean’ →                 /ði o͜ʊ.ʃɪn/

This distinction does not exist in Chicano English. In both cases, it is pronounced as follows.

CE: the bus =                      ‘thuh bus’ →                      /ðə bʌs/

CE: the ocean =                 ‘thuh ocean’ →                 /ðə o͜ʊ.ʃɪn/

Plural Markers

In SAE plurals are generally marked by a word ending with /s/ or /es/. In Chicano English, the plural marker /s/ is generally dropped. Pronunciation is as follows:

SAE:

/s/ follows most voiceless sounds → knots = /nɑts/

/z/ follows most voiced sounds → nods = /nɑdz/

/ɪz/ follows /s/, /z/, /ʃ/, /t͡ʃ/, and /d͡ʒ/ →  buses = /bʌ.sɪz/; quizzes = /kwɪ.zɪz/; bush = /bʌ.ʃɪz/; matches = /mæ.t͡ʃɪz/; lodges = /lɑ.d͡ʒɪz/

CE:

knots = /nɑt/

nods = /nɑd/

buses = /bʌs/

quizzes = /kwɪz/

bush = /bʌʃ/

matches = /mæt͡ʃ/

lodges = /lɑd͡ʒ/

Negative Element ‘not’ + ‘until’

In SAE, the negative element ‘not’ must be used with ‘until’. This is not the case in CE. The following two sentences deliver a synonymous message:

SAE: She won’t be home until four o’clock.

 CE: She will be home until four o’clock.

Past Tense Markers

As indicated in the Phonology section above, the phonological rules of Chicano English prohibit the clustering of consonants at the end of words. Therefore, the standard ending ‘-ed’ indicating simple past tense in SAE is not present in CE. In CE, the ‘-ed’ ending is dropped altogether. Examples follow:

SAE:

/t/ follows most voiceless consonants → baked = /beɪkt/

/d/ follows most voiced consonants → arrived = /ə ɹa͜ɪvd/

/ɪd/ follows /t/ and /d/ → added = /æ.dɪd/;  spotted = /spɑ.tɪd/

CE:

baked = /beɪk/

arrived = /ə ɹa͜ɪv/

added = /æd/

spotted = /spɑt/

The Copula ‘to be’

In SAE, one must say the copula (be). In CE the copula (be) is often omitted:

SAE:

They are too tall.

This is a bus stop.

He is carrying him.

She is running with a dog.

CE:

They… too tall.

This… a bus stop.

He… carrying him.

She… running with a dog.

Serial/Multiple Negation

Multiple negation In SAE, multiple negatives are not evident, but in CE, they are.

SAE:

I didn’t have a jacket or anything.

I don’t know any kids.

The man doesn’t have any friends of his own.

CE:

I didn’t have no jacket or nothing.

I don’t know no kids.

The man don’t have no shoes of his own.

Embedded Question Inversion

Questions may be embedded in phrases differently in SAE and CE. For example:

SAE:

She asked herself what would she do?

Could you please tell me where the library is?

Can you tell me how John got home last night?

CE:

What would she do she asked herself?

Where is the library could you tell me?

How did John get home last night can you tell me?

Topicalization

In traditional English grammar, the topic of a sentence is placed at the beginning. SAE follows this notion, but in CE, speakers may invert the topic. 

SAE:

What I heard was from my neighbor.

My mom is going to the mall.

CE:

What I heard it was from my neighbor.

My mom she’s going to the mall.

Intensifiers

This example is found in the Chicano population of East Los Angeles specifically, and may not occur everywhere CE is spoken. The word “all” replaces the intensifier “very,” and “for reals” replaces “really.” For example:

SAE:

He was very mad, coming at me.

She’s very proud, talking to everyone.

Did you really see him go?

CE:

He was all mad, coming at me.

She’s all proud, talking to everyone.

Did you for reals see him go?

Prepositional Substitution

Speakers of CE may substitute prepositions with other prepositions. This particular feature is tied to the influence of the Spanish language. For example:

Typical SAE instances of "at" may be substituted with:

on → He’s pointing on a statue.

to → She’s smiling to the little baby.

from → He’s pointing from the cat.

in → The person in the highest level goes first.

Typical SAE instances of "on" may be substituted with:

in → She’s putting a hat in her head.

in → He’s writing in the paper.

to → They’re going to a trip.

Typical SAE instances of "in" may be substituted with:

to → She’s up to heaven.

of → We are taking part of the process.

on → School ends on June.

Typical SAE instances of "of" may be substituted with:

in → The pharaohs were the kings in Egypt

Typical SAE instances of "out of" may be substituted with:

off → They got off the house and went to the park.

Typical SAE instances of "so" may be substituted with:

for → For he won’t feel guilty.

for → For she can see it.

Regularization

This occurs when irregularities in Standard or Mainstream American English are made regular. Since SAE contains many irregularities in its linguistic patterns, CE seeks to eliminate those irregularities, thereby “regularizing” SAE. This phenomenon also occurs in other non-standard English dialects, such as African American Vernacular English. 

Third-Person Singular

SAE has an irregular third person present tense verb form. In CE, however, it is “regularized.” For example:

SAE:               Singular                    Plural                 CE:                     Singular                Plural

First-Person       I run                      we run                  First-Person        I run                      we run

Second-Person   you run                  you (all) run          Second-Person    you run                 you (all) run

Third-Person      s/he runs               they run               Third-Person       s/he run                they run

Indefinite Article

In SAE, an article preceding a word beginning with a consonant is “a”, and an article preceding a word beginning with a vowel is “an.” In CE, this is also “regularized” and is consistently “a.” For example:

SAE:

Before a consonant: A boy

Before a vowel: An octopus

CE:

Before a consonant: A boy

Before a vowel: A octopus

Pronoun Usage

Pronouns may differ between SAE and CE as well. Clinicians may observe omissions as well as differences in pronouns indicating number. For example:

SAE:

There’s a big tree with leaves on it.

She is washing her hair.

CE:

There’s a big tree with leaves on them.

… is washing the hair.

Features of Chicano Spanish Phonology (*from Southwest communities).

Aphaereis (i.e., loss of an unaccented vowel in initial position)

ayudar → yudar

acordar → cordar

haber → ber

estoy → stoy

Synaeresis (i.e., two syllables contracting into one). In this case the contracting is done through diphthongization.

trae → trai

toalla → tualla

Substituting simple vowels for diphthongs in stressed positions.

pues → pos

quiero → quero

Apocope (i.e., one or more sounds lost at the end of the word).

para → pa

clase → clas

Prothesis (i.e., adding a sound to the beginning of a word).

tocar → atocar

gastar → agastar

Epenthesis (i.e., the insertion of a sound or letter in a word)

creo → creyo

oí → oyi

maestra → mayestra

Laxing of fricatives, aspirations of sibilants, and simplification of consonant clusters.

doctor → dotor

tambien → tamién

In West Texas, southern New Mexico, and southern parts of California it has been observed that ʃ →  t͡ʃ .

noche → noshe

choque → shoque

Aspects of Chicano Culture

  • Latino families may be perceived as being more close-knit than Anglo families. 
  • Within the dynamics of the family, household rules tend to be stricter for girls than boys. Mexican-born parents may adhere to more traditional gender roles.
  • Latino community is not homogeneous regarding parental roles.
  • Attitudes about Spanish language use vary.
  • It may be difficult to identify definitive cultural values, since CE speakers may identify with elements of Mexican, Mexican-American, and North American cultural values.

Implications for the SLP

  • An SLP should consider phonological, morphological, syntactic, semantic, and prosodic features of the Chicano English dialect.
  • Speakers of Chicano English may, or may not, also speak Spanish, clinicians should not assume that a speaker of CE is bilingual.
  • Speakers of CE may code-switch between Spanish and English.
  • SLPs should be prepared to investigate a family’s dialect and self-identified culture(s). Not doing this could potentially contribute to the over-identification of disorder.

Contributors

Thomas Appenzeller and Katie Brennan, Spring 2015

References