Chicano English

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,[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 and native dialect of English, not "learner English" or interlanguage. It can even be the native dialect of 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. The majority of these 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 US. 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 the immigrants found 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 through continuing immigration), but linguistically, it is mostly an English-speaking rather than 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, the 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 (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.


Chicano English has many features 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.[4]

Most Romance languages, such as Spanish, are syllable-timed.

Chicano English also has a complex set of nonstandard 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]


Alveolar stops /t, d/ are realized as laminal denti-alveolar [, ], as is common in Spanish.

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.

Chicano speakers may realize /v/ bilabially, as a stop [b] or a fricative/approximant [β], so very is pronounced [ˈbɛɹi] or [ˈβɛɹi].

Dental fricatives change pronunciation so think may be pronounced [ˈtiŋk], [ˈfiŋk] or [ˈsiŋk]. Most Latin American Spanish dialects, such as Mexican Spanish, undergo a feature called seseo; /θ/ merges with /s/.

/j/ and /dʒ/ may merge into [] so 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 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 so it is pronounced similarly to a Spanish alveolar lateral approximant.


The cot–caught merger is complete, approximately to [ä]. [6][7] For younger speakers, however, the vowel is retracted by the Californian Vowel Shift.

The salary–celery merger occurs so /æ/ and /ɛ/ merge before /l/.[8]

/ɪŋ/ sounds like /iŋ/: sink sounds like seenk and also sing sounds like seeng. That is also a feature of general California English.

The distinction between /j/ and /iː/ before liquid consonants is frequently reduced, making fill and feel homophones. That is also a feature of general California English.

// is slightly fronted, as in most American and many British dialects, but they are less fronted than in mainstream California English.[9]

Some realizations of /iː/, /eː/, /oː/ and other long vowels were transcribed as monophthongs. That may be an effect of Spanish, but other American English dialects (Minnesota, and Wisconsin, for example) also show monophthongization of these vowels, which are most commonly diphthongs in English. Also, such 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 phonology|phonologically. Its precise boundaries are difficult to delineate, perhaps from its separate origins of the dialect in the Southwest as well as the Midwest.[11]

One subvariety, referenced as Tejano English,[12] is used mainly in southern Texas, and New Mexican English is used in central and northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. California subvarieties are also widely studied, especially that of metropolitan Los Angeles,[11] such as East Los Angeles Chicano English, which includes elements of African American Vernacular English and California English.[8]

Notable native speakers

See also



  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. 1 2 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. 1 2 Santa Ana, 2004a, p. 419
  12. Santa Ana, 2004a, p. 433
  13. Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1999. p. 75-76.
  14. Chavez, Cesar (1975). "Preface." Cesar Chavez: Autobiography of La Causa. University of Minnesota Press. p. xxi.
  15. Lopez, George (2004). Why You Crying?: My Long, Hard Look at Life, Love, and Laughter. Simon and Shuster. p. 6.
  16. Van Matre, Lynne (1985). "Cheech and Chong Turn A New Leaf: They're Going Straight--almost--for Video." Chicago Tribune.
  17. Vallejo, Jody (2012). Barrios to Burbs: The Making of the Mexican American Middle Class. Stanford University Press. p. 106.
  18. A Handbook of Varieties of English: CD-ROM. Retrieved 2015-02-18.

External links

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