Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

The Influence of Social and Linguistic Factors on Spanish Dialect Contact in the U.S.: A Look at Mexican and Cuban Spanish in Lansing, Michigan

Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

The Influence of Social and Linguistic Factors on Spanish Dialect Contact in the U.S.: A Look at Mexican and Cuban Spanish in Lansing, Michigan

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. An increase in the number of Spanish-speaking Latinos in the U.S. provides opportunities for contact of diverse varieties of Spanish. This paper examines the role of factors including age, education, linguistic network composition, and length of residence in shaping the outcome of contact between groups of Spanish speakers in Lansing, Michigan. A sample of 52 Mexicans and Cubans was used to examine two linguistic variables in spoken data collected in sociolinguistic interviews that included picture-elicitation tasks and grammatical acceptability tasks, following the idea that variation is a reflection of grammaticality (Fasold and Preston 2007), to probe sensitivity to out- and in-group variants. The findings suggested that linguistic network composition was a significant factor influencing the frequency of variants for the Mexican group, with more heterogeneous networks correlating with lower frequencies of nonstandard variants, but that this factor was not significant for the Cuban group.

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1. INTRODUCTION. In the United States, immigrants from Spanish-speaking Latin American countries may encounter a community or group of speakers of their own dialect in their new area of residence, particularly when they settle in urban centers with large Latino populations, e.g. New York, Miami, and Los Angeles. In these situations, they readily become embedded in the in-group social structure and establish new, or resume old, social networks from the home country, which, along with continued immigration and travel to and from the home country, create favorable circumstances for maintenance of the regional dialect, as discussed in Alfaraz (2000) for Cuban immigrants in Miami. It is also the case, however, that immigrants often encounter not only speakers of their own dialect, but also speakers of other regional dialects of Spanish, particularly when they settle outside geographic areas heavily populated by groups from the home country. Over the past several decades migration and immigration of Spanish-speaking groups to nontraditional areas of the U.S. has increased substantially (Bayley and Bonnici 2009) and see Bonnici and Bayley (2010) for a summary of sociolinguistic research on Spanish and English varieties of Latinos in traditional and emerging communities in the U.S.). The present study adds to research on the factors influencing the outcome of contact between regional dialects of Spanish in the U.S. setting (Aaron and Hernandez 2007, Flores and Toro 2000, Lynch 2009, Moreno Fernandez 2008, Orozco 2009, Otheguy and Zentella 2007, Otheguy et al 2007).

Spanish dialect contact is shaped by extensive and regular interaction among individuals and groups who speak different varieties with one another in social and employment domains, both because they often lack English language skills, which restricts them to interacting with Spanish speakers and, as occurs in the community studied here, because they eagerly seek them out, as their shared language is more important to establishing social relations than differences attributable to regional or social background. The large number of Spanish-speaking individuals in the U.S., both immigrants and subsequent generations that may have maintained the language, often find themselves in diglossic situations in which English is the public language used in the larger community and Spanish the private language used at home, with family and friends (Ferguson 1959, Fishman 1967). The ever-increasing number of Spanish-speaking Latinos, however, makes it possible for Spanish speakers to encounter Spanish beyond these traditional settings, as for instance, in the employment domain, where they often work with other Latinos (Lynch 2009). Thus, Spanish speakers have increased opportunities for interacting in Spanish and they are exposed to heterogeneous norms that may result in accommodation and leveling of regional dialects (Trudgili 1986).

The research reported on here studied Mexicans and Cubans in Lansing, Michigan, a community of around 115,000. …

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