The major linguistic aspects of Chicano English and its implications for language teaching

Seminararbeit, 2011
19 Seiten



1. Introduction

2. Chicano English
2.1. Chicano English – definition
2.2. Phonetic features
2.3. Syntax, Semantics and Pragmatics of ChE

3. ChE implications for English language teaching in German secondary schools
3.1. Relevance of ChE in English language teaching
3.2. Teaching Unit

4. Conclusion

Works cited

Dialogue transcript “Chicano English” (from “Do you speak American?”)

1. Introduction

The presentpaper focuses on a particular variety of American English in the Southern and Southwestern States - the Chicano English. First paragraph defines and describes Chicano English (henceforth ChE), basing on the definition provided by Carmen Fought in the introduction of her book “Chicano English in Context.” The main part of this paper is divided into two chapters - the first deals with linguistic aspects of ChE, and the second discusses possible ways to integrate the topic “Chicano English” into English lessons in German secondary schools.

The first chapter of the main part provides an overview of the phonology of Chicano English, focusing on its characteristic phonetic features. Next, in the following chapter, syntactic, semantic and pragmatic features of Chicano English are covered. The second part of this paper explores the possibilities to integrate the topic “Chicano English” into English lessons in German secondary schools, introducing a teaching unit for German Grammar school students in Year 11. Besides, this paragraph discusses the importance and the relevance of this topic for developing student’s awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity of English. The final chapter provides a brief summary of the key points of this paper.

2. Chicano English

This paragraph clarifies the term Chicano English, basing on the definition provided by Carmen Fought in the introduction of her book “Chicano English in Context”. The following two chapters give an overview over characteristic linguistic features of ChE, focusing on its distinctive phonology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics.

2.1. Chicano English – definition

Before analyzing the major linguistic features of Chicano English, the term itself has to be clarified. Chicano English emerges from the linguistic setting in the US American Southwest, where there is contact between Mexican Spanish and American English. Therefore, it is mainly spread in Arizona, California, New Mexico, Colorado and Texas (Penfield and Ornstein-Galicia 1).

Traditionally, ChE has been defined as imperfect type of English spoken by Spanish native speakers. For example Sawyer describes it as “an imperfect state in the mastery of English” (qtd. in Penfield and Ornstein-Galicia 34). However, most current researchers argue that ChE has to be seen as a vernacular variety of English. So, according to Carmen Fought, Chicano English is: a non-standard variety of English, influenced by contact with Spanish, and spoken as a native dialect by both bilingual and monolingual speakers. (Fought 1)

In the introduction of her book “Chicano English in context”, Fought emphasizes that Chicano English is often wrongly considered to be a dialect spoken by people of Mexican origin in the United States, a variety spoken by nonnative speakers of English and seen as “broken” English, learned imperfectly by native Spanish speakers: “It is important to reiterate the inaccuracy of the idea that Chicano English is simply English influenced by Spanish” (Fought 14). Furthermore, Santa Ana even limits the definition of the term ChE to a language variety “spoken only by native English speakers”(“Chicano English and the Chicano language setting.” 15):

Chicano English is an ethnic dialect that children acquire as they acquire English in the barrio or other ethnic social setting during their language acquisition period. Chicano English is to be distinguished from the English of second language learners…

(“Chicano English and the Chicano language setting.”15)

In addition to that, Penfield and Ornstein-Galicia strengthen the notion of ChE as an independent ethnic dialect, stressing that Chicano youngsters from East Los Angeles are dominant and monolingual English speakers (Penfield and Ornstein-Galicia 3).In a similar way Fought dismisses the notion that ChE is spoken by people whose first language is Spanish, emphasizing that many speakers of Chicano are monolingual in English (Fought 3).

Therefore, Chicano English can be defined as a non-standard variety of American English, influenced by Mexican Spanish and spoken by fluent English speakers mainly in the US American Southwest.

2.2. Phonetic features

The most distinctive features of Chicano English lay in its specific phonological realization. As ChE displays a remarkable similarity to Spanish phonology, being heavily influenced by contact with Mexican Spanish, the deviations mainly occur in the realization of particular sounds, stress patterns and intonation. Nevertheless, it must be emphasized that very often the differences are “arbitrary and depend on an individual speaker” (Fought 62).In this chapter some distinctive phonetic features of Chicano English will be presented.

Although most of the sounds found in ChE occur in Standard English, ChE shows its own patterns. One salient feature of Chicano English phonology, according to Penfield and Ornstein-Galicia, is the alternation of [tʃ] and [ʃ], where words like "show" are pronounced like /tʃoʊ/ and "check" is pronounced like /ʃek/(39). Some scholars explain this substitution of [tʃ] for [ʃ]as a phenomenon of hypercorrection, since Spanish does not have a phoneme [ʃ]. However, Chicano English speakers substitute [ʃ] for [tʃ] as well. This fact contributes to the notion of ChE as a dialect spoken by native English speakers, who are, being able to pronounce both phonemes, deliberately substitute one by another. As Penfield and Ornstein-Galicia note, "Speakers of ChE, especially those who are bilingual, freely substitute sh for ch and ch for sh. Both possibilities may occur within the same sentence or even the same word…”(39).

Another significant feature of ChE phonology are the so called simplification processes. These include for example devoicing of final and medial voiced consonants. According to Penfield and Ornstein-Galicia there is a devoicing of [z] and [v] sounds in word-final position (41f). So that words like guys, was and easy are realized as /gaɪs/, /was/ and /isɪ/ and words like love and have are pronounced as /lʌf/ and /hæf/. Similarly, the sound [d] is often devoiced and realized as [t]: so that played is realized as /pleɪt/ and hid as /hɪt/. With respect to t/d Carmen Fought even talks about deletion, which means the loss of a final [t] or [d] after a consonant- a highly characteristic process of ChE (68). In the following some examples are presented, comparing SAE[1] pronunciation with ChE realization:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

However, more characteristic of ChE is the loss of final consonants that are not in a cluster (Fought 69); hence ‘met some’ is realized as /mɛsəm/ and night is realized as /naj/. Furthermore, there is a tendency in ChE to reduce the final consonant clusters completely (Fought 68). Santa Anna names other simplification processes – assimilation of the consonant of the cluster in l-vocalization, like in old /od/ and deletion of one of the consonants (“Varieties of English” 227). Besides, both Carmen Fought and Santa Anna agree that these simplification processes are typical for other dialects of English.

According to Carmen Fought, there is another phonological feature characteristic not only of ChE but also of other dialects of American English e.g. AAVE[2] – the defricativization of [θ] and [ð] sounds. In ChE, dental stops [t] or [d] are frequently found as substitutes for the voiced and voiceless dental fricatives. Interestingly, [t] is usually substituted for [θ] and [d] is used as a substitution for [ð], like in the following examples:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Defricativization mostly occurs in word-initial position, mostly in high-frequency words, like pronouns this, there, these, that and definite article the (Penfield and Ornstein-Galicia 43).In addition, Penfield and Ornstein-Galicia also agree that this phonological trait is shared with other ethnic varieties of English, especially AAVE (43). The researches attribute this similarity to diverse factors. Whereas some see it as a sort of universal tendency of lower-class speech, others argue that defricativization occurs due to contact with AAVE. Another explanation is based on the notion that this phonological traith as developed as a result of Mexican Spanish influence, as it does not make the [θ] and [ð] phonemic distinction (Penfield and Ornstein-Galicia 43).

Furthermore, there are a number of distinctive phonetic realizations of vowels that are characteristic of ChE, usually these include simplification of American English vowel system. A good example for this simplification is the neutralization of /i/ and /ɪ/ in ChE. Being a typical feature of non-native learners of English with Spanish as their first language, this feature has been observed by several researchers of ChE as well. Whereas Penfield and Ornstein-Galicia define this linguistic trait as “diagnostic feature of Chicano speech” (44), Fought emphasizes that none of her ChE speakers showed a “complete lack of phonemic contrast” between these vowels (65). However, Fought shares the view that Chicano speakers do sometimes use /i/ as a phonetic variant of /ɪ/ (65). Therefore, there is no distinction in pronunciation of words like read and rid - /rid/ or feel and fill - /fil/.

Another salient feature of Chicano English phonology is intonation or prosody:

ChE speakers often seem to be using a rhythm and melody that are quite distinct from other varieties of English, even when a particular speaker has few of the typical phonological and grammatical elements of ChE” (Fought 70).

An example of this distinctive intonation pattern occurs when a Chicano English speaker ends his or her sentence with a rising pitch, whereas in Standard English declarative sentences a falling intonation is used. Hence, to speakers of other dialects Chicano English sounds “as if [the speaker] is asking a question when he should be making a statement, expressing doubt when he should be certain” (Metcalf qtd. in Fought 72).


[1] Standard American English an abbreviation used in Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English

[2] African American Vernacular English

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The major linguistic aspects of Chicano English and its implications for language teaching
Technische Universität Dresden
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Julia Pojarova (Autor), 2011, The major linguistic aspects of Chicano English and its implications for language teaching, München, GRIN Verlag,


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