The US American suppression of language and identity with the focus on Hispanics and African American Vernacular English

Term Paper, 2007

9 Pages, Grade: 1,7



1. Introduction

2. The multicultural United States of America

3. The suppression of Spanish and the Hispanic identity

4. Speaking with a Spanish accent

5. The undesirable African American Vernacular English

6. Conclusion

7. References

1. Introduction

According to the Oxford English Dictionary languag e is a system of communication in speech and writing that is used by people of a particular country and identities are the characteristics, feelings or beliefs that distinguish people from others. Both terms are directly connected because humans use speech as a tool to express their identity. It is the mother tongue which signals the origin of a person but the way people talk on the lexical-, grammatical- or phonological level gives a listener an idea of a speaker´s sex, social class, religion, educational level, attitude, mood etc.. A strong impact on the personal identity has the social environment and the culture because people stick to norms, standards, beliefs and values which are prescribed by society. On the one hand we are aware of ourselves and we know who we are but on the other hand the perception of other people who identify us is important and that is different from person to person. “Of course, all of us have multiple identities. We may identify ourselves simultaneously as, for instance, woman, socialist, ecological farmer, world citizen, mother, daughter, wife, researcher, Finnish, Scandinavian, European, witch, theosopher, lover of music and plants, and so on.” (Fishman 1999:54). In addition, language and identity are not just concerned with the sole I but with the We. That means the own manner of language use and identity like accents or maybe the utilisation of regional or social limited words have something in common with those of others, thus there is an individual sense of belonging to a group. This affiliation can be for example the belonging to the working- or middle-class, the social allegiance to a specific country and region or on grounds of religious mutualities of people. “Every person needs to maintain an individual identity. One of the most important aspects of that identity is membership of a group, and language provides a powerful way of maintaining and demonstrating group membership.” (Trask 1999:83) During life humans have changing perceptions of the own identities as they always have to adjust to new social surroundings be it schools, family, various relationships, working environments or even other languages. The way we talk as well as our identities are a kind of dynamic and vary during the whole life and we must adapt our style of talking to the appropriate social situation or must we not? In the USA there is plenty of cases where the multicultural population is forced to use the national Standard American English for instance at work or in school. The suppression of other languages and varieties of English on grounds of social backgrounds, other traditions which are not accepted or other histories is the order of business often with the support of politics. Could this bondage lead to the extinction of varieties of English like accents or could actually the world language Spanish lose out of the USA? Does this suppression of language constrict the evolvement of identities and preservation of cultural heritage?

2. The multicultural United States of America

Thinking about the USA a history of colonization and immigration comes into our minds. Beside the national language English there are so many other languages spoken like Spanish, French or those of the Indians. Furthermore, a lot of regional or social varieties of English are used like accents or dialects which are sociocultural identity markers. At this point we have to add the terms majority- and minority groups which obviously play a decisive role in US politics or just in every day life. The classical majority group which dominates is those of the white Americans who speak Standard American English (SAE) as his mother tongue. A minority group expresses a weak character which is posed well below the commanding language group. We could point out the Hispanics that embody the largest portion of all minorities with 22.8 million users of Spanish who mainly came from Mexico, Cuba or Puerto Rico. Language minorities can also be found on the level of varieties of English like dialects or accents for instance African American Vernacular English (AAVE), the Hawaiian accent or the talking style of French or Chinese people.

3. The suppression of Spanish and the Hispanic identity

Nearly 9 % of the US American population is Hispanic or as they like to be called Latinos. The largest proportions of the Spanish speaking community can be found in states like California, with mostly Mexicans, Florida (mainly Cubans) or in other Southern states. People were and are still searching for better living- and working conditions and therefore immigrate to the USA. They already live there in several generations and are native American born citizens to some extent. During the 1980´s and 1990´s language became an immense problem for the American identity. Due to the `invasion´ of the Hispanics America was scared of the dominance of the Spanish language and tried to work against it, partially through discrimination on the basis of language.

In considering the history of multilingualism and public fears around it, Ferguson and Heath noted that “whenever speakers [of other languages] have been viewed as politically, socially, or economically threatening, their language has become a focus for arguments in favour of both restrictions of their use and imposition of Standard English. (Lippi-Green 1997:218)

An answer to the `Spanish takeover´ was the English Only Movement which is still valid in states like California, Florida or Arizona although it is against the constitution which actually protects mother tongues and linguistic rights. “This opposition has been particularly vociferous through the English Only campaigns, which seek to identify a sense of American- ness by claiming the English language as one of its incontrovertible characteristics (see Fishman 1989).” (Mar-Molinero 1997:161) In California for instance this regulation has been existing since twenty years through a referendum because the majority of the population thought and still thinks the Spanish speakers should assimilate to English at workplace or in school. Campaigns like that are supported by national groups like English First who fear that bilingual workplaces or education do not motivate Hispanics to learn English. On the other hand the Linguistic Society of America opposes these measures and protects the linguistic rights of people. English Only serves to support and to pass the cultural heritage of the USA and the national identity. When language is the tool of expressing our identity then the compulsion to use another language than the own mother tongue leads to a change of identity. People cannot render their inner state as they could in their own language and are forced to be able to use English or to be bilingual. Campaigns like English Only let Hispanics feel inferior and ashamed of their origin and their mother tongue and make the relationship between employer and employee entirely tough. In numerous cases Hispanic parents give their children modern American first names and restrain their identities as they want their kids to have it easier in future. Furthermore, there is a generation gap or a threat of the Spanish heritage in the US as it can be seen in the Mexican society. There is a communication problem between those who immigrated to the US and those who are native born Americans, known as the third generation. A lot of old people can just speak Spanish whereas the children have not learnt Spanish or rarely speak it. Despite this profile a prediction of language use in the future cannot be made as the number of Mexican immigrants e.g. is still large, the country of origin is closer than those of other immigrants and in several states Spanish is more resistant as the spreading of Hispanics is very high. “The maintenance of Spanish use is obviously greater in areas where these speakers are highly concentrated, particularly in Miami, New York, Texas and California, where new immigration, too, reinforces its use.” (Mar-Molinero 1997: 162)


Excerpt out of 9 pages


The US American suppression of language and identity with the focus on Hispanics and African American Vernacular English
Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald  (Institut für Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
Linguistic Schools: Theories & Methodologies of Modern Linguistics
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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USA, Identity, Spanish, AAV
Quote paper
Juliane Heß (Author), 2007, The US American suppression of language and identity with the focus on Hispanics and African American Vernacular English, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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