The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, February 06, 2005

Chicanos going back to their (language) roots

An interesting study (in English) by Tracy McLaughlin of the Universidad de las Américas, Puebla (south-east of Mexico City) of the experiences of four Mexican-Americans [1] from top-rank US colleges who studied for ten weeks at UDLAP in a programme for Spanish heritage language learners (or SHLLs).

The main problem identified is that, in the US, Hispanics tend to face an effective diglossia: Spanish for low status interactions, at home or the sports field, English for high status ones, as in academic or professional fields. Typically, Spanish is spoken, rather than written or read, and the forms strike native Spanish speakers (as, for instance, those in Puebla) as substandard, even when taken as colloquial language.

Now, of course, informal English is different from formal varieties in many ways, but its status is not dragged down by these informal varieties. Similarly, for Spanish in Mexico.

This area is full of interesting research possibilities: comparing the experience of Spanish with other languages of immigration, for instance - German, Swedish, Italian, Polish, etc. My hypothesis would be that some, at least, of these languages retained their high status as enjoyed in the 'Mother Country' because they continued to be used by immigrants in professional life (and vice versa) in a way that Spanish does not seem to have managed.

There is a growing Spanish-language press in the US [2]: who reads it? Is the Hispanic undergraduate demo as well represented as as the general undergraduate demo for English language papers in the US, I wonder.

To what extent are Hispanics like those included in the study able to fill the need for bilingual personnel to service Hispano-American customers? (I seem to remember seeing Miami being somewhere referred to as the Wall Street of Latin America - and that it found recruitment of bilingual professional staff difficult.) To judge from the experience of the girls in the study, top American colleges are not geared up to producing such bilinguals, despite the pool of Hispanic students with some facility in Spanish.

Strange, finally, that heritage that the students were seeking was the Spanish language - where the emphasis of the likes of La Raza seems to be on Indian-ness. There is no mention in the study, that I can recall, that any of the students spoke any Indian language to any extent.

The racial aspect is noted to the extent of noting that 'Mexican-looking' students were taken as locals, and their relatively poor Spanish was sniffed at, whilst one Anglo-looking student was complimented on her use of the language by local strangers.

But the extent of Indian blood, preservation of Indian customs, time spent with family in Mexico with more or less strong connections with Indian life - none of those were mentioned.

(It was a short study that didn't set out to examine any of this stuff - no criticism intended!)

  1. Why isn't this abbreviated to Mex-Ams? It's not, apparently. Mex-Am seems a tad commoner.

  2. My sense - I am hardly qualified to judge! - is that the language used in such papers by staff writers is marked as not produced by native speakers. The Spanish of Mexican papers varies from that of Argentinian in vocabulary and style, but they are - to my untutored eye - authentic in a way that American Spanish papers are not. A tutored eye is obviously needed to decide on the point.

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