LINGUIST List 14.1853

Thu Jul 3 2003

Review: Lang Description/Socioling: Fought(2002)

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  1. Naomi Nagy, Chicano English in Context: Lang Description/Socioling

Message 1: Chicano English in Context: Lang Description/Socioling

Date: Mon, 30 Jun 2003 18:20:56 +0000
From: Naomi Nagy <>
Subject: Chicano English in Context: Lang Description/Socioling

Fought, Carmen (2002) Chicano English in Context, Palgrave

Announced at

Naomi Nagy, University of New Hampshire


This is a monograph reporting on fieldwork conducted with Chicano
English (CE) speakers in Culver City, Los Angeles, between 1994 and
2001. The main sections of the book report on a number of phonetic,
phonological, and syntactic patterns of CE, using data from a socially
diverse sample of speakers. Dr. Fought (F) also reports on language
attitudes, representation of CE in the media, and the effects of
bilingualism. Thorough descriptions of her data collection and
analysis methods are provided.


This review is coming in just under the wire: I had allotted a certain
amount of time to the project, planning to quickly skim certain
sections of the book. However, the topic is so intriguing and the
book so beautifully and clearly written that I found myself absorbed
in every section and subsection, and I had to thoroughly digest it
all. F writes elegantly, graciously, sympathetically, and with a
delightful sense of humor. Most sections of the book are accessible
to non-linguists, but the technical details will be relevant to
specialists in variation studies, ethnolinguistics, phonetics,
phonology, syntax, language contact, bilingualism, non-standard
varieties of English, and gender linguistics, at least.

The topic is CE, a language variety defined by the author as that
spoken by U.S.-born residents of the U.S. who are of Mexican heritage
(p. 6). F's sample of speakers is from Culver City, Los Angeles, CA,
but she raises interesting questions about other varieties of CE and
other minority varieties in general as well. In particular, she
points out the fact that one needs to distinguish data from
monolingual and bilingual speakers in such studies (she includes
both), highlighting the fact that CE is more than Spanish-influenced
non-native speaker English- many of its speakers are in fact
monolingual CE speakers.

CE is treated with breadth, depth, and respect. The breadth is
apparent from the chapter titles. Between a thoughtful introduction
and provoking conclusion, we read about F's fieldwork, the social
context of the study (including an elegant and informative network
diagram on p. 57), CE phonology, syntax & semantics, sociolinguistics
(subdivided into phonetics and syntax), speakers' bilingualism &
fluency, and both individual and media attitudes toward CE.

The depth is equally impressive: F carefully debunks a number of myths
about minority dialects and CE in particular. She provides
comprehensive and comprehendible statistical analyses to support her
well-founded conclusions, aided by clear graphs and tables
illustrating important trends. In contrast to some sociolinguistic
research reports, she does not just present bunches of numbers for the
heck of it. Rather, she conscientiously interprets her data from the
enlightened viewpoint of someone who has spent much time in the
community on which she is reporting, as well as being well read in

Her respect for the language, its speakers, and their culture is
evident in the layout of the book: phonetic (vowel changes in
progress: /ae/ backing, /ae/ raising, and /u/ fronting, phonological
(including interesting suprasegmental information), and syntactic
structures (negative concord, ''like'' as verb of quotation and as a
discourse marker) are presented first, followed by interwoven
quantitative and qualitative analyses of variation in each of these
areas. Furthermore, she often reports opinions and interpretations
given to her by the speakers themselves. Her efforts to show the CE
community members as complex, multi-faceted, and not forming a
homogenous group are laudable.

I am especially excited about this book as a tool for serious
sociolinguistic students: it presents an excellent example of how to
conduct and report on sociolinguistic studies. The methods are
clearly explained and justified, the organization is excellent, and
the findings judicious. She provides easy to follow descriptions of
the social factors relevant to the community in question, and the
importance of considering the interactions among them in both
conducting and interpreting quantitative analyses. A number of
interesting and exciting possibilities for further research are also
presented (cf. e.g. p. 96). Beyond all that, it reads well, for
linguist and non- linguist alike. I already have a long list of
people to whom I'll recommend Chicano English in Context.

But lest I appear biased, let me also try to present a few
imperfections in the book:

1) There is at least one typo in it (p. 82). Actually, this book has
been more carefully edited and proofread than most I've seen in recent

2) There are a few cases where F appears to be making unsubstantiated
claims about grammaticality judgments and forms in ''her dialect,''
without defining her dialect, without explaining how she came to these
conclusions, and most importantly, without indicating what aspect(s)
of the context she considers relevant for the judgment. One of the
few such examples is found at the bottom of p. 71, where she analyzes
the tricky issue of intonation. A few others are found elsewhere in
the same section, and on p. 85.

3) There is the occasional unsubstantiated minor claim. 
For example, F reports, ''Although this process of initial 
consonant loss occurs in rapid speech for other dialects as 
well, it is somewhat more frequent in CE'' (p. 78), without 
providing data or a reference.

4) Surprisingly, F does not discuss the possibility of CE as the
_source_ of certain California Anglo English (CAE) patterns. This
would provide an account of why certain features are shared by these
majority and minority communities, without contradicting the commonly
reported claim that minority variety speakers do not _adopt patterns
from_ the majority variety.

5) Her discussion, adapted from Macaulay 2001 about the verb of
quotation ''like'' ''having originated in California, hav[ing] now
spread across the country and even overseas'' (p. 107) should be
considered in light of Meyerhoff & Niedzielski's (2002) findings about
the cross-linguistic existence of overlap between verbs of quotation
and discourse markers.

6) There is, a think, a contradiction in the last 2 sentences of the
1st full paragraph of p. 228. The issue at hand is discussed in the
last element of my next list.

Returning to the overwhelmingly positive attributes of this book, some
of F's most interesting findings are:

1) the fact that at least some minority variety speakers participate
in at least some majority variety sound changes

2) additional data that certain widely cited patterns of social
stratification do not always hold up. Possibly there is a contrast
between the structures of majority and minority communities, but
perhaps this is also the result of very careful analysis and
interpretation, following along the lines of Eckert's work. In
particular, F shows that class is only relevant in this community when
examined in conjunction with gang membership (a rarely included
variable in studies I've read!) and gender.
 3) the importance of careful, in depth ethnographic work in order to
learn about the locally salient distinctions among community members.
In addition to those factors I've cited above, F also discusses the
effects of being a mother and of one's sibling status and finds them
relevant to Culver City linguistic variation.

4) the lack of any audible difference between monolinguals' and
bilinguals' CE (p. 5)

5) the fact that CE usage is not restricted to members of any
particular social class, nor to the more locally relevant factor of
gang membership (pp. 6-7)

6) a useful discussion of the social variable ''class'' (p. 34-8)

7) repeated efforts to distinguish native-speaker and non- native
speaker patterns

8) the fact that, even if one accepts the Critical Period 
Hypothesis (CPH), acquisition of a language before a 
particular age, such as the onset of puberty, does not 
necessarily guarantee (maintenance of) fluency in 
adulthood. Depending on the social context, speakers may 
acquire and then lose the language-the CPH therefore cannot 
be tested by examining the language used by adults, but 
must be tested just at the cusp of acquisition (p. 190).


Meyerhoff, M. & N. Niedzielski. 2002. Media Standards, the Media, and
Language Change. Paper presented at NWAV 31, Stanford.


I received my Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and 
am an Associate Professor at the University of New 
Hampshire. I teach linguistics, especially 
sociolinguistics, and coordinate the Linguistics Program. 
I am a sociolinguist who studies language contact 
situations, principally Faetar (a Franco-Proven├žal variety) 
and Italian in Italy, and French and English in Montreal. 
My interests include modifying representations of 
linguistic theory to allow quantitatively accurate 
representations of variable grammar and determining how 
best to examine social factors in diverse communities. 
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