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Review of  Chicano English in Context

Reviewer: Naomi G. Nagy
Book Title: Chicano English in Context
Book Author: Carmen Fought
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Issue Number: 14.1853

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Date: Fri, 27 Jun 2003 17:57:34 -0400
From: Naomi Nagy
Subject:: Chicano English in Context

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

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 years.

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.

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.

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,

ABOUT THE REVIEWER 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.