Transcript 9: Chicano? ChicanYES!

CARRIE: Hi and welcome to The Vocal Fries Podcast, the podcast about linguistic discrimination.

MEGAN: I’m Megan Figueroa.

CARRIE: And I’m Carrie Gillon. Today we have two housekeeping items, before we start our show. The first is an email from a listener: Liz.

AOL voice: You’ve got mail!

CARRIE:

Hi fry ladies. I was listening to episode 6: A Sirious Problem, about AI and vocal recognition, and there was a little side comment about court stenographers that I wanted to clear up. The first thing that I wanted to say is that the term “stenographer” is a little outdated – think Mad Men era. The profession is generally referred to as “reporting”. In a judicial environment: “court reporting”. People *cough cough* old white men, who still call women in the profession stenographers and have also called them things like “scribe” or calling women in my parallel profession “madam”. It’s just weird and degrading. Out of 40+ people I know exactly one court reporter who does voice recognition as her chosen form of reporting. She uses this long tube with a mouthpiece attached and repeats everything everyone is saying back into it.”

CARRIE: And I just wanted to say: that sounds really interesting. I kind of want to see a picture of it.

MEGAN: Yes. I feel like we should have a picture, because I am imagining an elephant.

CARRIE: Back to the email.

The thing most people don’t realize about court proceedings is that reporters will occasionally tell people to slow down. Judges and reporters will both tell people that they’re not allowed to speak at the same time and there’s always a digital recording of everything – the unofficial record. The court reporter is the official record.”

CARRIE: And again stepping in here – I did know that but I always forget. Because I know there are some cases where the recording is different than the transcription. And there’s been some issues around that. Anyway, back to the email:

“Sorry if this was off-topic, but I know how bizarre the legal world is, and honestly most people encounter it at least once in their lives. The more people know even about basic things, like the room they were walking into, the less scary it can be. Thanks for everything you do, you’re both amazing.

CARRIE: Aw, thanks Liz!

MEGAN: Yes, thank you Liz. That reminds me that we probably will get to some sort of linguistics and the court system, right?

CARRIE: Yes.

MEGAN: That’s definitely a goal.

CARRIE: Yeah that’s been a goal since the beginning actually.

MEGAN: Yeah.

CARRIE: We’ve been talking about it. So if anybody’s interested in talking with us about it, let us know.

MEGAN: Yeah! Exactly. You don’t have to be a linguist. I think that’s obvious now, right?

CARRIE: Yeah.

MEGAN: We had Alberto last week, or last episode. So yeah! We like to talk to everyone. Speaking of episodes, this is our second housekeeping item. We are going to start MailChimping. Which means that you can sign up for emails – and we won’t spam you. The emails that you’ll get will be about a new episode dropping, or something very important, like announcing something very important. When you read it, you’ll be like “this is important! This is not spam!” We’ll tweet about it, Facebook about it ,when we get that up and running. CARRIE: And now we’ll start our episode, which is about Chicano English.

MEGAN: Yeah, and we talked a little bit about it. It came up last week with Alberto Rios, about Chicano identity, and identifying as Chicano. But this time we’re gonna be talking about the actual nitty-gritty linguistics about it, and what we’re judging when we judge it. Alright, so we are very excited to have Dr. Carmen Fought here with us today. Dr. Fought is a professor of linguistics at Pitzer College. She received her BA and MA from Stanford University and her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. She teaches courses such as Language and Ethnicity and Language and Society. She literally wrote the book on Chicano English called “Chicano English in Context”. Welcome Carmen, and thank you so much for being with us.

CARMEN: Thank YOU very much. I’m glad to be here.

MEGAN: Awesome. Actually last week, we did an episode with Chicano poet Alberto Rios, and we kind of talked about what Chicano is, but just for the listeners, how would you define Chicano? And what is Chicano English?

CARMEN: Well, “Chicano” is one of the words that people use for people of Latino or Latina ethnicity, particularly in the southwest, but also in other places across the country. It’s usually used for people whose families are of Mexican-American origin, or Mexican origin if you go back a few generations, but sometimes can include other people from other parts of Central America. Chicano English is a variety of English, like if you’ve ever heard British people speak British English or Australian English, Chicano is another variety of English that is spoken by a lot of people of Mexican-American origin in different parts of the US. Not all the people who are Chicano speak Chicano English, and occasionally you have some people who might have grown up in a Chicano community who aren’t Chicano themselves, but speak Chicano English, just like anything else.

MEGAN: Right.

CARRIE: Do you identify as Chicana?

CARMEN: I don’t, because my ancestors are from Europe. My mother was from Spain, so I’m very careful about that, because there’s some things that I might not be able to talk about, because they’re not my experience. But I grew up in Southern California and the majority of my friends and people my family knew growing up were Mexican-American. I feel like that’s a community that is part of how I grew up, and part of my region where I live.

MEGAN: Is Pitzer in Southern California then?

CARMEN: Yes it is, yes. Yeah, we’re just outside of LA. Like about an hour or about half an hour out from LA.

MEGAN: Okay. In your book, the group of Chicano English speakers you spoke to were LA-based, right?

CARMEN: Yes, they were.

MEGAN: Yes, it’s a very important distinction that not all Chicanos speak Chicano English and another big misconception about it is that Chicano English is just Spanish-influenced English.

CARMEN: Yes, that’s right, that’s a mistake. I mean that’s right in the sense that you are right that that is a mistake. If you want to think about it this way, there’s several different ways that people can speak. Someone might grow up – let’s just take a Latina who grows up in Los Angeles and, for example, let’s say her family is middle-class and she never knew anybody who spoke Chicano English. She might grow up speaking a variety of English that sounds pretty much how I talk, that just sounds kind of like California, but you can’t tell what necessarily her ethnicity is. Then you could have another Latina who grows up as a native speaker of Chicano English here. Everyone she knows speaks Chicano English, and so that’s what she learns. And then you could have another Latina who comes over from Mexico when she’s 20. Now if she comes over from Mexico when she’s 20, and learns English then, she’s not going to speak English like a native speaker, and she’s not probably gonna speak Chicano English. She’s gonna speak English with the influence from Spanish, because it’s not her native language. But for people who speak Chicano English, Chicano English IS their native language. It’s the one they grew up with, so they speak it perfectly. It’s not a mistake. Some of the people who speak Chicano English also speak Spanish, and some people who speak Chicano English don’t speak any Spanish at all. I mean, only the amount you need to order a burrito at Taco Bell or something.

MEGAN: Right, exactly.

CARRIE: So the amount that I have.

MEGAN: Yeah!

CARMEN: Yeah.

MEGAN: Also, what are you doing at Taco Bell? Let me tell you! This reminds me – and I would just feel so terrible if I forgot to shout out the movie Selena – because there’s a part where Edward James Olmos doesn’t want Selena to go to Mexico, because her Spanish isn’t quote unquote good enough. Then he goes into a rant about how it’s so hard to be Mexican-American. Cuz you have to be more American than Americans, and more Mexican than Mexicans.

EDWARD JAMES OLMOS: Listen being Mexican-American is tough. Anglos jump all over you if you don’t speak English perfectly. Mexicans jump all over you if you don’t speak Spanish perfectly. We’ve got to be twice as perfect as anybody else.

MEGAN: This reminds me of the struggle for some Chicanos of not speaking Spanish. Even though it’s true that they don’t speak Spanish, there is some in-group problems with that. I don’t want to say problems, but some tension, right? It’s in your book as well.

CARMEN: Yes, absolutely. Yes it is. I have an example there from a woman named Veronica, who says, “my friends tease me. They say I’m not real Mexican, because I don’t speak Spanish. But I am. I think I am.” And it’s true. Of course you can be Mexican-American, and you can have that ethnicity, and you can be proud of who you are and where you came from, without speaking Spanish. And you know what else? It’s not their fault! It’s not that these kids don’t speak Spanish because they’re lazy. Do you know why they don’t speak Spanish? Because a lot of their parents don’t teach them Spanish. And do you know why they don’t teach them Spanish? Because our society is very negative about Spanish.

CARRIE: Agreed. CARMEN: And it isn’t taught in the schools. Teachers will say, “well, maybe he’s not doing well because you speak Spanish to him at home.” Which is totally ridiculous. Linguists get so upset when we hear this, because all over the world – in Switzerland, in Africa – kids grow up speaking three languages and it’s no big deal. It’s only in America where we act like there’s something wrong with speaking two languages. Because teachers and other people are putting that negative vibe about it out there, the parents are like, “well I don’t want anything bad to happen to my kid. I guess I won’t teach them Spanish.” That’s why they don’t speak Spanish. We should change it, because being bilingual is a value, and is something that’s good for us as a society, and a community, and in the world, and in a global economy. We should change that attitude, so that people do feel good to teach their children Spanish.

CARRIE: Yeah, and it’s a really good language to travel with. Just think of all the countries you can use it in.

CARMEN: Absolutely.

MEGAN: Right. Yeah that’s definitely still a sentiment that I see in schools. I work with kids. Some people, when I tell them that, “no, there are teachers that don’t want Spanish spoken in the home” or suggest that you should speak English in their homes, that the kids will be better at reading, etc., they don’t believe me. But it’s definitely still happening.

CARMEN: Yeah, that’s true. And that’s very, very bad, because we have science about this. We have linguistic science and research. One of the things that has happened recently is that there’s been research showing that being bilingual helps you delay the onset of Alzheimer’s, and can protect your brain. Don’t you want to protect your kids’ brains? Teachers need to get good information from scientists, before they start giving advice about stuff they don’t know anything about.

MEGAN: Right.

CARMEN: It makes me VERY angry. It makes me so angry!

MEGAN: The same thing happened to me. I don’t speak Spanish, even though my dad does. He was literally whipped for it in school, so he thought Spanish equals bad. Your kid’s gonna get in trouble if they speak Spanish.

CARMEN: Right.

MEGAN: There’s a whole generation of Chicanos like me who don’t speak Spanish because of that. Our parents were physically hurt for speaking it.

CARMEN: Right. It’s so sad. It’s so sad. We should address that, we should talk about it openly, and we should have pride in where we came from, and if that includes another home language, you should be able to speak that language with pride, and no one should ever feel like they’d be punished for speaking the language of their ancestors. I think that’s very sad and very wrong, and we’d be a stronger country if we didn’t have that attitude, and we loved and embraced all the languages that are spoken here.

MEGAN: Yeah, definitely. You say at the end of your book that you hope that linguists and sociolinguists do better about reaching out and sharing our science. Do you think that we’ve come a long way since your book came out in 2004 or 2003?

CARMEN: I think I’m gonna say we’ve come a way. I don’t know if it’s a LONG way, but we’ve definitely come a way. There are a lot of people like a lot of the people at North Carolina State University, who’ve really put a lot of effort into getting linguistics into the education curriculum, so people can learn about dialects, and kids can learn about their own dialects and their own different languages that they speak and value them. I think there’s some really good work going on. There’s good documentaries that they’re doing too – there’s one called “Spanish Voices” that talks about all the different ways that you can be Latino in North Carolina, where they are, which is really interesting. All the language varieties, and why they’re good. So we’re making some progress, but we could still stand to make more. I’m always pushing for more. One of the reasons that I like to do interviews on the radio and in different places is because I want as many people as possible who aren’t linguists to hear this information, and know it.

CARRIE: Yes. That’s exactly why we started this podcast actually, because there’s so much disinformation about language out there. It’s really upsetting to me. That’s why we’re here!

MEGAN: Yeah, exactly.

CARMEN: Yay!

CARRIE: We already talked about vocal fry when it comes to women, but we touched on the fact that it’s sometimes used in Chicano English. Do you have any thing to add to that conversation?

CARMEN: Well I haven’t really looked at vocal fry in Chicano English, but it makes sense, because there’s a lot of vocal fry in California, and Chicano English is in California. That’s kind of one of its main places. But I could definitely go through some of the features for you. I think the most important thing to remember is that – first of all everybody who speaks a language speaks a dialect of that language. You speak a dialect. I speak a dialect. A dialect is not a bad thing. It’s something you can’t help. It’s like the make and model of a car – you have a Honda, but then it has to have a model, like a Civic or an accord. You can’t just say, “oh no, no, I just have a Honda. It doesn’t have a model.” It’s the same thing. You can’t say, “I speak a language, I don’t speak a dialect.” No, everyone speaks a dialect, and Chicano English is just one particular dialect. It has features, just like any other dialect, like British English, Australian English. It had features at all the different levels. It has features in the sound system. For example, instead of “them”, you might hear “dem”. The /d/ at the beginning, that’s a feature that’s very common in a lot of dialects, because a lot of languages don’t have / ð/. It’s kind of a weird sound that we have in English. You might hear things with the vowels, for example in the ending -ing on words like “coming” and “going” Chicano English, you might hear “comeeng” “goeeng”, with that ee /i/ sound in there. That’s very typical for Chicano English. In the system of grammar, you might hear multiple negation, which is like “he didn’t say nothing to nobody” or something like that. Again, that’s a feature that’s common to other varieties, but it also occurs in Chicano English. In the system of the lexicon – the words – you have words like “barely”, the word “barely”, which means something just happened recently. “I barely broke my leg.” In my dialect, I don’t say that. I don’t say, “I barely broke my leg”, but in Chicano English you can say, “I barely broke my leg”, which means I broke my leg really recently. So in every area there are some things that are a little bit different in in Chicano English. Those things have rules. That’s one of the things people don’t understand. Something like multiple negation: “I didn’t do nothing to nobody”, that’s not only common to other dialects, but it’s also common to other languages. That’s the way that you do negation in Spanish and in French and all these languages, you do it that way. The mainstream varieties of English don’t do multiple negation, but Chicano English and other varieties do. And again, it’s governed by rules. It’s not a bunch of mistakes. It’s a pattern. If it was mistakes, everybody would do it a different way, and everybody would use different things, and who knows what they would do. That’s kind of what happens with non-native speakers. When someone comes over and learns English, they make all sorts of mistakes, and the mistakes aren’t the same for each person. But in Chicano English, the things that people think of as mistakes are the same for each person because they’re not mistakes. They’re a pattern governed by rules, just like all the things that happen in linguistics. CARRIE: One of the features – or lexical items – that I saw you talk about was the word “fool” used a little bit differently.

CARMEN: Oh yes. Yes. That’s kind of a funny one, because that’s not really Chicano English. It is, but it’s slang. So here’s the other thing to remember: Chicano English is spoken by a lot of people who have a lot of different identities. Some are men. Some are women. Some are older people. Some are younger people. So all those things are going to affect it too. Language can show our ethnicity, but it’s not just about our ethnicity. It’s about who we are as a person. The kids I was interviewing used “fool” because they were young guys, and that was something that they used. But an older Chicano speaker, let’s say a Latina who’s an older woman, probably wouldn’t use that term. Just like anything else, Chicano English has variation within it. Just like I don’t sound the same as someone from New York, or I might not use the same vocabulary items as someone from Montana. One person who uses Chicano English who’s young and lives in California might be different from someone who’s older and lives in Texas.

MEGAN: Right.

CARRIE: So can you explain how these younger speakers were using “fool”?

CARMEN: It was just like “guy”, kind of. “Fool you can’t go there.” Or “dude”. Like “dude”! Exactly like “dude”. There you go. Just like “dude”, it probably started out being something you could only use with guys, but then it started to be something you could use with everyone. And every once in a while they used it with me, and then I felt like “oh, okay, they accept me”.

MEGAN: Yeah, you’ve made it! What about use of Spanish. Even if the Chicano English speaker is someone who does not speak Spanish, are there Spanish words thrown in, as a feature Chicano English?

CARMEN: Absolutely, there can be. I think of that as emblematic use of Spanish, that’s the term that we normally use for it. That’s really important. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, if you throw in a word in Spanish like my madrina or my quinceañera or make “tamales”, and you can pronounce it properly, and everything, that’s an a symbolic way of showing “this is my ethnicity, and this is my identity, and I identify with Spanish, it’s not my fault that my parents didn’t teach me Spanish, I still feel it. I feel it as part of my identity”. I think that’s important. You’ll even hear, for example, newscasters on TV who are Latino or Latina who are saying a sentence in English and a word will come up like “Latina” and they’ll say it the right way with the /t/ and everything not Lateena [lɑtinə] like we would say it in English. That can be very important. There are of course also Mexican-American speakers who do speak Spanish. It’s not everybody, though there are young people who do speak Spanish. There’s a little bit of everything in the community.

MEGAN: Right, and that’s gonna be different from what people might know as Spanglish, right?

CARMEN: Correct. Spanglish is its own thing. Linguists have found that everywhere in the world where people speak two or more languages on a regular basis in a community, those languages will eventually start being mixed together. It can happen with Chinese, it can happen with any two languages that you have – with French and English, Franglais, in places where people speak French and English. CARRIE: Yeah, my sister speaks Franglais.

CARMEN: Well, there you go, see?! It’s actually very, very common as a phenomenon. Spanglish is just – we call it code switching, that’s the technical term – and Spanglish is just the variety of code switching that you get in Mexican-American communities, where there’s a lot of English and Spanish. Just like with the other things we’ve talked about, there’s a lot of misconceptions about it. The first misconception is that that’s people who don’t speak either language well. “Oh, they don’t know English, and they don’t know Spanish, so they’re just putting in a little bit.” Think about it for a minute. Just think for one second. Maybe you know a couple words of Italian. Can you code switch between English and Italian? I mean think about how silly that would sound. You’d be like, “hi, I’m going to the linguini with the stracciatella pasta a la pomodora”. You don’t know enough words to really switch back and forth, so you have to know both languages in order to switch. Spanglish is really only done – Spanglish would not commonly be done by the people we were talking about who never learned Spanish. Spanglish can only be done by people who are bilingual. And it’s different from Chicano English. Chicano English can be spoken by someone who doesn’t know any Spanish at all. To speak Spanglish, you have to know Spanish. And English.

MEGAN: When you talked about code switching, another way to code switch would be between say Chicano English and the quote-unquote mainstream English, right?

CARMEN: Yes, you could do that too. I guess it’s possible. I think what tends to happen in that situation is more that people choose different varieties for different situations. The same person – that’s another thing to remember: people will hear someone speaking of Chicano English and be like “oh, they don’t know how to talk good English!” because there’s this prejudice. “They don’t know how to talk good English.” Well first of all, it’s not bad English. It’s a different variety. But second of all, even if they’re speaking a different variety, that doesn’t mean they don’t know the mainstream variety. They could know that one too. And like you said, they could switch back and forth. It’s totally common that someone who is a Chicano English speaker might speak Chicano English with their friends, when they’re relaxed and having a good time, and then they go to a job interview and they switch to mainstream English, because they know, that that’s the one that the interviewer expects to hear. That’s another thing: we all switch! It doesn’t matter whether you speak Chicano English. We don’t talk the same with our friends when we’re on a Friday night having a beer as we do if we’re in a professional interview. It’s kind of the same thing. It’s just that, in Latino communities, you might have more resources. When you’re relaxed, you might switch to Chicano English, you might switch to Spanglish, or you might switch to Spanish. There’s just a lot of resources linguistically in the community.

MEGAN: Which is beautiful!

CARMEN: Yes it is! Yes it is. That’s certainly how linguists feel. I got to write a whole book about it, cuz there were so many resources; that’s how special it is. Instead, it’s just, like we said, too bad that, in our society, instead of really valuing and uplifting that, people are suspicious and think there’s something wrong and negative about it. We need to change that. I’m gonna keep working at it, at least.

MEGAN: We will too. So what is it? Why are people still suspicious of it? What are we judging when we’re judging speakers of Chicano English?

CARMEN: Well, when we judge a variety that a group of people speaks as being “bad English”, really what we’re doing is we’re judging that group of people. CARRIE: YUUUP.

CARMEN: That’s what happens. You guys are like, “yeah, we know”. Yeah, it’s true, it’s true.

CARRIE: We’re happy to hear another person say it, though.

CARMEN: Yeah. It’s true. That’s what it is. If a group of people is at a low socio-economic level, the way they speak will be judged. If a group of people is from an ethnicity, like African American or Latino that’s been historically prejudiced against by racism in this country over a long history, then their way of speaking will be judged negatively. That’s what it is. British people and the variety that they speak sounds very different to us. Sometimes we don’t even understand them: “oh, they said ‘lorry’ for ‘truck’; they say ‘pants’ for ‘underpants’”. If you go and say, “oh I don’t know whether to wear a skirt or pants”, they think that’s very funny, right? When you hear them talk, they don’t have r’s, they drop their r’s. They say “cah” instead of “car”, but instead of criticizing that, which we could and say, “oh, look how lazy they are, they drop their r”, we don’t criticize that. We don’t say, “oh that sounds funny to say ‘lorry’, that’s not the right word”, we don’t criticize any of that. They have grammar differences. They say “I didn’t go to the store but I could have done”, we don’t say that in American English, but we don’t say that’s wrong to add the “done”. No! We’re like, “oh they’re British, it sounds so good”, because we respect that group of people and we think that accent sounds good and they’re white and there’s a lot of things about that that caused them to be ok. If someone speaks with a French accent, “oh, that sounds so romantic”. But when we’re prejudiced against a group of people, then we’re prejudiced against their way of speaking. If you look around the country, that’s what happens. Southern accents, because the South has a long history of being seen as a place where people are poor and they’re not very educated and all that kind of stuff. Whether any of those stuff is true or not, that’s the ideology, that’s the idea that people have, and so they’re prejudiced against that way of speaking. That’s why there’s been so much trouble. Same with Spanish. Do you think kids ever would get yelled at for speaking French in a classroom?

CARRIE No.

CARMEN: You think – two little kids that come from France that are twins or in the classroom and they’re speaking French, you think the teachers gonna punish them? No! Because we think France is so beautiful. Eiffel Tower and blah blah blah, French people are so romantic… It’s exactly the same thing as the kids speaking Spanish, but it’s about a social prejudice. It’s not about the language.

MEGAN: Right.

CARRIE: Right. Absolutely. Another thing that comes into this: did the law get changed Megan? There was a law on the books that was barring teachers with accents, and that’s how it was worded too: “with accents”. Which we’ve already talked about: everyone has an accent!

CARMEN: So basically they barred all teachers. That’s unfortunate.

MEGAN: Yeah, seriously.

CARMEN: I wish I could have been there, as a linguist, to say, “you know, you’re gonna have a small problem with that. It’s gonna really reduce the pool by a lot”.

MEGAN: It’s true.

CARRIE: And really what they meant was Mexican accents.

CARMEN: Yes that’s it. That’s exactly what they meant. Do you think they’re really gonna exclude a teacher with a French accent? No. A lot of this stuff is just a thinly veiled way of doing racism and prejudice. We hide behind – well not we, because I try not to do it – but people are hiding behind the idea that somehow it’s okay with language. You can’t fire some from a job because they’re black, but you can fire them because of the language they speak. And that’s not okay. It’s really the same thing, just pushed to a different level.

CARRIE: It’s a sneaky way of being racist. Or not so sneaky way.

MEGAN: Yeah.

CARMEN: Well, English only – English is the official language of California, I think it is in Arizona as well.

MEGAN: Yes.

CARMEN: That’s the same thing. Making English the official language, it sounds okay to people. “Well, yeah, yeah, I guess English should be official.” Even people who have very reasonable beliefs and aren’t horrible people, they think it sounds okay. But really, the only purpose of making English the official language anywhere is to discriminate against other languages. That’s really the only purpose. It doesn’t serve any purpose, and I had a debate – that I can send you the link to if you want – with this guy Mauro Mujica. Mauro Mujica was at the time the director of English only, of US English, the national group. We had this debate, and he said, “you know, we just think everyone should speak English”, and I said, “linguists would totally agree that it’s of benefit to people in this country to speak English, and if your group wants to put a lot of money into setting up centers where people can learn English, we’d totally be in favor of that, but that’s not where the money is going. It’s going to make a law that you can ONLY speak English, and that’s not the same thing, and that doesn’t teach a single person English. All it does is discriminate against people who speak other languages”. It’s true. It’s true. There’s no reason to make English the official language. Do you think someone who comes here as an immigrant and is working three jobs and is not learning English because they’re too busy is gonna sit there and go, “oh, I just realized, English is the official language of Arizona, so I’m gonna quit one of my jobs and go learn English”? No, that’s not how it works. That’s not how it works at all. People aren’t resistant to learning English. That law doesn’t help with that problem or with that situation at all. It doesn’t provide any opportunities. It doesn’t help people learn English. All it does is make it easier to send those two kids to the principal’s office because they were speaking Spanish in class. _I_ don’t think that’s something we want to encourage.

CARRIE: No. Absolutely not.

MEGAN: Would you say some of the phonological features of Chicano English would make, say, a non-linguist perhaps think that its accented speech, so-called accented speech.

CARMEN: Yes. That’s exactly. That’s a very good observation on your part. In fact, I had a situation here, where a lady in one of the offices, who was an administrative assistant, said, “how come the Mexican kids don’t seem to learn English? The Chinese kids learn English. They all speak English. But Jose, who works in my office, just seems like he never completely learned it.” I knew the kid she was talking about: he spoke to Chicano English, but he didn’t know any Spanish. She thought he was speaking a variety that was influenced by Spanish, but in fact he was speaking a native variety. People just don’t know. It can be hard to tell. If you aren’t a linguist, it can be hard to tell the difference because Chicano English does have a lot of sounds that are individually influenced by Spanish, but that’s just historically in the community, that doesn’t mean an individual speaks Spanish. Again, it’s a completely native variety with its own rules and everything. It’s exactly like speaking Australian English. If someone comes over from Australia and you say, “wow, they didn’t learn English well”, cuz their sounds are so different, but in fact they did learn English perfectly. They just learned a different type from you.

CARRIE: Yeah. And this is very similar to the situation with the Rez English that we talked about a few episodes ago. Most people speak Rez English; that’s their native language. But there are influences from indigenous languages from all over the place in that variety, but especially the local indigenous languages. They’ll have an effect on that particular individual, but it’s not direct. It’s a very indirect connection.

CARMEN: Right. I wish it were direct, because then it would mean that more people spoke the native lang- and we’re losing Native American languages every day. It’s very sad. A lot of linguists are working hard to preserve Native American languages, but there’s so many of them. And talk about the kind of prejudice in society! Putting all the kids in a boarding school and punishing them if they spoke any of their languages. That wiped out a lot of languages. It was very, very sad. I hope we never do that again, and that’s why I’m fighting against US English and all that stuff, because it’s part of the same legacy. I don’t want that for us. I want us to have – I think it will strengthen us as a country – well, I KNOW it would strengthen us as a country – to have a big respect for different languages and varieties. It would make us a better player on a global stage. It would make our lives easier. It would make people’s pride in their heritage something that you support, rather than something that creates a battle. We could still certainly make a lot of progress on that, and I hope that we will.

MEGAN: Yeah, we’re finding a lot of – I guess it’s intersectional discrimination here, when it comes to Chicano English, because of the political climate as well. The whole “Mexicans are rapists or criminals” kind of thing. That is going to reinforce any sort of discriminatory views of the dialect, right?

CARMEN: Well yes, this is true. These things do tend to go in groups of things that all come together. Either you’re moving the country forward and you are trying to make things better, give people more rights, give people more access to things, or you’re trying to move it backwards, and restrict people, and take away their access to things. The same people that have prejudices about language have prejudices about different ethnic groups, have prejudices about women, and will treat women in a way that’s not respectful, and think it’s okay. All the stuff that we’ve been hearing in the press about the way that some of these big figures have assaulted and treated women badly. All these things go together, and I would like us to be making those things better instead of worse.

MEGAN: Yes.

CARRIE: Me too. Hallelujah. MEGAN: Hallelujah. What would be the ideal situation – so we heard about Jose and the office worker. What would you want the office worker to say when they hear someone like Jose. What is the ideal-

CARMEN: Here’s what would be ideal for me: I would like them to say, “well, you know, when I was in high school, I took a class on linguistics. So when Jose was first speaking, I thought, maybe he speaks Spanish and that’s an accent, but as I was listening to him I realized his English is very fluent, and then I realized, oh no he doesn’t speak a non-native variety. He may not even speak Spanish. He just speaks a variety of English that’s different from my variety, and that’s okay. And I’m not gonna judge anything about him – I’ll judge him on whether he’s a good speaker or not based on whether he explains things clearly, whether he listens when I give him directions. That’s how I’ll decide if he’s a good office worker. But I won’t judge him based on the phonology and the sound system of the variety he speaks, any more than I would someone from France or Australia.” THAT’S what I would like them to say.

CARRIE: Well said.

MEGAN: Yes. Yes. So that’s where we need to get to, everyone.

CARMEN: Yeah, that would be the goal. Even little kids – we think, “oh well, this is too complicated for little kids”. I don’t think so. Their little minds are open, they love languages, they love to learn words in other languages. That’s the thing that we have on our side, is people are very interested in language. It’s a fun topic. You start asking people, “in your part of the country, do you say ‘soda’ or ‘pop’?” and people get into a big thing about it, get all excited and everything. I think we can use that excitement and that interest to help people. We could teach – some of my students have done research projects like this, where they would play a little clip of someone speaking Chicano English, and in one setting they would give them an explanation linguistically of what Chicano English is first, and then the other one they wouldn’t. People were less prejudiced when they learned about it. It was true. Teaching them the rules of something – let’s say African American English, that’s another variety. I teach students the rules. I make them learn the rules, and sometimes they’re hard, and they struggle, and they do bad on the midterm, and they’re up all night studying. I think that’s good. I want them to suffer a little bit, because that way, when they’re out in the world and people are saying, “oh that’s just a bunch of slang and bad grammar”, they can say, “well, you can think what you want, but I had to stay up all night studying so I wouldn’t fail my exam, so it must not be just bad grammar. It must be some rules there.” So that’s my goal, is particularly to have people understand the rules and to capitalize on people’s natural interest in languages, which I think is very strong, and have people enjoy and bring that out, especially in young kids, so that by the time they get to be adults, if they hear someone saying, “well, you shouldn’t speak Spanish at home”, and they’re a teacher, they can be like, “that’s absolutely ridiculous”. Then they go right to the superintendent and say, “Mrs. Brown was saying that it’s dangerous to speak Spanish! That is not true. In fact, to me, it’s the attitude that’s dangerous. Mrs. Brown is dangerous, not the Spanish language. The Spanish language is not dangerous. It’s people with prejudices that are dangerous.”

CARRIE: So down with prejudice!

MEGAN: Yeah.

CARMEN: Yeah.

MEGAN: I think you’ve hit on all of the myths that we – we wrote down some things, but you’ve hit them all, I think. What do you think that the takeaway for our listeners who are – there’s a lot of linguists that listen to us, but there are non-linguists. We actually are hoping to get to the non-linguists, cuz for the most part we hope linguists know these type of things, like don’t judge for how they speak. But what do you think the big takeaway is about Chicano English, if you could sum up you know your entire book maybe?

CARMEN: No worries. No, I think what I would say is maybe there’s a takeaway for the linguists and a takeaway for the non-linguists. I think that they takeaway for the linguists is we have lots of opportunities. We can go out there and talk to people and not just on the radio or whatever. When I’m with my friends – a lot of my friends aren’t linguists, and if they’re like, “oh, why do people speak this way?” I always try to take the opportunity to explain it, so they’ll know that little bit. We can work on that. We can work on the media and places. We can get this information out more. For the non-linguists, just try and keep that example in your head, that everybody speaks a dialect. We don’t judge the way people from Australia speak, we don’t see it as wrong, even though it’s different. We should extend that same courtesy to our neighbors here who may speak a different variety. It’s not wrong. It’s not bad. It’s part of their heritage, and for Chicano English speakers, just remember this is your heritage. This is part of your heritage. You have a right to it. You have a right to speak Chicano English. You have a right to speak Spanish, if you speak Spanish. You have a right to speak Spanglish. It might be a funny word or whatever, but all these linguistic varieties are part of your ethnic heritage. You own and deserve them, just like you deserve to eat tamales at Christmas or whatever. You deserve all of that. It’d part of your culture. Don’t let anyone take it away from you. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s wrong. You go ahead and defend it, because it belongs to you, there’s nothing wrong with it. Linguists and scientists are on your side, and eventually hopefully the other people will get on board. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.

MEGAN: You gave me chills. Thank you.

CARRIE: Yeah, that was great.

CARMEN: I love what I do, and I thank you for giving me a chance to talk to you about it.

MEGAN: Oh no: thank you! When we knew we would do Chicano English – of course – I was like, “well, dream guest, Dr. Fought!” So thank you so much.

CARMEN: No it’s been my great pleasure. And you guys are doing your little part. You guys there in your corner are doing – not even that little – doing your part to get this information out, so I’m grateful to you. The stuff that I’m complaining about, you’re trying to fix it. So my respect. You guys are my heroes.

MEGAN: Aw, thank you.

CARRIE: Thank you.

MEGAN: We always end each episode with our tagline, which is: don’t be an asshole!

CARRIE: Do not be an asshole.

CARMEN: I love it. I love. Oh my goodness.

MEGAN: Alright, so thank you.

CARMEN: Thank you guys, so much.

CARRIE: Bye!

MEGAN: Oh yeah: bye!

CARMEN: Bye!

CARRIE: The Vocal Fries Podcast is produced by Chris Ayers for Halftone Audio. Theme music by Nick Granum. You can find us on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @vocalfriespod. You can email us at vocalfriespod@gmail.com.

Author: vocalfriespod

The podcast about linguistic discrimination. Carrie and Megan teach you how not to be an accidental asshole.

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