LINGUIST List 14.1853

Thu Jul 3 2003

Review: Lang Description/Socioling: Fought(2002)

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  • 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 Macmillan.

    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 linguistics.

    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. 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.