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NYU prof. explores language

Megan Doyle | Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The rising Latino population in the United States has been marginalized in an English-speaking society, and Spanish speakers increasingly find themselves as “language-less,” according to Dr. Jonathan Rosa of New York University.

Rosa is an assistant professor and faculty fellow in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis and Latino Studies Program at New York University. His lecture, titled “Spanglish Only? U.S. Language Ideologies and Latino Ethnolinguistic Identities,” discussed the way language plays a role in lives of Hispanic Americans.

Rosa collected research from New Northwest High School, a Chicago public high school whose student body is more than 90 percent Mexican and Puerto Rican.

The difference between Mexican and Puerto Rican Spanish was apparent in the Spanish-speaking community, but was not recognized by individuals who only spoke English, Rosa said. English-speakers tended to group all Spanish-speakers together into one Latino category.

“Here is a symbolic relationship in which Latinos are imagined to embody the Spanish language and the Spanish language becomes emblematic of Latinos,” he said.

Rosa said he interviewed many students from the high school about their language background. These students said the differences in pronunciation and rhythm between Puerto Rican and Mexican Spanish was acute.

In an English-dominated society, native Spanish speakers are marginalized no matter what their background, he said.

“Latinos can be doubly stigmatized through their presumed lack of English and Spanish language proficiency,” Rosa said.

The term “bilingual” no longer means being proficient in two languages but instead deficiency in one language, he said.

“As people who are expected to speak a language but then are understood to speak no language properly, Latinos are positioned as a linguistic inferior,” Rosa said.

Rosa also said Latinos, even when speaking unaccented English, are stereotyped because others automatically associate their race with a language they do not understand. Some Latinos then pronounce Spanish words with an English accent or use the Spanish-English combination of “Spanglish.”

“Competing forces require Latinos to signal that they are acceptable other by speaking Spanish in English without being heard to possess an accent,” he said. “Latinos manage these demands by integrating English and Spanish forms in newfound ways that signal their linguistic dexterity.”

These linguistic problems are challenges for young people like the students at New Northwest High School as they move into adulthood and a professional, English-dominated world.

“The expectation that Latinos should be proficient in English and Spanish ultimately stigmatizes them in relation to the two languages simultaneously and positions them as having no language.”