nucular and Latino

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Wed Nov 14 16:57:11 UTC 2001

hmmm... the original question was about native english speakers
shifting to a spanishoid pronunciation for certain words, not about
bilinguals code-switching.

i assume the spanishoid pronunciation involves unreduced [a], "pure"
vowels [i] and [o], light (unvelarized) [l], dental (rather than
alveolar) [l t n], and unaspirated [t], or at least enough of these to
sound unlike the speaker's usual variety of english.

i'd guess that the motives for doing this, which are mostly
unconscious, are varied, ranging from attempts to accommodate in some
small way to spanish (or spanish-accented english), as a gesture of
friendliness, to showing off your phonetic abilities, to mocking
spanish-accented english.

i'm trying to remember the details of a Saturday Night Live (i think
it was) sketch in which jimmy smits played a new hispanic american
member of a law firm (i think it was), and the other guys in the
office, all clearly monolingual english speakers, shifted to
spanishoid pronunciations for ethnically marked words, starting with
the smits character's name and working through food items they might
have for lunch (i have a recollection of renditions of "burrito" with
long, high-intensity trilled [r], but this might be an invention of
mine), to the increasing bafflement, and smoldering anger, of the
smits character.  i don't recall how the sketch ended.

about half the staff at the dementia care facility i visit every day
are native speakers of spanish, some of them with limited abilities in
english.  over the years i've come to use spanishoid pronunciations of
their names, especially if i'm trying to get their attention, because
i think it's harder for sirenia, jesus, aurelia, and manuel to process
the english-mangled versions of their names than something that
approaches spanish.  in one case, the senior staff member celita, who
has my partner jacques as her special charge and who is a full
bilingual, i consciously use a spanish pronunciation of her name when
i address her (though not in the middle of sentences), as a gesture of
friendliness to her.  nobody has any illusions that i actually speak
spanish, and i try my truly dreadful spanish only when that seems
likely to work better than my english.

arnold (zwicky at

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