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Dialect Contact among Spanish-Speaking Children in Los Angeles

  • Author(s): Villarreal, Belen MacGregor;
  • Advisor(s): Parodi-Lewin, Claudia;
  • et al.

As an immigration hub for a diverse group of Spanish speakers, Los Angeles lends itself to research on dialect contact and leveling. Studies regarding the Spanish spoken by natives of Los Angeles reveal considerable homogeneity with respect to pronunciation, vocabulary and terms of address. This uniformity is notable because two different dialect classes are represented in the Spanish-speaking population of Los Angeles: the so-called tierras altas dialects, which include Mexican varieties, and the tierras bajas dialects, such as those of Central America. This dissertation is motivated by the desire to provide quantitative and qualitative data regarding the principal phonetic, lexical and attitudinal characteristics of Spanish-speaking children in Los Angeles and the effects that their home dialect classification and school neighborhood might have on these. As the offspring of foreign-born parents, these children are in a position to illuminate the processes by which native youth adapt to a linguistic norm that differs from that to which they are exposed in the home.

160 Mexican and Central American Spanish-speaking fourth and fifth graders (ages 9-11) attending public elementary schools in several regions of Los Angeles County completed three sets of linguistic tasks while speaking with an interlocutor whose dialect was unknown to them. In such a situation, it was surmised that subjects would accommodate to what they identify as the prototypical linguistic behavior of their community with respect to three dimensions of their dialect use: vocabulary, pronunciation and attitudes. The results of the production tasks demonstrate that all of the subjects employ a majority of features of tierras altas Mexican Spanish, regardless of their national origin. The findings from the attitude tasks indicate that, children of both Mexican and Central American origin are able to articulate a conscious preference for Mexican Spanish over Salvadoran Spanish. Neither home dialect classification nor school neighborhood was found to have a significant effect on subjects' dialect use. The data obtained in this dissertation suggest that the speech of young Angelenos undergoes a leveling process that favors features of tierras altas Mexican Spanish, a variety that these children likely identify as the linguistic norm of the community.

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