Puneet Varma (Editor)

Chicano English

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit

Chicano English, or Mexican American English, is a dialect of American English spoken primarily by Mexican Americans (sometimes known as Chicanos), particularly in the Southwestern United States, ranging from Texas to California but also apparent in Chicago. Chicano English is sometimes mistakenly conflated with Spanglish, which is a grammatically simplified mixing of Spanish and English; however, Chicano English is a fully formed and native dialect of English, not a "learner English" or interlanguage. It is even the native dialect of some speakers who know little to no Spanish.



Communities of Spanish-speaking Tejanos, Nuevomexicanos, Californios, and Mission Indians have existed in the American Southwest since the area was part of New Spain's Provincias Internas. Most of the historically Hispanophone populations eventually adopted English as their first language, as part of their overall Americanization.

A high level of Mexican immigration began in the 20th century, with the exodus of refugees from the Mexican Revolution (1910) and the linkage of Mexican railroads to the US (Santa Ana, 1991). The Hispanic population is one of the largest and fastest-growing ethnic groups in the United States. In the Los Angeles area alone, they form 40% of the population (roughly 1.4 out of 3.5 million, in the 1990 census). The result of the migration and the segregated social conditions of the immigrants in California made an ethnic community that is only partly assimilated to the matrix Anglo (European American) community. It retains symbolic links with Hispanic culture (as well as real links from continuing immigration), but linguistically, it is mostly an English-speaking, not a Spanish-speaking, community. However, its members have a distinctive accent.

The phonological inventory appears to be identical to that of the local Anglo community. For example, long and short vowels are clearly distinguished, as is the relatively rare English vowel /æ/. Speculatively, it seems that the main differences between the Chicano accent and the local Anglo accent are that the Chicanos are not participating in the ongoing phonetic changes in the Anglo communities (such as the raising of /æ/).

As Spanish-speaking people migrated from other parts of Hispanophone world to Southwest, Chicano English is now the customary dialect of many Hispanic Americans of diverse national heritages in Southwest. As Hispanics are of diverse racial origins, Chicano English serves as the distinction from non-Hispanic and non-Latino Americans in Southwest.


Chicano English has many features that are influenced by Spanish.


The rhythm of Chicano English tends to have an intermediate prosody between a Spanish-like syllable timing, with syllables taking up roughly the same amount of time with roughly the same amount of stress, and General American English's stress timing, with only stressed syllables being evenly timed.

Most Romance languages, such as Spanish, are syllable-timed.

Chicano English also has a complex set of nonstandard English intonation patterns, such as pitch rises on significant words in the middle and at the end of sentences as well as initial-sentence high pitches, which are often accompanied by the lengthening of the affected syllables.


Consonants are often pronounced as in Spanish.

Alveolar stops /t, d/ are realized as laminal denti-alveolar [, ].

The /z/ undergoes devoicing in all environments: [ˈisi] for easy and [wʌs] for was.

The /v/ is devoiced after the last vowel of a word: [lʌf] for love, [hæf] for have, and [waɪfs] for wives.

Chicano speakers may realize /v/ bilabially, as a stop [b] or a fricative/approximant [β], with very being pronounced [ˈbɛɹi] or [ˈβɛɹi].

Dental fricatives change pronunciation so think may be pronounced [ˈtiŋk], [ˈfiŋk] or [ˈsiŋk]. Most Latin American Spanish dialects, such as Mexican Spanish, have undergone a feature called seseo, with /θ/ merging with /s/.

/j/ and /dʒ/ may merge into [dʒ]; job may sound like yob and yes may sound like jes.

In the syllable coda, the nasals /m, n, ŋ/ merge into one sound. Phonetically, its realization varies between alveolar [n] and velar [ŋ].

/tʃ/ merges with /ʃ/ so sheep and cheap are pronounced alike. The outcome of the merger varies and can be either a fricative [ʃ] (both cheap and sheep sound like sheep) or an affricate [tʃ] (both cheap and sheep sound like cheap).

English [lˠ] is develarized and so it is pronounced similarly to a Spanish alveolar lateral approximant.


The cot–caught merger is complete, approximately to [ä]. For younger speakers, however, the vowel is retracted by the Californian Vowel Shift.

The salary–celery merger occurs, with /æ/ and /ɛ/ merging before /l/.

/ɪŋ/ sounds like /iŋ/: sink sounds like seenk and also sing sounds like seeng. That is also a feature of general California English.

The distinction between /ɪ/ and /iː/ before liquid consonants is frequently reduced, making fill and feel homophones. That is also a feature of general California English.

// is slightly fronted, as in most American and many British dialects, but they are less fronted than in mainstream California English.

Some realizations of /iː/, /eː/, /oː/, and other long vowels are pronounced as monophthongs. That may be an effect of Spanish, but other American English dialects (Minnesota, and Wisconsin, for example) also show monophthongization of such vowels, which are more commonly diphthongs in English.

Also, such vowels are underlyingly long monophthongs so the general effect thus is to simplify the system of phonetic implementation, compared to the /ij, ej, ow, uw/ of many other English dialects.


A fair to strong degree of variation exists in the phonology of Chicano English. Its precise boundaries are difficult to delineate, perhaps because of its separate origins of the dialect in the Southwest and the Midwest.

One subvariety, referenced as Tejano English, is used mainly in southern Texas, and New Mexican English is used in central and northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. California subvarieties are also widely studied, especially that of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, such as East Los Angeles Chicano English, which includes elements of African American Vernacular English and California English.

Notable native speakers

  • Gloria Anzaldúa — "I spoke English like a Mexican. At Pan American University, I and all Chicano students were required to take two speech classes. Their purpose: to get rid of our accents."
  • César Chávez — "His speech was soft, sweetened by a Spanish accent"
  • George Lopez — "Chicanos are their own breed. Even though we're born in the United States, we still have accents."
  • Cheech Marin — "a hint of a Chicano accent" — "a Spanish accent or stereotypical East Los Angeles cadence like Cheech Marin"
  • Paul Rodriguez
  • References

    Chicano English Wikipedia

    Similar Topics