Article on Shin&Otheguy2013 by Jessica Love: Spanish in the City What's behind an ongoing change to the Spanish spoken by New Yorkers

Article on Shin&Otheguy2013 by Jessica Love: Spanish in the City What's behind an ongoing change to the Spanish spoken by New Yorkers
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  1/2/14, 9:23 AMThe American Scholar: Spanish in the City - Jessica LovePage 1 of 2 Spanish in the City   What’s behind an ongoing change to the Spanish spoken by New Yorkers? By Jessica Love  Pronouns are on the rise in New York City.Not English ones, mind you. In English, personal pronouns like  I,   you , and me  are obligatory, meaning we have to use them if we want to talk about ourselves and the people around us without sounding likethose irritating pro athletes who enjoy referring to themselves in the third person.But Spanish pronouns work differently. In many contexts, they can be—and very often are—omitted. Yobailo and  tú bailas mean, respectively,  I dance  and you dance , but so do  bailo  and bailas . And incontexts like these, where personal pronouns are optional, it seems New Yorkers are opting to use themmore often.In a recent study , Naomi Lapidus Shin of the University of New Mexico and Ricardo Otheguy of theGraduate Center of the City University of New York analyze interviews with 140 Spanish-speakingLatinos living in New York City. (The srcinal dataset was developed by Otheguy and Ana Celia Zentella.)The researchers find that Latinos who are relatively new to the city use these pronouns about 30 percentof the time. But those who have been in the city for at least five years (or who moved to the city as youngsters) use them 35 percent of the time—about a 15 percent increase. The shift is even larger forsome Latinos: Colombians and Cubans, whose communities tend to be more affluent. It’s also larger for women. What’s going on? Why, within about five years of moving to the city—and certainly within a generation—do pronouns become more enticing? For some Latinos, the shift might arise from contact with otherSpanish speakers, some of whom hail from regions that use more pronouns than others. But anotherpromising explanation involves a different language that runs rampant in the Big Apple: English.  1/2/14, 9:23 AMThe American Scholar: Spanish in the City - Jessica LovePage 2 of 2 Recall that pronouns are obligatory in English. As newcomers to the city encounter the language and itsspeakers on a daily basis, some English-like tendencies may creep into their Spanish. Specifically, incontexts where Spanish speakers could take a pronoun as easily as leave it, exposure to pronoun-happy English may make them likelier to take it. (And indeed, higher rates of pronoun use are associated with better English abilities.)Contact with English can also explain who the linguistic innovators—those driving the shift in pronounuse—tend to be. Wealthy Latino communities have more innovators than poorer ones, perhaps becausetheir members have broader social networks that include more contact with English speakers andEnglish-Spanish bilinguals. Innovators are also overly represented among women. This is not entirely unexpected. For one reason or another, women tend to be at the vanguard of lots of different languagechanges. But in this particular case, women also have more contact with US-born bilingual speakers—including their own children.So pronouns are proliferating in New York, and researchers have some idea why. But do the Spanishspeakers propagating this change do so knowingly? Probably not, Shin told me in an email.Still, other patterns of pronoun use are more conspicuous. Dominicans, says Shin, have a distinct habit of placing personal pronouns before a verb when asking wh -questions like where and why —a feature otherLatinos sometimes adopt when imitating Dominican speech. Shin also points to “Central Americans whouse the pronoun vos in their home countries (e.g., Hondurans, Salvadorans) and then switch to tú [thesecond-person pronoun used by the majority of Spanish speakers in the states] in the U.S.” Thesespeakers nonetheless hold onto vos for “very specific contexts”—such as fixed phrases like  fijate vos (roughly,  Listen to this )—“that become emblematic of their identity.”Jessica Love recently received a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and is currently a science writer and editorat Northwestern University. More Posts from Psycho Babble: Spanish in the City The Powerless IThe Search for Meaning in SoundThe Disappearing AccentMuch Reading. Wow.
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