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Latino and Its Linguistic Congeners

Latino speakers of American English often substitute a Spanish version of the word Latino while speaking English. What this amounts to phonetically is pronouncing the pretonic vowel in the first syllable unreduced—[a] instead of [ə]–– and the posttonic vowel without a diphthongal off-glide––[o] instead of [oʊ]. Moreover, the typical American English intervocalic rendering of the dental /t/ as what is called an alveolar flap and notated [ɾ] is replaced in the Spanish-tinged version by the dental stop [t]. Finally, the stressed vowel /i/ in this version sounds unlike the American English one by being correspondingly more tense after [t] than what is heard after the alveolar flap. (The alveolar flap is what appears between vowels in American English as the representative of both /t/ and /d/, i. e., neutralizing the tense/lax distinction between these dental stops, so that writer and rider sound the same in colloquial [allegro tempo] speech.)

The intercalation of alien phonetic features in one’s otherwise native American speech is evidently done in order to serve as a sign or badge of the speaker’s allegiance to their linguistic and cultural heritage, but (as was pointed out in an earlier post) this phonetic trait can only be evaluated stylistically as a barbarism, regardless of the ultimate motivation.

Speakers who use both Spanish and American English habitually may vary in the degree to which they permit themselves this departure from the normal American pattern. This license is especially defensible when it comes to the phonetic profile of one’s own name––especially one’s surname––which is, of course, largely within a speaker’s exclusive purview, regardless of whether it calls attention to itself (and thereby to the speaker’s cultural value system). For a linguistic purist (like Y-H-B), however, hearing the consistent pronunciation of a surname like Gonzalez with a blatantly Spanish accent as the closing tag of a radio reporter’s self-identification (sc. Sarah Gonzalez, WNYC) on the heels of an otherwise perfectly native stream of American English vocables can only be mentally consigned to the realm of linguistic bizarreries.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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