Trevin Garcia presenting his work at the McNair Heartland Conference, September 2017.
Latinx English in the Heartland: An Analysis of /l/ Variation in Liberal, Kansas.
I’m a senior in English Literature and a post-research scholar of the McNair Scholars program. This summer, I conducted research with Dr. Mary Kohn on linguistic changes in Liberal, Kansas. A summary of my research follows.
Changes to immigration policies and rural economies created population movements that have significantly altered the demographics of numerous rural U.S. towns, creating new contact points for English and Spanish. This study focuses on language in Liberal, Kansas, a community where the Latinx community has grown from 19.5% of the population to 59.1% of the population over the past twenty-four years (U.S. Census Bureau). These demographic shifts provide the opportunity to examine initial stages of dialect contact and document the influence of such contact on the founder population’s dialect. This analysis contributes to research on Latinx English by examining /l/ realization in the speech of 15 Latinx and 8 Anglx Liberal, KS youths, a contact feature that has been found in other varieties of Latinx English.
Previous studies suggest that Latinx English tends to utilize clear variants of word-initial /l/ due to substrate influence from Spanish. We examined /l/ in syllable-initial environments to identify the extent to which Latinx English in Liberal aligns with previous studies of Latinx English in longer established communities. Further, we examined the extent to which endogenous Anglx varieties have been influenced by sustained contact with Latinx English. Fifty to one-hundred tokens of /l/ for each speaker were analyzed. A substantial amount of clear /l/ productions were identified among certain Anglx participants. Further, regression results that include ethnicity, duration, and surrounding phonetic environment as fixed effects and speaker and word as random effects indicate minimal differences between Anglx and Latinx productions of /l/ in Liberal, KS, suggesting that the Anglx variety shows contact influence from the local Latinx variety. These results suggest that Anglx Liberal English has been influenced by the emerging Latinx majority in Liberal, Kansas.
The study does introduce some interesting questions that merit further investigation of Liberal’s Latinx English. The most pressing of these questions is: does the pattern of Latinx speakers producing clearer /l/s than their Anglx counterparts continue across gender? We were not immediately able to analyze due to a lack of extracted /l/ tokens from Latina and Angla participants as well as the only information on speakers available to us at that time was exclusively male data.
Findings from this study are an important addition to the current canon of Latinx English as it illustrates how substrate features can unite ethnolinguistic varieties across regions. Further, such research demonstrates how extensive demographic shifts have the potential to influence endogenous varieties as old majorities become a minority presence in select communities.
— Trevin Garcia (B.A. ’18)