Ana Celia Zentella

National Endowment for the Humanities Resident Scholar

1998–1999

Las Voces del Pueblo: Latino Languages and Identities

By the year 2005, Hispanics/Latinos will become the largest minority in the United States. Despite dissimilarities in political histories, immigration patterns, and obstacles to progress, the peoples who make up this sector of society are generally regarded as a homogenous group, due to their common usage of the Spanish language. In Las Voces del Pueblo: Latino Languages and Identities, the book-in-progress of Ana Celia Zentella, the current SAR resident scholar investigates how the features of Spanish and English regional and class dialects alternately harden and blur boundaries as a new pan-US Latino identity is forged.

"Latinos use their bilingual and multidialectal repertoire to contest popular notions about how 'American' they are, in ways that contribute to a more diverse and united nation," says Zentella. "This book will address the way in which the unity of Latinos is facilitated by widespread acknowledgement of Spanish as their common language, at the same time that their distinct varieties of Spanish proclaim their allegiance to a particular national origin."

"There is no doubt that the various dialects of the Spanish language are mutually intelligible," Zentella explains, "but ignoring the differences contributes to what I have called 'chiquita-fication.'" This process diminishes the complexity of Latino languages and cultures in the United States, obscures their distinct ways of structuring reality, facilitates the racialization of Latinos, and feeds into a Hispanophobia which calls for increasing control over Spanish and Spanish speakers.

Zentella conducted ethnographic research that included over 270 sociolinguistic interviews with members of New York's principle Latino communities-Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Cubans, and Colombians. The final study will also include Mexicans.

In addition to Las Voces del Pueblo, Zentella has worked on another book while at SAR, A Spanish Apple for the Teacher: The Verbal and Literacy Skills of Latino Children. This project describes the dialects of Spanish and English spoken by the major Spanish-speaking groups in the United States, and suggests ways to resolve the language-related problems of Latino children in school.

Affiliation at time of award:
Professor of Black and Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, and in the doctoral programs in Anthropology, Developmental Psychology, and Linguistics at the Graduate Center, City University of New York


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