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College of Arts & Sciences
Linguistics Program

Spanish in the Southeast: What a variable swarm can tell us about the initial stages of language contact

Jim Michnowicz, North Carolina State University

Friday, February 17, 2017

3:30 - 5:00 pm

Gambrell 152

The southeastern United States has experienced one of the largest increases in Hispanic population in the country, with states like North Carolina showing a 120% increase over the past decade. These relatively new Hispanic communities present several important differences with more established communities, including increased heterogeneity with respect to geographic origin, and a more balanced split between foreign and native born Hispanics (Pew Hispanic Center 2011). The resulting language contact situation in states like NC provides us with a unique opportunity to examine the processes of maintenance, shift, and convergence at the early stages of contact.

I will provide a brief overview of several linguistic variables for the same set of NC Spanish speakers (a variable swarm – Thomas 2015), as well as an analysis of survey data on loanwords in NC Spanish. The variables examined (vowel space, /bdg/, prosodic rhythm and bilingual discourse markers) show differing levels of contact influence, as well as important differences with studies of more established Latino communities in the United States. While few statistically significant differences are found between immigrants and US-born Heritage speakers, the beginnings of a contact variety of Spanish are still evident through a detailed analysis of the swarm. Possible future directions of language contact in the Southeast will be discussed.