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New Speakers, Old Racism

New Speakers, Old Racism

While in Madrid I was unfortunate enough to have my bag stolen (I was in Madrid to conduct fieldwork on New Speakers of Spanish and their struggles for legitimacy). I thus reported the incident to the local police who filed a corresponding report. 

While at the police station, I engaged in what I thought was a form of small talk. As part of this, I mentioned to the officer that the unlucky incident was probably the result of the current economic crisis.

In an affiliative oriented reaction signalled by utterance latching, smiling and prosodic contour, the officer offered a second pair part in which he offered a strong disagreement: ‘Son los latinos’ (‘It’s the Latin Americans’).

Following this, he asked me about my place of birth in order to attend to the task in hand. I immediately replied ‘Montevideo, Uruguay’.

Thereafter, a marked silence ensued indicating my misalignment with respect to the officer’s ideology and the form filling process continued with talk merely oriented to the task in hand.

After my visit to the police station I conducted an interview at a Latin American owned coffee shop where I mentioned to its Colombian born owner my exchange at the police station.

She reacted with an extreme case formulation indicating her negative assessment, among others, ‘Hijos de puta’ (‘Sons of a b*tch’) and added: ‘No, son los rumanos’ (‘No, it’s the Rumanians’).

Interestingly, while at the Metro in Madrid I chatted to a fellow passenger who happened to come from Rumania. I thus mentioned that my bag had been stolen and he replied: ‘Y son lo gitanos’ (‘It’s the Gypsies’).

I have thus returned home bag less but this unfortunate event has provided me with food for thought as far as the ways in which racist ideologies are hierarchally re-inscribed by new speakers in a diaspora.

Has anything changed?

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Native speaker intolerance

Native speaker intolerance

‘On n’aime pas quelqu’un qui parle notre patois mal’: Native speaker intolerance towards new speaker speech

In a study on new speakers of Athabascan, Gary Holton gives a touching account of how native speakers of these obsolescent varieties ‘laugh mercilessly at their grandchildren’s efforts to learn’ and practice with their reference group. As a result of this linguistic intolerance, new speakers of Athabascan have sought refuge by taking their efforts instead to online discussion groups, pushing a language of largely oral only tradition into new domains of usage.

I've come across a similar case in the context of Francoprovençal: a much understudied grouping of Romance varieties spoken traditionally in parts of France, Switzerland, and Italy by less than 1% of the total regional population (~ 150,000). Emerging new speakers of Francoprovençal form part of the focus of my PhD on variation and change in these varieties.

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