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Review of  Spanish Speakers in the USA

Reviewer: Irene Checa-Garcia
Book Title: Spanish Speakers in the USA
Book Author: Janet M. Fuller
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): Spanish
Issue Number: 24.2015

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“Spanish Speakers in the USA” is a textbook that originated from the author’s class on “Spanish in the USA” and is therefore intended for a college level course on the topic. The book is written completely in English and examples in Spanish are translated and/or explained, so no previous knowledge of Spanish is required. The book focuses mostly on language attitudes and ideologies, and how they relate to language practices. Rather than presenting demographics, geographical distributions, or detailed characterizations of the different varieties of Spanish in the USA, the book presents different concepts and theories that deal with language ideologies, illustrating them with the case of Spanish in the USA.

The textbook is consequently organized in two main parts: a more theoretical part about linguistic ideologies, and a part on language practices that is both conceptual and descriptive. Each chapter is organized in four sections: a summary of objectives for the chapter, the text, a block of questions and topics for discussion, and suggestions for further reading. The section with questions frequently includes references to online materials and extra examples of the phenomena presented in the chapter. Finally, a glossary of terms concludes the book as a whole.

The first part of the book, “Ideologies and Identities”, comprises the first 4 chapters. Chapter 1, “Language Ideologies and Language Policies”, presents the key concept of language ideology, and in particular, the “hegemonic ideology”, which is the most prevalent one and is made to appear as the “natural” one, in part by silencing alternative ideologies. Fuller, following the Gal and Irvine (1995) model, explores the iconic dimension of Mock Spanish and the recursiveness of dominance relations that spread not only to the representation of languages, but also to different varieties of the same language and their speakers. For the case of Spanish in the US, the hegemonic ideology is one of monolingualism and English dominance, while bilingualism is tolerable as long as the languages involved are kept separated. The chapter ends with an overview of language policies and planning in the US, distinguishing: language planning, corpus planning, prestige planning and acquisition planning. There is also a brief sketch of language education history in the US that is later complemented by Chapter 7. While discussing all the concepts, numerous examples are given from a myriad of different sources: media, internet forums, bumper stickers, and presidents’ speeches. These examples are analyzed using the previously introduced terminology.

Chapter 2 is devoted to the relationship between identity and language. The concept of identity itself is shown to be a very fluid one; not only is a person constantly shifting identities, but the relationship between one identity and one language is not a one-to-one permanent correspondence. Fuller provides a few examples of how the use of English or Spanish may support different identities. These examples show how the value of using Spanish or English may shift depending on the speaker's goals and the social context. Language choice, language skills, nationality, or linguistic skills are shown to fluctuate based on which identity they represent and how they are valued. The author then discusses cases of “hybrid identities” and argues in favor of the term “translanguaging” as a better representation for how identity is constructed through language, rather than considering language and identity as fixed terms in a fixed relationship. This latter term is frequently used throughout the book.

In Chapter 3, on ‘race’ and ethnicity, Fuller continues her deconstruction of the essentialist view of identity. Hence, ‘race’ is proofed to be a culturally built concept, rather than a physical one, by briefly presenting how forensic anthropology determines race in human remains, and by showing how race’s importance, as well as number of races, fluctuates among societies. Then, the concept of ethnicity is discussed. Ethnicity is a wider idea that includes shared traditions, languages and beliefs. However, it is not inclusive of ‘race’, necessarily, nor is it a clear concept. To show the fuzziness of the concept, Fuller analyzes its wording in different census questions. In addition, processes of change affect ethnicity: the term itself was used to categorize “the other”, and then used to also cover “mainstream ethnicity”; however, different ethnicities have evolved, and are sometimes subsumed by others, as exemplified in the chapter. To end the chapter, the author points to the close relationship between ethnicity and language, which is also fluid and socially constructed. Finally, specific examples of the Latino case are given.

The final chapter of the first part of the book, Chapter 4, deals with media representations of Latinos and focuses on quantity of the representation, Latino stereotypes (Berg 2002), use of language to represent Latinos, and the particular case of children’s TV shows, which show a very different picture. While still very underrepresented, Latino stereotypes in films and TV revolve around two polarities: the successful Latino that is fully integrated, that is, assimilated to “white middle class culture”; and the exotic Latino or Latina. Fuller supports her claims through copious examples of each stereotype. There is an interesting discussion, following Petrucci (2008), on how Spanish is used to index Latinos in a rather artificial way. In sharp contrast, children’s programs present unproblematic Latino identities that are fully accepted in society, with very little difference from other identities, and speaking Spanish is a useful skill in these programs. Fuller is critical of both visions, as one perpetuates a monolingual ideology, while the other is not only unrealistic, but also conveys a strong message of assimilation.

The second part of the book revolves around Spanish language practices: language maintenance and shift, language contact, linguistic consequences for Spanish and English, and language education and policy regarding Latinos in the US.

In Chapter 5, “Spanish Language Maintenance and Shift in the US”, Fuller defines minority languages and summarizes the three possible outcomes of two languages coming in contact: abandoning the first language, becoming bilingual, or refusing to learn the new second language. The last option, although believed to be common in many “only English” movements and the monolingual hegemonic ideology, is actually extremely rare: few native Spanish speakers can’t speak or speak very little English, and those cases are namely due to learning difficulties rather than rejection of English. Fuller agrees that a common development is bilingualism of the 1.5 or second generation, followed by shift in the 3rd and subsequent generations. However, the author points to several other factors and specific situations that could change the picture. To that end, she reviews classical literature on bilingualism and diglossia, ethnical vitality, and social networks concerning factors influencing language maintenance and shift. Some properties of how community members relate to each other (in social networks) are better predictors of language maintenance and shift than more classic demographic factors. Upon reviewing all accounts of factors concerning language maintenance, Fuller moves on to case studies of Spanish maintenance in 4 areas of the US: Southwest, New York City, Miami, and Chicago. Here, we find some basic demographics for each area and current language survival and maintenance trends. By comparing the situation of Spanish in these four areas, the author is able to arrive at some conclusions concerning what factors generally influence the survival of Spanish.

Chapter 6 is the most linguistic chapter of the book. In this chapter, the linguistic consequences of language contact, both for English and Spanish, are analyzed. Spanglish is presented first, and is introduced through its positive and negative connotations. After that, linguistic characteristics of Spanglish -- or US Spanish -- are detailed. First, lexical-semantic features are presented (e.g. loan words, calques, phonological integration in loan words, etc.), together with brief examples of each. The chapter continues with syntactic features, questioning the origin of some structural characteristics. These could be transfers from English, or a simplification already present in the evolution of Spanish that is accelerated by its contact with English, as is the case with some verbal morphology simplification. The second part of the chapter deals with a characterization of Chicano English, clarified not to be “accented English” of non-native speakers, but rather a variety of English spoken by native speakers. The cause for this variety is unknown, but seems to have been motivated by a desire in certain speech communities or a desire of individual speakers to index the Latino identity (not necessarily Latino origin). Different kinds of features are discussed, but phonological characteristics, as well as intonation, are pointed out as the most noticeable and unique characteristics of this variety of English. There is, however, a lack of studies on different communities, especially from a quantitative perspective, so Fuller’s characterization of Chicano English is said to require more data.

The last chapter of the book, “Latino Education in the US”, starts by recognizing the diversity of cases when it comes to educational programs. Fuller focuses on lower class children, who are typically the most studied because they are the most susceptible to problems at school. Within this group, she reviews education programs aimed at non-native speakers of English. First, Fuller presents three main types of programs: no program at all (i.e. submersion), a transitional program aimed at improving English skills through some education in Spanish, and a bilingual program that teaches in both Spanish and English, with the goal of improving skills in both languages. She then carefully reviews experimental results of studies testing the efficacy of the different kinds of programs for students’ academic success from 1990 to present. The overview reveals that all studies showed the bilingual program to be the most successful in the long term. Yet, bilingual education is not supported at the federal or state levels. Finally, Fuller again reviews monolingual language ideologies that dominate language policing, and consequently, language education, in order to connect the first chapter with this last one.


“Spanish Speakers in the USA” is more than a textbook about the Spanish language in the US; it is a book about language attitudes and ideologies, and how language is used as an index of identity through reference to Spanish in the US. The author takes a firm stance with regard to bilingual policies in education, in public services, etc., and is a supporter of a bilingual society, or rather, a translanguaging society in which mixed identities and codes are not only tolerated but also supported. Although this narrower, more focused view may not be what some instructors of a class on “Spanish in the US” might be looking for, it certainly fulfills the main aims of the book stated in the introduction:

“While the primary goal of this text is to help students understand the complex social and linguistic issues which influence Spanish speakers in the US, additional goals are (1) to foster the ability for readers to be critical consumers of popular culture and (2) to encourage you to be proponents of institutional policies and social practices which do not discriminate or rely of stereotypes” (p. xiii).

The arguments given in the book, the real examples presented regarding different ideologies, and the questions posited at the end of each chapter are all extremely thought provoking, and hence, goals (2), and especially (1), are fully achieved.

Although the book is focused mainly on ideology, leaving out other aspects of Spanish in the US (e.g. demographics, history, geographical distribution, dialect characterization, etc.), it focuses on an aspect that has not been centrally treated for Spanish in the US, and certainly even less so within a non-essentialist view of language contact and ideology. Hence, this book complements others and touches upon a topic that most others don’t, leaving aside the treatment of language maintenance, which has been more frequently covered in other works. It can also be used in classes on sociolinguistics or language ideologies, attitudes and policies as supplementary material for theory-based discussions, and can be an especially great resource for case studies and questions for discussion.

The Instituto Cervantes Annuary of 2008 presents more detailed characterizations of different varieties of Spanish in the US, as well as more hard, quantitative data concerning the presence of Spanish in the US. It also has a chapter devoted to the history of Spanish in the US. Another work discussing in-depth the history and survival of Spanish from a more quantitative approach is the chapter that Klee and Lynch (2009) dedicate to Spanish in contact with English in the US. Different works (Lipski 2003, López García 2007, López Morales 2007) touch upon the future of Spanish in the US, though not with the same emphasis on the influence of a hegemonic ideology of monolingualism over the survival of Spanish. Expanding upon this body of work, Fuller puts together results of research on Latino representations and uses of Spanish, codeswitching, and other linguistic practices, in order to present a more complete picture of the value of the Spanish language in US society. Perhaps the closest work to this would be the one by Field (2011) on English-Spanish bilingualism in the USA. However, it centers on the idea of bilingualism as concerning two distinct and stable languages, and hence, is more related to the essentialist view that Fuller rejects.

In sum, Fuller’s book is a great introduction to all topics pertaining to language ideology, language policy, linguistic identity, and language practices, without getting too linguistically technical or lost in numbers. However, it would probably need to be supplemented with some of those numbers, and maybe a characterization of the different varieties of Spanish in the US, for a more general class on Spanish in the US. The examples, her critique of older sociolinguistic concepts, and the exercises/questions at the end of each chapter are all elements of the book worth introducing in the classroom. The book is also very cohesive, with constant reuse of previously introduced ideas. This is a must own book for the Hispanic Linguistics instructor, and perfect for a class more focused on the ideological and attitudinal aspects of Spanish in the US and language contact in general. The author’s style is very clear, direct, and filled with examples and topics that students will surely enjoy.


Berg, C. R. 2002. Latino images in film: Stereotypes, Subversion, & Resistance. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Field, F. 2011. Bilingualism in the USA: The case of the Chicano-Latino Community. Philadelphia/Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Gal, S. and Irvine, J. 1995. The boundaries of languages and disciplines. How ideologies construct difference. Social Research (62): 996-1001.

Instituto Cervantes. 2008. Enciclopedia del español en los Estados Unidos. Anuario del Instituto Cervantes 2008. Madrid: Instituto Cervantes.

Klee, C. A. & Lynch, A. 2009. El español en contacto con otras lenguas. Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

Lipski, J. M. 2003. La lengua española en los Estados Unidos: Avanza a la vez que retrocede. Revista Española de Lingüística 33 (2): 231-260.

López García, A. 2007. La lengua española y sus tres formas de estar en el mundo. Enciclopedia del español en los Estados Unidos. Anuario del Instituto Cervantes 2006-2007. Madrid: Instituto Cervantes: 471-475.

López Morales, H. 2007. El futuro del español. Enciclopedia del español en los Estados Unidos. Anuario del Instituto Cervantes 2006-2007. Madrid: Instituto Cervantes: 476-491.

Petrucci, P. R. 2008. Portraying language diversity through a monolingual lens: On the unbalanced representation of Spanish and English in a corpus of American films. Sociolinguistic Studies 2 (3): 405-425.
Irene Checa-Garcia wrote her dissertation on measures of Syntactic Development in adolescents and social factors influencing it. During her first postdoctoral year, she worked at University of León on Functional Syntax of Spanish complex sentences, and in particular relative clauses. The second year she worked at the Linguistics Department at University of California, Santa Barbara, using corpus linguistics methodology. Her current research focuses on resumptive pronouns in Spanish relative clauses in conversation, along the lines of Functional Discourse Grammar. Recently, she has started a Conversation Analysis project on very young children's embodiment of action as a communicative tool in a bilingual setting.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9781847698780
Pages: 188
Prices: U.K. £ 79.95

Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 9781847698773
Pages: 188
Prices: U.K. £ 21.95

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9781847698780
Pages: 188
Prices: U.S. $ 79.95

Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 9781847698773
Pages: 188
Prices: U.S. $ 21.95