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Se Habla AngelinoLos Angeles Spanish is the language of some local businesses, including construction. This June 2007 photo of workers at LAX, via the Flickr website, is by "Just A Slice."

Se Habla Angelino

Los Angeles is the home of one of the many dialects of Latin American Spanish, says Claudia Parodi, a UCLA professor of linguistics.

By Susan Bauckus

What is Los Angeles Spanish and who speaks it?

It's spoken by immigrants from Central America and Mexico. Usually Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans in Los Angeles live in the same neighborhoods. I would say that 95 percent of them speak the same type of Mexican Spanish.

What type is that?

The dialect is from little towns in Mexico. Spanish came to Latin America in the 16th century, and Spanish spoken in the cities went through many changes, but in small towns people still use features of old Spanish. When Los Angeles Spanish speakers say agora as opposed to ahora (now), asina instead of así (so, like this), or mesmo as opposed to mismo (same), that's Old Spanish. You'll find many of the same words in Quixote's Spanish. But nowadays those words are a marker that a speaker comes from a small town.

What are other characteristics of Los Angeles Spanish?

For example, instead of basta (enough), Salvadorans would pronounce it bahta. But Los Angeles Spanish speakers from El Salvador say basta.

And vos (you), for some reason, upsets Mexicans. They make fun of people who use it, make jokes about it, and the result is that Salvadoran and Guatemalan speakers abandon their voseo.

Los Angeles Spanish also has some loan words from English. It's common to say la carpeta for carpet instead of tapete, and la marqueta for market instead of mercado. Another feature of English contact is the pronunciation of the r, which is not exactly a lingual, like Spanish from Latin America; it's a different type of r.

Do speakers who immigrated as adults speak Los Angeles Spanish, or do you have to grow up here?

Most speakers have grown up here. They learn it in school from their peers. Their parents mostly use the lexicon. Some adults in America keep the features of their Salvadoran or Guatemalan Spanish but they're less noticeable; they aspirate the s but less than they used to.

Are there native speakers of Los Angeles Spanish?

Oh, yes. Everybody who lives in this community will speak that Spanish, even if their parents don't. It's also used in some businesses. A Chilean constructor told me that he learned to speak Mexican Spanish, otherwise he couldn't hire anyone. I would say that a dialect of Spanish is forming in Los Angeles.

Is it used in the media?

Yes, the news here is given in Los Angeles Spanish.

Are speakers aware that they speak Los Angeles Spanish?

Yes. Someone from El Salvador might say that Salvadoran Spanish is "the best," but also that "I have to speak the way they speak here."

When speakers of LA Spanish study Spanish at a university, do TAs and instructors recognize what they're hearing?

It depends on who is teaching. I think we should train people to recognize that language is creative and about the sociolinguistic situation in the U.S. They have to teach students that there are different registers, that they speak one at home which is legitimate and we're proud of it, and another variety with Spanish speakers who are not from Los Angeles. The goal should be to add knowledge of the standard variant, not to take away the home dialect, so that you can use both depending on what's appropriate.

Do you or your family speak it?

No, because I wasn't raised here. I used to teach at a university in Mexico.

And your colleagues?

Not really. By the time they get here, even if they used to speak it at home, they don't use it. But students speak it. I had one graduate student who spoke a beautiful vernacular Los Angeles Spanish. I told her that I loved her Spanish and that she should not lose it, but eventually she dropped it. Once they go to the university or are interested in educational matters, Los Angeles Spanish speakers start drifting away.

LA Language World