Puerto Rican Discourse
A Sociolinguistic Study of A New York Suburb
Routledge – 1997 – 160 pages
Series: Everyday Communication Series
Before conclusions about Spanish in the United States can be drawn, individual communities must be studied in their own contexts. That is the goal of Puerto Rican Discourse. One tendency of previous work on Spanish in the United States has been an eagerness to generalize the findings of isolated studies to all Latino communities, but the specific sociocultural contexts in which people -- and languages -- live often demand very different conclusions. The results of Torres' work indicate that the Spanish of Puerto Ricans living in Brentwood continues to survive in a restricted context. Across the population of Brentwood -- for Puerto Ricans of all ages and language proficiencies -- the Spanish language continues to assume an important practical, symbolic, and affective role.
An examination of the structural features of 60 oral narratives -- narrative components and the verbal tenses associated with each, overall Spanish verb use, and clause complexity -- reveals little evidence of the simplification and loss across generations found in other studies of Spanish in the United States. English-dominant Puerto Ricans are able Spanish language narrators demonstrating a wide variety of storytelling skills. The structure of their oral narratives is as complete and rich as the narratives of Spanish-dominant speakers.
The content of these oral narratives of personal experience is also explored. Too often in studies on U.S. Spanish, sociolinguists ignore the words of the community; the focus is usually on the grammatical aspects of language use and rarely on the message conveyed. In this study, oral narratives are analyzed as constructions of gendered and ethnically marked identities. The stories demonstrate the contradictory positions in which many Puerto Ricans find themselves in the United States. All of the speakers in this study have internalized, to a greater or lesser extent, dominant ideologies of gender, ethnicity, and language, at the same time that they struggle against such discourse. The analysis of the discourse of the community reveals how the status quo is both reproduced and resisted in the members' narratives, and how ideological forces work with other factors, such as attitudes, to influence the choices speakers make concerning language use. A special feature of this book is that transcripts are provided in both Spanish and English.
This volume combines ethnographic, quantitative, and qualitative discourse methodologies to provide a comprehensive and novel analysis of language use and attitudes of the Brentwood Puerto Rican community. Its rich linguistic and ethnographic data will be of interest to researchers and teachers in cultural communication, ethnic (Hispanic-American) studies, sociolinguistics, and TESL.
"The book is readable and interesting to both the generalist and sociolinguist, and most of all continues a fertile line of multifaceted research."
"…Torres' three-tiered narrative analysis has given us a multifaced portrait of a suburban bilingual speech community. She has made clear the importance of respecting the sociolinguistic distinction of each community, and of avoiding a grand conflation of all instances of Spanish-English bilingualism. She has given us critical glimpses of the often difficult lives of the people in the community, and she has shown how prejudicial social dynamics are internalized in everyday talk. In doing so, she has made an important contribution to the still-nascent literature on Puerto Rican bilingualism."
—Language in Society
"…Torres' study is impressive in its comprehensiveness, attention to detail, and fidelity to both her intellectual and cultural roots. She has single-handedly carried out research that is normally done by a team of fieldworkers….I find her work to be solid and thought provoking."
"…an important contribution to the still-nascent literature on Puerto Rican bilingualism."
—Language in Society
"…a fascinating examination of the discursive life of a Puerto Rican community. Through a meticulous analysis of local narratives and survey responses, Torres convincingly argues that 'language choice and use is clearly a dynamic matter that continues to evolve across the lifespan of each individual.' This book is a powerful wake-up call to those who approach Latino communities as easily explained cultural monoliths."
—Alberto Gonz lez
Bowling Green State University
Contents: Series Editors' Preface. Introduction. The Brentwood Puerto Rican Community. Language Maintenance and Shift in Brentwood. Narrative Structure. Code-Mixing and Lexical Innovations as Narratives Strategies. Language and Power in Puerto Rican Oral Narratives. Conclusion. Appendix: Language Use and Attitudes Survey.