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Language, Race, and White Public Space
Author(s): Jane H. Hill
Source: American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 100, No. 3 (Sep., 1998), pp. 680-689
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
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Departmentof Anthropology
Universityof Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721
Language,Race, and White Public Space
Whitepublicspace is constructedthrough(1) intensemonitoringof the speechof racializedpopulationssuchas Chicanos
andLatinosandAfricanAmericansfor signs of linguisticdisorderand (2) the invisibilityof almostidenticalsigns in the
speechof Whites,wherelanguagemixing, requiredfor ffieexpressionof a highly valuedtype of colloquialpersona,takes
severalforms. One such form, Mock Spanish,exhibits a complex semiotics. By directindexicality,Mock Spanishpresents speakersas possessing desirablepersonalqualities.By indirectindexicality,it reproduceshighly negativeracializing stereotypesof ChicanosandLatinos.In addition,it indirectlyindexes "whiteness"as an unmarkednormativeorder.
Mock Spanishis comparedto White"crossover"uses of AfricanAmericanEnglish.Finally,the questionof the potential
for suchusages to be reshapedto subvertthe orderof racialpracticesin discourseis brieflyexplored.[discourse,racism,
The Study of Racism in Anthropology
Anthropologistssharea contradictoryheritage:Ourintellectualancestorsincludebothfoundersof scientificracism and importantpioneers of the antiracistmovement.
Aftermanyyearsin which anthropologistshave given far
less attentionto racism as an object of culturalanalysis
than have many of our sister disciplines, we are now returningto work that honors and advances our antiracist
Racism shouldbe as centrala questionfor researchin
culturalanthropologyas "race"has been in biological anthropology.We have always been interestedin forms of
widely sharedapparentirrationality,from divinationto
the formationof unilineal kin groups to the hyperconsumptionof (orabstentionfrom)theflesh of cattle,andracism is preciselythis kindof phenomenon.Why, if nearly
all scientistsconcurthathuman"races"areimaginary,do
so manyhighlyeducated,cosmopolitan,economicallysecurepeople continueto thinkandact as racists?We know
that"apparentirrationalities"seldomturnout to be theresult of ignoranceor confusion. Instead, they appearlocally as quite rational,being rooted in history and tradition, functioning as importantorganizing principles in
relativelyenduringpoliticalecologies, andlendingcoherence andmeaningto complex andambiguoushumanexperiences.Racism is no different:As Smedley (1993:25)
has argued,"race. . . [is] a worldview,. . . a cosmological
orderingsystemstructuredout of the political,economic,
andsocial realitiesof peoples who hademergedas expansionist, conquering,dominatingnations on a worldwide
quest for wealthandpower."Racismchallenges the most
advancedanthropologicalthinking,becauseracialforrnation processes (Omi and Winant 1994) are contestedand
contradictory,yet global in theirscope. At the local level
racialpractices(Winant 1994) can be very complex. Yet
emerging global "racialscapes"(Harrison1995:49, borrowing from Appadurai1990) encompasseven the most
remotepopulations,as when the Taiapof the backwaters
of the LowerSepik Riverfeel themselvesto be "Black"as
From "All Languages Are Equal" to the Study
of Racializing Discourses
Like other anthropologists(and other linguists), linguistic anthropologistshave made "education,"with its
implicit assumptionof a confrontationwith "ignorance,"
theircentralantiraciststrategy.Attemptsto inoculatestudents againstbeliefs in "primitivelanguages,""linguistic
deprivation,"or the idea thatbilingualism(in certainlanguages) is inevitablyseditiouscanbe foundin every introductorytextbookin linguistics, andmajorscholarsin the
field have tried to spreadthe message not only as classroomeducators,butas publicintellectualsin a wide range
of functions.And whathave we to show for these efforts?
"OfficialEnglish"legislationon thebooksin manystates,
and,in the winterof 199S97, a nationwide"moralpanic"
(Hall et al. 1978)' aboutwhether"Ebonics"mightbe discussed in the classrooms of Oakland,California.In the
case of the Ebonics panic, the nearly universalreaction
among linguists2and linguistic anthropologistswas "We
mustredoubleoureffortsat education!How can we make
classroomandtextbookunitsone equalityof alllanguages,
AmericanAnthropologist100(3):680-689. Copyright(C)1999, AmericanAnthropologicalAssociation
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let alone all varietiesof English,moreeffective? How can
we place opinionpieces to fightthisnonsense?"The problem here,of course,is thatsuchinterventionsnot only neglect the underlyingculturallogic of the stigmatizationof
African American English, but also neglect the much
deeperproblempointedout by JamesBaldwin:"It is not
the Black child's languagewhich is despised:It is his experience"(Baldwin1979,citedinLippi-Green1997)and
Baldwinmight have added,hadhe not been writingin the
NewYorkTimes,"andhis body."
Antiracist education in linguistics and linguistic anthropologyhas centeredon demonstrationsof the equality
and adequacy of racialized forms of language, ranging
from Boas's ([1889]1982) demolition of the concept of
"alternatingsounds"and"primitivelanguages"to Labov's
(1972) canonical essay on "The logic of non-standard
English."3But untilvery recently,therehas been little research on the "culture of language" of the dominant,
"race-making"(Williams1989)populations.New studies
are beginning to appear,such as Fabian (1986), Silverstein (1987), Woolard(1989), and Lippi-Green(1997).
Urciuoli's ( 1996) ethnographyof speakingof Spanishand
EnglishamongPuertoRicansin New YorkCity is perhaps
the first monographon the talkof a racializedpopulation
thatforegrounds,andcontributesto, contemporarytheories of racial formationprocesses throughher analysis of
culturalphenomenasuchas "accent"and"goodEnglish."
A centraltheoreticalcommitmentfor many linguistic
anthropologists,that"culture is localized in concrete,
publiclyaccessible signs, the mostimportantof which are
actually occurring instances of discourse" (Urban
1991:1), preparesus to contributein new ways to the untangling of the complexity of racism.Furthermore,such
studyis an obvious extensionof an active line of research
on linguistic ideologies (Woolardand Schieffelin 1994).
We can explore questions like: What kinds of signs are
made "concrete and publicly accessible" by racializing
discourses? What kinds of discourses count, or do not
count,as "racist,"andby what(andwhose) culturallogic?
Whatarethe differentkindsof racializingdiscourses,and
how are these distributedin speech communities?What
discourseprocesses socialize childrenas racialsubjects?4
Whatarethediscoursesof resistance,andwhatdo theyreveal aboutthe formsof racism?Whatdiscourseprocesses
relate the racializationof bodies to the racializationof
kinds of speech? And all of these questions must, of
course,be qualifiedby the question,in whatkinds of contexts?
"SpanishAccents"and "MockSpanish":
To illustratea linguistic-anthropologicalapproachto
these issues, I build on an analysisby Urciuoli ( 1996), recenteringit from herresearchon bilingualPuertoRicans
in New York City to a nationalcommunityof Whites.5I
have been looking at uses of Spanish by Whites, both
through on-the-spot observation of informal talk and
throughfollowing as wide a range as possible of media
and sites of mass reproductionsuch as advertisingfliers,
gift coffee cups, souvenirplacemats,and greetingcards,
for severalyears.First,I review Urciuoli's analysisof the
racializationof PuertoRicans throughattentionto their
Puerto Rican Linguistic Marginalization:
Disorderly Order
Urciuoli argues that her consultants experience language as differentiatedinto two spheres. In an "inner
sphere"of talk among intimates in the household and
neighborhood,the boundaries between "Spanish"and
"English"are blurredand ambiguousboth forrnallyand
functionally.Here, speakersexploit linguistic resources
withdiversehistorieswith greatskill andfluency,achieving extremelysubtleinteractionaleffects. Butin an"outer
sphere"of talk(andengagementwith text) with strangers
and, especially, with gatekeeperslike court officers, social workers,and schoolteachers,the differencebetween
Spanish and English is "sharplyobjectified" (Urciuoli
1996:2). Boundariesand orderare everything.The pressurefrom interlocutorsto keep the two languages"in order"is so severe thatpeople who functionas fluentbilinguals in the inner spherebecome so anxious abouttheir
competence that sometimes they cannot speak at all.
Among the most poignantof the intricateambiguitiesof
this dualityare thatworriesabout being "disorderly"are
never completely absentfrom the intimaciesof the inner
sphere, and people who successfully negotiate outersphereorderarevulnerableto the accusationthatthey are
Urciuoliobservesthata (carefullymanaged)Spanishis
licensed in the outerspherein such contexts as "folk-life
festivals," as part of processes of "ethnification"that
workto makedifference"cultural,neat,andsafe"(Urciuoli
1996:9).6But Whites hear otherpublic Spanishas impolite and even dangerous.Urciuoli (1996:35) reportsthat
"nearlyevery Spanish-speakingbilingualI know . . . has
experiencedcomplaintsabout using Spanish in a public
place."Evenpeople who always speakEnglish"inpublic"
wony abouttheir"accents."
While"accent"is a culturaldimensionof speech andthereforelives largelyin therealm
of theimaginary,thisconstructis to some degreeanchored
in a coreof objectivephoneticpracticesthataredifficultto
monitor,especially when people are nervous and frightened. Furtherrnore,
it is well-known thatWhiteswill hear
"accent"even when, objectively, none is present,if they
can detectany othersigns of a racializedidentity.7Speakers are anxious about far more than "accent,"however:
they worry about cursing, using vocabularyitems that
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might seem uncultivated,andeven aboutusing too many
tokens of "you know." Mediated by culturalnotions of
"correctness"and "good English," failures of linguistic
order,realandimagined,become in the outerspheresigns
of race: "differenceas inherent,disorderly,and dangerous"(Urciuoli 1996:9).
The main point for my argumentis thatPuertoRicans
experiencethe "outersphere"as an importantsite of their
racialization,since they arealways foundwantingby this
sphere's standardsof linguistic orderliness.My research
suggests that precisely the opposite is true for Whites.
Whitesperrnitthemselvesa considerableamountof disorderpreciselyat the languageboundarythatis a site of discipline for PuertoRicans (and othermembersof historically Spanish-speaking
populationsin the UnitedStatesW
thatis, the boundarybetweenSpanishandEnglishin public discourse.I believe that this contrast,in which White
uses of Spanishcreate a desirable"colloquial"presence
for Whites, but uses of Spanish by Puerto Ricans (and
membersof otherhistoricallySpanish-speakinggroupsin
the United States)are"disorderlyanddangerous,"is one
of the ways in whichthis arenaof usage is constitutedas a
partof whatPage andThomas(1994) have called "White
publicspace":a morallysignificantset of contextsthatare
the most importantsites of the practicesof a racializing
hegemony, in which Whites are invisibly normal,and in
which racializedpopulationsarevisibly marginalandthe
objects of monitoringrangingfrom individualjudgment
to Official Englishlegislation.
White Linguistic Normalcy: Orderly Disorder
While Puerto Ricans are extremely self-conscious
about their "Spanish"accents in English, heavy English
"accents"in Spanishare perfectlyacceptablefor Whites,
even when Spanishspeakersexperience them as "like a
fingernailon the blackboard."Lippi-Green( 1997) points
out the recentemergenceof an industryof accent therapists, who offer their services to clients ranging from
White southernersto Japanese executives working at
Americanplantsites. But the most absurdaccentsaretoleratedin Spanish,even in Span-ishclasses at the graduate
level. I have played to a numberof audiencesa tape of a
NightLiveskit from severalyears ago, in which
the actors,playingtelevision news writersat a storyconference, use absurdlyexaggerated"Spanish"accents in
names for Mexican food, places, sports teams, and the
like. The Latino actor Jimmy Smits appearsand urges
them to use "normalanglicizations"(Hill 1993a). Academic audiences find the skit hilarious, and one of its
points(it perrnitsmultipleinterpretations)seems to be that
it is somehow inappropriatefor Whites to try to sound
While PuertoRicansagonize over whetheror not their
English is cultivated enough, the public written use of
Spanish by Whites is often grossly nonstandardand ungrammatical. Hill (1993a) includes examples ranging
from street names, to advertising,to public-healthmessus manos,originallyresages. WashYourHandslLava
ported by Penalosa (1980) in San BernardinoCounty,
California,can be found in restroomsall over the southwesternUnited States.Penalosaobservedthatthis example is especially remarkablesince it has as many grammaticalerrorsas it has words.8An excellent case was the
reprintingby theArizonaDailyStar(August10, 1997) of
an essay by the ColombianNobelist GabrielGarciaMarquez thatoriginallyappearedin theNewYorkTimes(August 3, 1997). All of the diacriticson the Spanishwordsand the problemof accent markshad been one of Garcia
Marquez's main points were missing in the Starversion. Tucson is the home of a majoruniversityand has a
large Spanish-speakingpopulation,andthe audiencefor
thepiece (whichappearedon theop-edpageof the Sunday
edition)no doubtincludedmanypeoplewho areliteratein
Spanish. Clearly, however, the Starwas not concerned
aboutofferingthis audiencea literatetext.
While Puerto Rican code switching is condemnedas
disorderly,Whites "mix" their English with Spanish in
contexts rangingfrom coffee-shop chat to faculty meetings to the evening networknewscasts and the editorial
incorpagesof majornewspapers.Their"MockSpanish'b9
poratesSpanish-languagematerialsinto English in order
to create a jocular or pejorative"key."The practices of
Mock Spanishinclude,f1rst,semanticpejorationof Spanish loans: the use of positive or neutralSpanishwords in
humorousor negative senses. Perhapsthe most famous
example is macho,which in everyday Spanish merely
of leave-taking,like adiosandhastala vista,usedin Mock
Spanish as kidding (or as serious) "kiss-offs" (MockSpanish "adios" is attested in this sense from the midnineteenthcentuiy). A second strategyborrowsobscene
or scatological Spanish words for use as Mock-Spanish
euphemisms, as on the handwrittensign "Casa de PeePee"on the doorof the women's restroomin the X-raydepartmentof a Tucson clinic, a coffee cup thatI purchased
in a gift shop near the University of ArizonaMain Gate
thatbears the legend "Cacade Toro,"and, of course, the
case of cojones,exemplified below. In the thirdstrategy,
elements of"Spanish"morphology,mainlythe suffix -o,
often accompaniedby "Spanish"modifierslike muchoor
el, areborrowedto createjocularandpejorativeformslike
"el cheap-o,""numerotwo-o,"or"muchotrouble-o."In a
WeekinRerecentexample, heardon PBS's Washington
view,moderatorKen Bode observedthat,hadthe "palace
coup" in the House of Representativesin July 1997 not
been averted, the Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich
would have been "Newt-o Frito."The last majorstrategy
of Mock Spanish is the use of"hyperanglicized" and
parodicpronunciationsand orthographicrepresentations
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of Spanishloan words,as with "Grassy-ass,""Hastylumbago,"and"FleasNavidad"(a pictureof a scratchingdog
usuallyaccompaniesthis one, which shows upeveryyear
on Christmascards).
Mock Spanish is attested at least from the end of the
eighteenthcentury,and in recent years it has become an
importantpart of the "middling style" (Cmiel 1990), a
form of public language that emerged in the nineteenth
centuryas a way for elites to displaydemocraticandegalitariansensibilities by incorporatingcolloquial and even
slangyspeech.Recentrelaxationsof proscriptionsagainst
public vulgarityhave made even quite offensive usages
within Mock Spanish acceptableat the highest level of
public discourse, as when the then-Ambassadorto the
United Nations Madeleine Albrightaddressedthe Security Council after Cubanaircrafthad shot down two spy
planes mannedby Cubanexiles: CubanpresidentFidel
Castro,she said,hadshown"notcojones,butcowardice."
Althoughmany Spanish speakersfind this particularusage exceptionallyoffensive,10Albright's sally was quoted
againandagainin admiringbiographicalpieces in themajorEnglish-languagenews mediaaftershe was nominated
to be Secretaryof State(e.g., Gibbs 1996:33).
The Semioticsof MockSpanish
In previous work (e.g., Hill 1995), I analyzed Mock
Spanishas a "racistdiscourse."That is, I took its major
functionsto be the "elevationof whiteness"andthe pejorative racializationof members of historically Spanishspeaking populations. Mock Spanish accomplishes the
"elevationof whiteness" throughwhat Ochs (1990) has
called"directindexicality":the productionof nonreferential meanings or"indexes" that are understoodand acknowledgedby speakers.Speakersof Mock Spanishsay
thatthey use it because they have been exposed to Spanish thatis, they arecosmopolitan.ll Or,thatthey use it in
orderto express their loyalty to, and affiliationwith, the
Southwest(or California,or Florida)-that is, they have
regional "authenticity."Or that they use it because it is
funny thatis, they have a sense of humor.Inone particularly elaborateexample, in the film Terminator
2: JudgmentDay,Mock Spanishis used to turnArnoldSchwarzenegger, playing a cyborg, into a "real person," a
sympathetichero insteadof a ruthlessand terrifyingmachine. WhenSchwarzenegger,who hasjustreturnedfrom
the future,answers a request with a curt Germanic"Aff1rmative,''the young hero of the film, a 12-year-old
Whiteboy supposedlyraised on the streetsof Los Angeles, tells him, "No no no no no You gottalisten to theway
people talk!"He then proceedsto teach Schwarzenegger
theMockSpanishtags"Noproblemo"and"Hastala vista,
baby"as partof a registerthat also includes insults like
Analysis reveals that Mock Spanishprojects,in addition to the directlyindexedmessage thatthe speakerpossesses a "congenial persona,"anotherset of messages:
profoundly racist images of members of historically
Spanish-speakingpopulations.These messages are the
productof what Ochs ( 1990) calls "indirectindexicality"
in that, unlike the positive direct indexes, they are never
acknowledgedby speakers.In my experience,Whites almost always deny thatMock Spanishcould be in any way
racist.Yet in orderto "makesense of' Mock Spanish,interlocutorsrequireaccess to verynegativeracializingrepresentationsof ChicanosandLatinosas stupid,politically
corrupt,sexuallyloose, lazy,dirty,anddisorderly.It is impossible to "get" Mock Spanish-to find these expressions funny or colloquialor even intelligible unless one
has access to these negativeimages.An exemplarycase is
a political cartoonin my collection, showing a pictureof
Ross Perot pointing to a chart that says, among other
things, "Perotfor E1Presidente."This is funnyonly if the
audience can juxtapose the pompous and absurdPerot
with the negative image of a banana-republicdictator,
drippingwith undeservedmedals. It is only possible to
"get""Hastala vista, baby"if one has access to a representationof Spanish speakersas treacherous."Manana"
works as a humoroussubstitutefor "later"only in conjunction with an image of Spanish speakersas lazy and
procrastinating.My claim thatMock Spanishhas a racializing function is supportedby the fact thaton humorous
greeting cards (where it is fairly common) it is often accompanied by grossly racist pictorialrepresentationsof
I have labeledMockSpanisha "covertracistdiscourse"
because it accomplishes racializationof its subordinategrouptargetsthroughindirectindexicality,messages that
must be available for comprehensionbut are never acknowledgedby speakers.In this it contrastswith 'ivulgar
racist discourse,"which uses the directreferentialfunction in statementslike, "Mexicansjust don't know how to
work,"or hate speech ("Lazygreaser!"),which seems to
operatethroughthe performativefunctionas a directverbal"assault"(Matsudaet al. 1993).It is notexactlylike the
kindof kiddingaroundthatmost Whiteswill admitcan be
interpretedas racist,as when David Lettermanjoked that
the artificialfat olestra,which can cause abdominalpain
and diarrhea,was "endorsedby the Mexican HealthDepartment"(NewYorkTimes,August24, 1997:F12).Italso
contrastswiththe"eliteracistdiscourse"identifiedby van
Dijk ( 1993). Van Dijk pointedout thatlike Mock Spanish
this type has as one function the presentationby the
speakerof a desirablepersona.Since "beinga racist"is an
undesirablequality, tokens often begin with qualiElcations like "I'mnot a racist,but. . ."andthencontinuewith
a racializingargumentlike "Ireallyresentit thatall these
Mexicans come up here to have babies so thatAmerican
taxpayerswill supportthem."Such qualificationsdo not
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make sense with Mock Spanish:Onecannotsay, "I'mnot
a racist, but no problemo,"or "Iemnot a racist,but comprende?,"or "I'mnot a racist,butadios, sucker."The reason this frame does not work is because Mock Spanish
racializes its objects only covertly, throughindirect indexicality.
Mock Spanish sometimes is used to constitute hate
speech (as in posterssaying"Adios,Jose"heldby demonstratorssupportinganti-immigrationlaws in California),
andco-occurs with racistjoking andwith vulgarandelite
racist discourses as well. It is sometimes used to address
apparentSpanishspeakers;manyof my consultantsreport
being addressedas "amigo,"andVelez-Ibanez(1996:86)
reports an offensive use of"comprende?" (pronounced
). However,it is foundvery widely in everydaytalkandtexton topicsthathavenothingto do withrace
at all. Because of its covertandindirectproperties,Mock
Spanishmay be an exceptionallypowerfulsite for the reproductionof Whiteracistattitudes.In orderto be "oneof
the group"among otherWhites, collusion in the productionof Mock Spanishis frequent]yunavoidable.
In my previouswork,reviewedabove, I have assumed
thatthe "elevationof whiteness' andthe constitutionof a
valuedWhitepersonawas accomplishedin Mock Spanish
entirelythroughdirectindexicality.However,in the light
of Urciuoli's new work on the impositionof "order"on
PuertoRicans, I now believe thatMock Spanishaccomplishes the "elevation of whiteness" in two ways: first,
through directly indexing valuable and congenial personal qualities of speakers,but, importantly,also by the
same type of indirectindexicalitythatis the source of its
negative and racializingmessages. It is throughindirect
indexicality that using Mock Spanishconstructs"White
public space,"an arenain whichlinguisticdisorderon the
partof Whites is renderedinvisible andnormative,while
the linguistic behaviorof membersof historicallySpanish-speakingpopulationsis highly visible and the object
of constantmonitoring.
Researchon "whiteness"(e.gX,Frankenberg1993) has
shown that Whites practicenot only the constructionof
the domainof "color"andthe exclusion fromresourcesof
those racializedas "colored,"but also the constitutionof
"whiteness"as an invisible andunmarked"norm."'3
all such norms,this one is builtas bricolage,fromthe bits
and pieces of history,but in a special way, as what Williams (1989), borrowingfromGramsci,calls a "transformist hegemony":"its constructionresults in a national
process aimed at homogenizingheterogeneityfashioned
around assimilating elements of heterogeneity through
appropriationsthatdevalueanddenytheirlink to the marginalized others' contributionto the patrimony"(Williams 1989:435).'4
Bits andpieces of languageareimportant"elementsof
heterogeneity"in this work. Urciuoli (1996) has shown
thatpreciselythiskindof"heterogeneity"is not permitted
to PuertoRicans.What I have triedto show above is that
linguistic heterogeneityand even explicit "disorder"is
not only pertnittedto Whites,it is anessentialelementof a
desirableWhitepublic persona.To be Whiteis to collude
in thesepractices,or to riskcensureas "havingno sense of
humor"or being "politicallycorrect."But Whitepractice
is invisibleto themonitoringof linguisticdisorder.Itis not
understoodby Whites as disorder afterall, they arenot,
literally,"speakingSpanish"(and indeedthe phenomena
of public ungrammaticality,orthographicalabsurdity,
and parodicmispronunciationsof Spanishare evidence
thatthey go to some lengths to distancethemselvesfrom
such an interpretationof theirbehavior[Hill 1993a]). Instead,theyaresimplybeing "natural":
I havecollectedsome evidence thatmembersof historically Spanish-speakingpopulationsdo not shareWhites'
understandingof MockSpanish.Forinstance,thesociologist ClaraRodriguez( 1997:78)reportsthatshe was "puzzled . . . withregardto [the]relevance"of theMockSpanish in Terminator2: Judgment Day. Literate Spanish
speakersin the United States areoften committedlinguistic purists,andMock Spanishis offensive to thembecause
it contains so many grammaticalerrorsand because it
sometimesuses rude words. They focus on this concern,
but of course they have little power to change White usage.l5It is clear that many Spanish speakersdo hear the
racistmessageof Mock Spanish.In aninterview,l6a Spanish-speakingChicano high school counselor in Tucson
said, "You know, I've noticed that most of the teachers
never use any Spanisharoundhere unless it's something
negative."A Spanish-speakingChicanobusinesswoman
said,"Whenyou firsthearthatstuff, you think,that's nice,
they're trying,but then you hearmore andmore andyou
realize thatthere's something nasty underneath."In lecturingon Mock Spanish, I have found thatChicanoand
Latinopeople in my audiences stronglyconcurwith the
main outlines of my analysis, and often bring me additional examples. Chicano scholars, especially Fernando
Penalosa(cf. 1980), have long pointedouttheracistimplications of disorderlySpanishusage by Whites.Thus, for
thoughtful Spanish speakers, the fact that disorderly
Spanishand "Mock Spanish"constitutea "Whitepublic
space"is not news. One of the dimensionsof this space is
that disorderon the part of Whites (includingnot only
Mock Spanish,but also cursingand a varietyof locutionarysins of the "youknow"type) is largelyinvisible,while
disorderon thepartof racializedpopulationsis hypervisible to the point of being the object of expensive political
More Sources for Homogeneous Heterogeneity
The ''incorporation''l7
of linguistic elements into the
linguistic"homogeneousheterogeneity"of Whitepublic
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spacedrawson manysources.Perhapsthemost important
is what Smitherman( 1994) calls the "crossover"of forms
from African American English (AAE).18Gubar(1997)
builds on the work of Morrison(1992) and others in a
richlydetailedstudyof very widespreadandpervasiveincorporativeprocesses in the usage of White artistsand
writers. However, AAE and White English are so thoroughly entangledin the UnitedStatesthatcrossoveris extremely difficult to study. While obvious "wiggerisms"
like "Word to your Mother''l9or moth-eatentokens of
minstrelsylike "Sho'nuff, MistahBones"areeasy to spot,
many other usages are curiously indeterminate.20
wherean AAE sourceis recognizableto anetymologist,it
is often impossibleto know whethertheusageindexesany
"blackness"to its user or audience. One way of understandingthis indeterminacymightbe to see it as a triumph
of Whiteracialpractice.New tokensof White"hipness,"
often retrievableas Black in originonly by the most doogged scholarship(althoughoften visible to Blacks), are
constantlycreatedout of AAE materials.
An exampleof indeterminatecrossoverappearedin the
"ForBetterorfor Worse"comic strippublishedin theArizona Daily Star (August 22, 1997). Two WhiteCanadian
lads discuss how Lawrenceshoulddeal with his partner's
departureto studymusic in Paris.Bobby, who is straight,
triesto reassureLawrence,who is gay,2'thatfallingin love
is always worth it, even knowing the risk of loss.
Lawrencejokes, "Letit be known thatthis speech comes
from a guy who's in a 'happening'relationship.""Happening"in this sense comes fromAAE "happenin,"butit
seems unlikelythathereit is intendedto convey anything
morethanthe stripcreator'salertnessto "thespeechof today's young people" (although the quotation marks
aroundthe formdo suggestthatshe regardsthisregisteras
not partof her own repertoire).Yet similarusages can be
highly salient for Blacks:Lippi-Green( 1997:196) quotes
an audience member on an episode of OprahWinfrey:
"Thisis a fact. White Americause blackdialect on commercials every day. Be observant,people. Don't let nobody tell you that you are ignorantand that you don't
speakright.Be observant.They startedoff Channel7 Eyewitness news a few years ago with one word: whashappenin.So what'shappening,America?"
Now, contrastthe episode of "ForBetteror for Worse"
describedabove with anotherepisode,publisheda couple
of yearsago. Herethe youngpeople areon a ski slope, and
one boy, Gordon,"hitson" (I am sureSmitherrnan[1994]
is correctthat this is AAE, but in my own usage it feels
merely slangy) a prettygirl with ournow-familiartoken,
"What's happening?"She "puts him down" (probably
also AAE, butnot in Smitherman1994)22with"Withyou?
Nada." While probably few White readersof this strip
sense "blackness"in "What'shappening?",most will immediatelydetect "Nada"as "Spanish."Thatis, while the
"Black"indexicalityof"What'shappening"is easily sup-
pressed, it is virtuallyimpossible to suppressthe "Spanish"indexicalityof"Nada,"which has in "MockSpanish"
the semanticallypejoratedsense "absolutelynothing,less
thanzero."It seems likely thatthereare tokensthatoriginate in Mock Spanishwhere the original indexicalityis
suppressable(the wordpeonX
appearedin Englishby the seventeenthcentury,may be an
exampleof thistype),butin generaltokensof thispractice
arerelativelyeasy to spotandinterpret.
Because of thisrelativetransparencyof Mock Spanish,
it is a good choice for linguistic-anthropologicalresearch.
However, precisely because it is narrowerin its rangeof
opacityandtransparencythanis AAE "crossover,"it must
function somewhatdifferentlyin White public space, an
issue that needs investigation. Furthermore,African
Americans themselves apparently use Mock Spanish;
Terry McMillan's 1996 novel, How Stella Got Her
GrooveBack,is richin attestationsin the speechof Stella,
a beautifulandsuccessfulAfricanAmericanprofessional
woman from California.In contrast,as far as I know no
members of historically Spanish-speakingpopulations
use Mock Spanish,at least not in anythinglike the routine
way thatWhitesdo.23
The samequestion,of differentialfunctionsof suchlinguistic incolporationsinto White "homogeneousheterogeneity," occurs with borrowingsfrom other languages.
For instance,tokensof"Mock French"like "Mercybuckets" and"bow-koo"do occur,but they arerelativelyrare,
especially in comparisonwith the very extensive use of
Frenchin advertising,especially in the fashion industry,
to convey luxuryandexclusivity. "MockItalian"seems to
have beenrelativelyimportantin the 1940s and 1950s but
is apparentlyon the way out;I have foundvery few examples of it. "MockYiddish"is commonbutis usedby membersof historicallyYiddish-speakinggroupsas well as by
outsiders."MockJapanese""sayonara"is perfectlyparallel to Mock Spanish"adios,"but may be the only widely
used tokenof this type.24In summary,"Mock"formsvary
widely in relativeproductivityandin the kindsof contexts
in which they appear.By far the richest examples of linguistic incorporationsare Mock SpanishandAAE cross
Can Mock Forms Subvert the Order of
Racial Practices?
A numberof authors,includingHewitt ( 1986), Gubar
(1997) and Butler(1997), have arguedthatusages thatin
some contextsaregrosslyracistseem to containanimportant parodicpotentialthatcan be turnedto the antiracist
deconstructionof racistcategoricalessentializing.Hewitt
studiedBlack-Whitefriendshipsamongyoung teenagers
in south London and found a "productivedialogue of
youth"(1986:99)in whichhe identifiesantiracistpotential.
Especially notablewere occasions where Black children
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would tease White friends as "nigger,"and the White
teens would reply with "honky"or ;'snowflake."Hewitt
comments,"Thispractice . . . turnsracism into a kindof
effigy, to be burnedup in an interactiveritualwhichseeks
to acknowledge and deal with its undeniablepresence
whilst acting out the negation of its effects" (1986:238).
Gubar(1997) suggests thatposters by the artistIke Ude
(such as a famous image of Marilyn Monroe, but in
"blackface," and a transforrnationof Robert Mapplethorpe's infamous "Man in a Polyester Suit" with
white skinanda circumcisedpenis) may use the symbolic
repertoireof racismas "a crucialaestheticmeansof comprehendingracial distinctionwithoutentrenchingor denying it" (Gubar 1997:256). An example in the case of
Spanish might be the performance art of Guillermo
G6mez Pena,25who creates frenziedmixturesof English
and multipleregisters and dialects of Spanish(and even
Nahuatl).Butler(1997), writingin oppositionto the proscriptionof racistvocabularyby anti-hatespeechlegislation, arguesthatgays and lesbianshave been able to subvertthepowerof "queer,"andthatother"hatewords"may
have similar potential. The kinds of games reportedby
Hewitt,however,remainreservedto childhood,unableto
break through the dominant voices of racism; Hewitt
foundthatthe kindof interracialfriendshipthatpermitted
teasingwith racist epithetsessentially vanishedfrom the
lives of his subjectsby the time theyreachedtheage of 16.
In the lightof the analysisthatI have suggestedabove,the
"subversions"notedby GubarandButlercan also be seen
simply as one more example of"orderly"disorderthatis
reserved to elites in White public space, ratherthan as
carnivalesqueinversions.Or, perhapswe shouldsay that
carnivalesqueinversionscan be a "weaponof the strong"
as well as a "weaponof the weak."26The artof a Gomez
Pena,to thedegreethatit is acceptableto Whiteaudiences,
may precisely "whiten"this performerand others like
An importantpossible exceptionis the phenomenonof
"crossing,"discussedby BritishsociolinguistBen Rampton (1995), who reportsextensive use of out-grouplinguistic tokens among British adolescentsof a varietyof
ethnic origins, including stronglyracializedpopulations
like West Indians and South Asians as well as Whites.
'4Crossings,"while they retainsome potentialto give offense, often seem simply to acknowledge what is useful
anddesirablein the space of urbandiversity.Thus,working-classWhitegirls learnthe PanjabiIyricsto "bhangra"
songs, and Bengali kids speak Jamaicancreole (which
seems to have emerged in general as a prestigiouslanguage among British youth, parallel to the transracial
"hip-hop"phenomenonin the United States). Early reportsby ShirleyBrice Heathof new workwith American
adolescents has identiEledsimilar "crossing"phenomena.27However, only slightly more than a decade ago
Hewitt (1986) found that such crossings did not survive
the adolescentyears.We cannotbe surethatthesephenomenaaregenuinelyoutsidethe linguisticorderof racism until we understanddimensions of that order within which age-gradedcohorts may have a
relativelyenduringplace.I havetriedaboveto showhow
attentionto thehistory,forms,
anduses of Whitelanguagemixingcan help us toward
I wouldespeciallylike to thankMariaRodriguez, Bambi Schieffelin, and KathrynWoolard,who have
providedme withvaluablematerialon Mock Spanish.
1. Hall et al. (1978) borrowthe notionof"moralpanic"from
2. In a survey of 34 entries,encompassingabout 100 messages, under the heading "Ebonics"on Linguist, the list that
probablyreaches the largestnumberof linguists, I found only
one explicit mentionof "racism"by an authorwho used the expression "institutionalracism."It is, perhaps,appropriatefor
linguists to focus on their special areasof scholarlyexpertise,
and it is certainlythe case thattheremay be a linguisticdimension to the educationalproblemsconfrontedby many African
Americanchildren,buttheneglectof racismon thelist was quite
striking.It was sometimesaddressedobliquelyandeuphemistically, as with one author'sproposalof the "special"situationof
AfricanAmericansin the UnitedStates.
3. The "alllanguagesareequal"argumentcontinuesin spite
of a warningby Dell Hymes (1973) thatthis claim is technically
incorrectin manysubtleways.
4. Hirschfeld (1996) documentsthe very early association
"humankinds' foryoung childrenin theUnitedStates.
5. I ammindfulof Hartigan's(1997) argumentthat"Whites"
are by no means a homogeneous population.Indeed, in other
work (Hill 1995) I have suggestedthatworking-classspeakers
are less likely to use "Mock Spanish"than are other Whites.
Muchof my materialcomes frommassmediathatarepartof the
homogenizing projectof"whiteness,"and thereis no question
thatdifferent"Whites"experiencethisprojectin differentways.
I use "Whites"here (perhapsinjudiciously)as a sort of shorthandrequiredfirstby lack of spaceandsecond becausethe data
requiredto preciselycharacterizethe populationI have in mind
are not available. Certainly it includes White elites such as
6. Urciuoli (1996:16) points out that it is essential to use
Spanish in the folklife festival context because to translate
songs, the namesof foods, and the like into English would renderthemless "authentic,"thispropertybeing essentialto claims
on "ethnicity"thatareone way to resistracialization.
7. Here the canonical study is the matched-guisetest conductedby Rubin( 1992). Sixty-twoundergraduate
nativespeakers of Englishlistenedto a brieflecture(on eithera scienceorhumanities topic) recordedby a native speakerof English from
centralOhio. While they listened,one groupof studentssaw a
slide of a Whitewomanlecturer.The otherhalf saw a slide of an
Asian womanin the samesettingandpose (andeven of the same
size, andwiththe samehairstyle, as theWhitewoman).Students
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who heardthe lectureunderthe"Asianslide"conditionoftenreportedthatthe lecturerhadanAsianaccentand,even moreinterestingly, scoredlower on testsof comprehensionof the lecture.
8. It should be Lavarse las manos, the usual directive for
publicplacesbeing theinfinitive(e.g., Nofumar 'No Smoking,'
No estacionarse 'No Parking'),the verb being reflexive, and
body partsare not labeledby the possessive pronounsu unless
they aredetachedfromthebodyof theirowner.
9. Inearlierpublications(e.g., Hill 1993b), I referredto these
practicesas "JunkSpanish."I thankJamesFernandezfor theexpression "Mock Spanish"and for convincing me that "Junk
Spanish"was a badnomenclaturalidea, and the sourceof some
of theproblemsI was havinggettingpeople to understandwhatI
was workingon (manypeople, includinglinguists and anthropologists, assumedthatby "JunkSpanish"I meantsomething
like the "BorderSpanish"of native speakersof Spanish,rather
thanjocular andparodicuses of Spanishby English speakers).
Themostextensivediscussionof MockSpanishavailableis Hill
(1 995).
10. I am indebtedto ProfessorRaulFernandezofthe University of California-lrvinefor a copy of a letterhe wroteto theLos
Angeles Timesprotestingtheappearanceof cojones in a film review. Ernest Hemingway is probablyto blame for the widespreadknowledgeof this wordamongmonolingualspeakersof
11. While some Whiteswho use Mock Spanishhave a classroom competencein thatlanguage(I was a case in point), most
of the speakersI have queriedsay thatthey do not "speakSpanish."
12. An anonymousrefereefor theAmericanAnthropologist
arguesthatthisanalysis,suggestingthatthe "elevationof whiteness"is accomplishedthroughdirectindexicality,is not exactly
correct. Instead, the direct indexicality of Mock Spanish elevates the individual,conveying"I am a nice/easy-going/funny/
cosmopolitanperson."The elevationof "whiteness" is then accomplishedindirectlywhen combinedwith the
indirectlyindexedmessage"Iam White."This is an interesting
suggestion, but I think the Terminator2: JudgmentDay sequence argues that the indexicaliy is direct: Mock Spanish is
precisely '4theway people talk" and"people"can only be that
groupthatis unmarkedandthereby"White."Thuspositive individualqualitiesand"whiteness"aresimultaneouslyindexed.(A
directversionof this,perhapsmercifullyobsolete, is the expression that applaudssome act of good fellowship with "That's
mightyWhiteof you.")
13. As Harrison(1995) pointsout, a more explicit construction of whitenessoften appearsamongmarginalizedWhites, as
in the currentfar-right"Whitepride"movement.She notes that
this "undermineswhateverincipientclass consciousnessexists
(Harrison1995:63).Thus we can see such
movementsas partof thevery largeculturalforrnationwherein
"race"may be the single most importantorganizerof relationships,deterrninant
of identity,andmediatorofmeaning (Winant
14. Williamsfocuses heranalysison the 'Snational
the creationof what she calls the race/class/nationconflation,
but the constructionof whitenessis probablya projectof global
scope, and in fact Mock Spanishseems to be widespreadin ffie
English-speakingworld. Bertie, a characterin the BaxTytown
novels (TheCommitments,TheSnapper,TheVan,which depict
life in working-classDublin) by ffie IrishauthorRoddyDoyle,
oftenuses Mock Spanish.For anotherexamplefromoutsidethe
UnitedStates,I amindebtedto Dick Baumanfora headlinefrom
the gardeningsection of a Glasgow newspaper, inviting the
readerto "Hostala vista, baby!" (thatis, to plantmembersof the
genusHosta for theirdecorativefoliage).
15. I have discovered only one case of apparentconcern
aboutSpanish-speakingopinionin referenceto the use of Spanish in mass media. Chon Noriega (1997:88) reportsthatwhen
the film Giantwas presentedfor review to the ProductionCode
Administrationin 1955, Geoffrey Shurlock, the head of the
PCA, requestedthatthe ungrammaticalSpanishin the film (in
which Spanishappearswithout subtitles)be corrected,apparently for fearof offendingthe governmentof Mexico, thenseen
as a"goodneighbor."
16. DanGoldsteinandI havebegunaprojectof interviewing
members of historically Spanish-speakingpopulationsabout
MockSpanish.We have compileda scrapbookof examples,and
subjectsareaudiotapedas they leaf throughthese andcomment
on them.
17. I borrowthis termfromRaymondWilliams(1977).
18. I do not include "Vernacular"(many scholars refer to
"AfricanAmerican VernacularEnglish" or AAVE), because
AAE has a full range of register ranging from street argot
throughmiddle-class conversationalusage to formal oratory
andbelles lettres.Scholarslike Smitherman( 1988) andMorgan
(1994) have criticized sociolinguists for typifying AAE only
throughattestationsof streetregisters.
19. Smitherman(1994:237) defines wigger as "literally,a
whiteNIGGER,anemergingpositive termforWhiteyouthwho
identify with HIP HOP, RAP, and other aspects of African
AmericanCulture."She gives theproperformof theaffirmation
as "Wordto the Mother,"butI firstheardit (froma youngWhite
woman)in theformgiven.
20. In the lexicon of AAE providedby Smitherman( 1994) I
recognizedmanyformsin my own usage thatshe does notmark
as "crossovers"(to give only one example, "beautyshop"for a
hair-and-nailssalonwas theonly termI knew for suchestablishments as I was growing up, and it was universallyused by my
grandmothers,aunts, and mother,all White ladies who would
never have dreamedof essaying any "Dis and Dat" [Gubar's
(1996) texmfor the adoptionof AAE formsby Whitewriters]).
My grandfather,an egregious racistwho grew up in southeasteIn Missouri,was very fond of "copacetic,"which Smitherman
attibutes to the speechof "olderblacks"anddoes notrecognize
as everhaving"crossedover."
21. A numberof U.S. newspapersrefusedto publishthe series of episodes in which Lawrencemournshis partner'sdeparture.
22. The AmericanHeritage Dictionary of the EnglishLanguage (ThirdEdition) lists "putdown" as "slang."Unsurprisingly, theirsentenceof attestationcomes from the workof Dr
Alvin Poussaint,anAfricanAmerican.
23. Some Spanishspeakersfind some of thegreetingcardsin
my sample iinny. One woman said that she might send a
"Moochos Smoochos" card (illustratinghyperanglicizedparody andthe use of Spanishmorphologyto be funny)to herhusband;she said,"Thatone's kindacute."
24. "Honcho,"from Japanesehan "Squad"and cho "chief"
(AmericanHeritageDictionaryof the EnglishLanguage,Third
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Edition) seems to be etymologically inaccessible as Japanese
exceptto specialists;manyWhitesprobablythinkthatit is Spanish.
25. See, for instance,his Warriorfor Gringostroika(1991).
However, Gomez Pena uses so much Spanishthatone mustbe
bilingualto understandhim;his artseems to me to be addressed
mainlyto multilingualSpanish-speakingaudiences.Woolard's
(1988) study of a comic in 1970s Barcelona,who entertained
audienceswith jokes thatcode switchedbetweenCastilianand
Catalanduringa periodof extremelinguistic conflict andpurism, providesanotherexampleof thistypeof subversion.
26. "Weapon of the weak" comes, of course, from Scott
(1985). Workon discoursesof resistanceby scholarslike Scott
(see also 1990) and Bhabha(1994) often seems to imply that
parodyand humorare primarilystrategiesof resistance.However, it is obvious thathumoris an importantpartof racistdiscourse,andthe accusationthatantiracists"haveno sense of humor"is an importantweaponof racists.
27. In a colloquiumpresentedto the Departmentof Anthropology, Universityof Arizona,Tucson,January27,1997.
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