Ethnicity, Level of Spanish and Identity of Heritage Speakers in the Classroom: A Study in Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Tonos Digital: Revista Electrónica de Estudios Filológicos

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Research on language and ethnic identity has been a popular field of study over the years, with a significant number of studies explaining the language / ethnicity relationship (e.g. Giles and Johnson 1981: Gumperz 1982: Eastman 1985: Rampton 1995: Walton 2004, among others). There are also numerous studies addressing issues of ethnic identity within the Hispanic population in the United States in general and in the Southwest in particular (González 1973, 1975: Floyd 1978, Merino 1983, Rivera Mills 2001, Martínez Mira 2006). Studies on the relationship between the heritage language and linguistic proficiency (for example, Kim and Chao 2009) seem to indicate a link between the (linguistic) command of that language and ethnic identity (e.g. Kim and Chao 2009, but only with participants of Mexican origin). This study investigates whether there is a relationship between the linguistic proficiency in the heritage language and ethnic identity within a specific group of Spanish speakers: US-born, Hispanic college students enrolled in Spanish as a Heritage Language classes in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The analysis of their opinions on statements relating identity and linguistic proficiency in Spanish (by means of a Likert scale) show how differences in linguistic proficiency can be related to a greater/lesser sense of ethnic identity; at the same time, for younger generations of US Hispanics, Spanish does not seem to be the only "core value" (Smolicz 1991) that defines their ethnic identity.


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