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East L.A. speaks from its heart – Los Angeles Times

The moment Carmen Fought laid eyes on the man in the hallway of a Pomona courthouse, she was certain he was white. Then his lips parted, and Fought did an about-face. Now she was sure he was Mexican American, probably from East Los Angeles or Boyle Heights. The tell-tale signs: the drawn-out vowels in the first syllables of his words.

“Together” became “TWO-gether” instead of “tuh-GE-ther.”

“Going” sounded like “GO-ween.”

Fought, a linguistics professor at Pitzer College, sidled up to the man for some detective work.

“So — is your family originally from California?” she asked.

“Oh, you’re asking because you think I’m Mexican,” the man said with a smile. “You think I’m Mexican because I sound like a homeboy.”

Fought, it turned out, was half-right. The man was of European descent, but he was born in East L.A.

The East L.A. accent is not as well-known as some other Southern California styles of speech — the Valley Girl accent or the surfer dude patois. But it is a distinct, instantly recognizable way of talking, associated with a part of L.A. famous as a melting pot of Mexicans, Japanese, Jews, Armenians and other ethnic groups.

The accent — also known as Chicano English — crosses racial and ethnic lines and inspires a certain pride even in those who have long since left the neighborhoods where it prevails, most notably East L.A., Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, El Sereno and City Terrace.

It is also an object of scholarly attention. Researchers say that as Mexican immigrants spread across the country, they probably are creating regional versions of Chicano English.

The East L.A. accent is marked by a higher vowel sound at the end of words, so that “talking” is often pronounced “talk-een.”

Many speakers pronounce the “eh” sound before the letter L as an “ah” — as in “ash” — so that elevator becomes “alavator” and L.A. becomes “all-ay.”

In a slightly Canadian-sounding twist, some people will add “ey” to the end of a sentence, in a vaguely questioning tone: “Someone’s on the phone for you, ey.”

The word “barely” is often used to indicate that something just happened, as in: “I barely got out of the hospital.”

Some linguists believe that aspects of Mexican American speech, particularly a sing-song quality, can be traced to Nahuatl, a group of indigenous tongues still spoken in parts of Mexico.

What makes the East L.A. accent especially interesting to linguists is that it’s been adapted by people of different races and cultures.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE: East L.A. speaks from its heart – Los Angeles Times.

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