Jane H. Hill’s 1999 work “Language, Race, and White Public Space"

In Jane H. Hill’s 1999 work “Language, Race, and White Public Space” she piggy-backs off of a piece of 1996 literature written by Bonnie Urciuoli about bilingual Puerto Ricans living in New York City. While referring to these bilingual Puerto Ricans, Hill acknowledges that they symbolize all of the greater Spanish speaking community, not just themselves. Hill’s main points throughout the article argue that there are two spheres of spoken language throughout a community and that there is a blatant double standard between whites and the Spanish speaking people. Let’s start with the two spheres of bilingual spoken language. Throughout a Spanish speaking community in the united states, there sits two spheres of spoken language, an “inner-sphere” and an “outer-sphere”. The inner sphere of bilingual spoken language includes all the informal speech regarding subjective personal matter. Within this sphere speakers are relaxed, often code switching to help relate with whom they are speaking to. Code switching also allows them to use words that don’t “exist” in the English language, allowing them to broaden their conversational vocabulary and to help get their point across. The boundaries between English and Spanish are blurred, and the speaker jumps back and forth as they please. Code switching is popular within the inner-sphere. The outer-sphere however, is a much different space for a foreign bilingual speaker. The outer-sphere consists of the societal normalcies that cater to the English only speakers and gives them an unfair advantage when speaking with native Spanish speaking bilinguals. According to Hill, “In an "outer-sphere" of talk with strangers and, especially, with gatekeepers like court officers, social workers, and schoolteachers, the difference between Spanish and English is ‘sharply objectified’. Boundaries and order are everything. The pressure from interlocutors to keep the two languages "in order" is so severe that people who function as fluent bilinguals in the inner sphere become so anxious about their competence that sometimes they cannot speak at all.” These two spheres do not coexist in the eyes of a native Spanish speaker. They make sure to differentiate the two at all times, as well as verify the status of the space they are in to make sure they do not bring inner-sphere speech into an outer-sphere setting. Residing within these two spheres of speech (formal and informal), we have just two languages being spoken (English and Spanish), and two “kinds” of speakers (white English-only and native Spanish speaking bilinguals), but there are four dialects (two per language). These dialects are as follows: English spoken in an American accent and a Spanish accent, and Spanish spoken in a heavy English accent and a Spanish accent. Native Spanish speakers such as the bilingual Puerto Ricans studied by Bonnie Urciuoli speak immaculate Spanish, sometimes even speaking perfect English as well. The only thing that separates them from engaging as effectively in white culture is their accent, which causes them to be very self-conscious while speaking. On the contrary, whites of course speak perfect English but when they attempt to speak Spanish, their heavy English accent does not concern them, though it disrespects and upsets native Spanish speakers. Hill says for them it’s like hearing “nails on a chalkboard”. These four spoken dialects within these two spheres ties into Jane Hills biggest main point, the double standard that manifests between these two social and spoken classes. The blatant double standard between these two groups in today’s society is pointed out by Hill in her text by stating: “Puerto Ricans experience the "outer sphere" as an important site of their racialization, since they are always found wanting by this sphere's standards of linguistic orderliness. My research suggests that precisely the opposite is true for Whites. Whites permit themselves a considerable amount of disorder precisely at the language boundary that is a site of discipline for Puerto Ricans that is, the boundary between Spanish and English in public discourse. I believe that this contrast, in which White uses of Spanish create a desirable "colloquial" presence for Whites, but uses of Spanish by Puerto Ricans are "disorderly and dangerous," is one of the ways in which this arena of usage is constituted as a… "White public space": a morally significant set of contexts that are the most important sites of the practices of a racializing hegemony, in which Whites are invisibly normal, and in which racialized populations are visibly marginal.” This creates a frustrating double standard between whites and native Spanish speakers because like Hill says in the texts, English speaking whites can speak Spanish in whatever accent or regard they care to, but when a native Spanish speaker chooses to speak Spanish, it becomes intimidating and labeled “dangerous”. Another double standard arises while regarding the intelligence of both classes of speakers, involving the two spheres of spoken language. While speaking in a non-formal inner-sphere setting, a native Spanish speaker can fluently transcribe his thoughts to words in brilliant discourse. Habitually speaking his home language, he doesn’t have to think twice about his accent, only the words he chooses to speak. Though when we shift him from the inner to the outer-sphere and put him in a formally objective conversation with a white English speaker, he becomes cornered because he has had his identity taken away from him. Among worrying about his accent while speaking within the outer-sphere he must worry about his speech as well such as his choice of diction and avoidance of simple grammatical mistakes an English speaker wouldn’t have to think twice about. Unfortunately, the opposite applies to white English speakers. On top of their English dominated speech, whenever they decide to speak what they know of the Spanish language, it is often times “grossly nonstandard and ungrammatical”. Though because English is the dominant language among the two, whites can get away with speaking a slaughtered Spanish speech because it is socially acceptable, and almost deserving of praise for learning a new language. Despite the intelligence it takes to become bilingual, that intelligence is often times not recognized by whites regarding native Spanish speakers. Native Spanish speakers are often times seen as inferior and stupid just because they may take longer with responses in Spanish/English discourse. Spanish accents in English are also seen labeled as inferior without even observing the intelligence of a speaker. A brilliant Spanish speaker may be disregarded as insufficient only because of the way he sounds to a white English speaker. These double standards between white English speakers and native Spanish speakers are frustrating to observe but important to understand. [Published on 05-11-2017]

Posted by Chase Kaplan on May 11, 2017

Mock Spanish;
Hill, Jane

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