Ethnic Pattern: Language and Ethnicity

The ethnic pattern does not actually denote a typical sociolinguistic pattern (such as the class pattern or gender pattern) but it refers more generally to the characteristic use of language which is influenced by the ethnic background of a speaker.

A formulation of the ethnic pattern:

There is a relationship between a speaker’s ethnic group membership and the use of language. By applying specific structural features a speaker’s linguistic variety can be used to express this speaker’s ethnic identity. The applied structural features identify one's ethnic variety. These features include numerous grammatical, syntactical, morphological, and phonological differences from the standard variety of a language. The differences between the ethnic variety and the standard and/or non-standard varieties of a language can be absolute in character or they may just concern the relative frequency of occurrence of a single structural feature.

The ethnic variety can be used deliberately by speakers of ethnic minorities in order to distinguish themselves linguistically and socially from the majority of society and its language varieties.

Racial isolation has been described as one reason for the occurrence of ethnic speech patterns. That is, when the social contacts of speakers are limited to speakers of their own ethnic variety and do not include other social or ethnic groups, this contact pattern will be expressed linguistically in the application of ethnic markers. Wider social contacts beyond one's own ethnic group, on the other hand, are likely to expand the linguistic repertoire of the speaker.

In sociolinguistic literature, African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) is often mentioned in this connection as a specific ethnic variety of American English. AAVE has characteristic structural features which distinguish this variety from Standard American English and other non-standard varieties of the language. One such structural feature concerns the occurrence of multiple negation (see figure below) which is not restricted to AAVE alone but is used in this variety with a high frequency.

Source: Holmes (2001: 178)

It is worth mentioning, however, that AAVE should not be treated as a dialect but rather as a creole. (See Creoles ->African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) ). There is a discussion of this issue among creolists – i.e. people engaged in the study of creole languages. Historical documents and obvious structural similarities between AAVE and creole languages seem to certify a true creole ancestry of AAVE.

Chicano English is an example of a true ethnic variety of American English with its own characteristic patterns of grammar and pronunciation. According to Finegan (2004) Chicano English is a dialect belonging to a number of ethnic dialects of American English collectively referred to as Latino English or Hispanic English. It is spoken by ‘many people of Mexican descent in major U.S. urban centers and in rural areas of the Southwest’ (Finegan 2004: 388). A typical phonological feature of Chicano English is the substitution of [tʃ] for [ʃ]. Thus she, for example, is not pronounced as [ʃi] but as [tʃi]. As is the case with AAVE, Chicano English shares some of its features with other varieties of American English.