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Focusing, implicational scaling, and the dialect status of New York Latino English


Address correspondence to:
Michael Newman
Queens College & the Graduate Center/CUNY and the Research Institute
for the Study of Language in Urban Society/CUNY
Department of Linguistics and Communication Disorders
Queens College
65-30 Kissena Boulevard
Flushing, NY 11367


This study examines the status of New York Latino English (NYLE) as a focused systematic dialect versus an unsystematic menu of features, what Benor (2008, 2009, 2010) calls an ‘ethnolinguistic repertoire.’ Systematicity is assessed through implicational scaling, under which high degrees of scaling are assumed to represent high levels of systematicity. Data from 20 young Latino New Yorkers are examined with respect to five variables presenting variants of presumed substrate origin. Results are initially contradictory. Depending on the form of scaling used, NYLE can be seen as only marginally systematic or highly so. The paradox can be resolved in two findings. First, non-substrate factors obscure substrate effects at low frequencies, particularly in variables that tend to relatively low substrate-variant-usage rates. Second, individuals show different degrees of systematicity in variable usage. These findings are neutral about the eventual outcome of NYLE as fitting best a dialect or repertoire model. However, the results further imply that if systematicity is developing in NYLE, then it may follow a pattern of leaders and followers in its organization.