Linguistics Research on Latino Culture

Jane the Virgin is a romantic comedy-drama telenovela that has received critical acclaim for its humor, storytelling, and, most importantly, for its multifaceted portrayal of Latino culture. The show has garnered many fans, one of them being UCSB undergraduate Victoria Melgarejo, who decided to study the show’s linguistic representations of Latinos.

Melgarejo appreciated the show’s complex representations of Latinos as opposed to typical stereotypes. She wondered what exactly about the show was different, and how these differences were represented linguistically. She found that, in the show, a character’s decision to speak Spanish was related to the character’s age and the situation that he or she was in.

Along with her interest in language representation in the media, Melgarejo is interested in language attitudes, which are personal beliefs about a language that are often similar throughout a community. Her current research focuses on English monolinguals and bilingual Latinos and how they see Spanish as a marker of cultural identity. This research has three parts: a survey, individual interviews, and focus groups.

Her findings from the survey indicate that most participants believe that Spanish is crucial in order to identify as Latino. This contradicts the responses from the interviews, where most participants said that knowing how to speak Spanish is important for communication, but not necessary to identify as Latino.

Melgarejo found correlations between community and siblings, and the likelihood of speaking Spanish. Younger siblings were less likely to speak or understand Spanish than older siblings, and a lack of other Spanish speakers in one’s community negatively affected one’s ability to speak Spanish.

Her research revealed insecurities from both monolinguals and bilinguals. Monolinguals felt insecure about not knowing any Spanish. Bilinguals worried that their Spanish was not as good as their parents, that they did not know all of the words in Spanish, and that they speak English with an accent.

Melgarejo’s next step is to conduct focus groups for bilingual and monolingual speakers to further discuss Spanish as a marker of cultural identity within the Latino community, and to have a conversation about common harmful stereotypes and linguistic discrimination.