Racing Dominicans in Spain: The Construction of Language and Race among Dominican Immigrants and Spaniards in Public Discourse

Author: Juan R. Valdez (Independent Scholar)
Speaker: Juan R. Valdez
Topic: Language Ideologies
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL COMELA 2020 General Session


Over the past twenty years Spain has received a large number of immigrants, resulting in a dynamic field of intergroup relationships and contact between various linguistic practices and ideologies.  According to some observers, the immigration debate in Spain is “less combative” than in other parts of Europe, yet we need to explore if discourses of otherness to describe immigrants also emerge in this context (Montagut and Moragas-Fernández 2020).  Dominicans are interesting subjects in this regard because they are considered “models of economic and cultural integration” who are able to preserve their national identity and self-image despite the pressure or prejudices of the host society.  There are currently over Dominicans 180,000 residing in Spain.  In Madrid, we find a considerable number of Dominican immigrants who deploy a range of linguistic repertoires and representations vis-à-vis “Castilian Spanish” that can help us analyze problematic practices, identities, and other social phenomena in contemporary Spain.  This scenario is ideal for testing several of the significant hypotheses found in the literature.  This study combines CDA methodology with a critical sociolinguistics perspective that emphasizes the inseparability of language and politics (Jaworski et al. 2004, del Valle 2017, Heller et al 2018) (Blommaert 2005) in order to analyze metalinguistic discourse found in interactions, philological texts, sociolinguistic surveys, the press, and social media.  In the transnational and translinguistic setting of Madrid, I examine discourses from and about Dominican immigrants’ such as: “[a Dominican] speaks more like sing-song; with more of an accent, like dragging the tongue” (Peralta Céspedes 2014); and “because of a black woman like you, I don’t have a house” (Telemadrid 2019).  While proper attention is allotted to a given discourse’s lexical, syntactic, and semantic properties and patterns, I focus on speakers’ metalinguistic descriptions of “Dominican Spanish,” “Madrid Spanish,” and other relevant repertoires as bounded objects, organic entities, or metaphorical weapons, while considering its racial implications.  I interrogate the linguistic knowledge produced in the discourse, including knowledge about norms and hierarchies of linguistic varieties and practices.  I engage the historical repercussions and identify the implications for action in the social and political arenas from which the discourses emerge.  Moreover, utilizing the interpretive framework of raciolinguistics (Alim 2016), I examine the racialized images embedded in these discourses.  This study’s main objective is to conclusively determine the degrees to which Dominicans appropriate the dominant public discourse or challenge it with their own fluid racial and linguistic practices and representations.

Keywords: racialized ideologies, metalinguistic discourse, Spain, immigrants, transdialectal identity