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TWB (Talking while Bilingual): Linguistic profiling of Latina/os, and other linguistic torquemadas

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  1. Ninety-seven percent of over 1600 code switches by children from a New York Puerto Rican “bloque” followed English and Spanish grammatical rules (Zentella, 1997).

  2. Carmen was “indefinitely suspended” when she refused to comply with the English-only policy. The N.J. Labor Department upheld Rite©Aid’s denial of Negrón’s unemployment benefits on the basis of “misconduct.” She lost her apartment and her child had to change schools. A Latina/o boycott of Rite Aid led to a new policy: workers must greet customers in English but may answer in the language of the customer’s response.

  3. The Dallas operators and the Chicago factory workers were awarded US$700,000 and 190,000, respectively. But the Brooklyn receptionists lost and the school secretary’s case in North Carolina has not been resolved.

  4. McNeil’s appeal of Sotomayor’s ruling was found “without merit” in 1996 (107 F3d 3 McNeil v. Aguilos 1996). In 1997, McNeil’s application for certiorari, made to the Sup. Ct., was denied (cert den., 520 U.S. 1223 1997).

  5. The court granted the postal service partial summary judgment on the discrimination and constitutional claims, stating that the employer never enforced an English-only rule but only that some employees expressed irritation at Ramos’s use of Spanish. The court dismissed four of the six cases where Ramos charged they retaliated against his complaints with adverse employment actions. Thanks to Sandra Del Valle, Esq., for the case results.

  6. My Hunter College undergraduates interviewed co-workers, friends and neighbors.

  7. Answers to open-ended questions were tabulated according toY1–Y3, and N 1–N3 in Table 1.


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I am grateful to Carmen Negrón, Julio Ramos and Juanita McNeil for sharing their experiences with me, and to the students in the Black and Puerto Rican Studies Department of Hunter College who conducted the interviews about English only on the job. And much props to my serious as a heart attack sista, Geneva Smitherman, for her exemplary leadership in language justice struggles.

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For an earlier version of this essay see the Final Report submitted to the Ford Foundation: John Baugh (ed.). Linguistic Profiling in Interdisciplinary Perspective: Volume 2, Social Science and Legal Dimensions (2009).

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Zentella, A. TWB (Talking while Bilingual): Linguistic profiling of Latina/os, and other linguistic torquemadas. Lat Stud 12, 620–635 (2014).

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