An Urban Ethnography of Latino Street:Gangs in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, Chapter 12: A Sample Language Corpus

Francine Garcia-Hallcom

Professor emerita of the California State University (Northridge)
First published on:
with a statement as “This website is no longer supported by Dr. Francine Hallcom. Feel free to use all the information found on this website.

First appeared: 1999 published at the California State University (Northridge),
First redistribution at MarkupDancing: 2010-10-05 00:10:18,
Last modified: 2020-02-19 12:39:38.

Language and culture are inextricably entwined, but the language used among Latino teens, both gang and non-gang affiliated, reflects not only a teen subculture, but gang, drug, and even penal institutional culture generating an intricate yet rich linguistic corpus.

Here, too, is unquestionably the topic for a separate study far beyond the scope of the current research. However, the brief sample listed below proposes to give only a flavor for the argot rather than a cross section of any depth.

Codeswitching from English to Spanish was used extensively by the principal interviewer as well as by the graduate assistants as a device to win confidence. It was also used by those interviewed as a natural and appropriate speech register frequently used among them in discourse.

For decades now, codeswitching has been perceived by the field of Linguistics as a legitimate language variety found among and used by the majority of second and third generation bilingual speakers all over the Spanish-speaking Southwest (Elias Olivares l976) (Hallcom, dissertation l981). However, there are still a few unwitting educators who do not recognize an individual’s bilingual skill unless s/he speaks only one language at a time. Codeswitching, of course, is a universal phenomenon occurring all over the planet where two languages are in contact.

In addition to codeswitching, the cholos frequently used “maldiciones” or what Grimes long ago classified as “taboo language” (l978). Latino males, young and old alike, have long been culturally permitted to use taboo language intermittently as part of everyday discourse if they so chose. As a matter of fact, most Spanish speakers are socialized to expect a good healthy, outraged “cabron” or “no chinges” from the mouths of males without taking much exception to it. Heretofore, these same “maldiciones” have not been acceptable from females (Galindo 1993).

This type of cursing is a totally new phenomenon coming from women, especially young women and little girls at least as frequently as many taboo words are being used nowadays. In the past women who used such language were labelled “putas” or “cantineras”–whores and bar flies.

Today, however, when the community refers to “la choleria” or “Los Cholos,” they mean both males and females, mostly gang-affiliated, but including those who are non-gang affiliated sporting the gang styles and cholo appearance. This consists of excessive make-up, strikingly harsh eye liner applied in two or three colors for the females and the cholo look for the boys described above. (See clothes section) An association with the car culture — the low rider group is included and certainly profuse use of taboo expression.

Cholo language today is a distinct blend of barrio language, of Calo (a dialect of the entire Spanish speaking Southwest) (Cardozo-Freeman l984) as well as a more recent vernacular charged with expletives and many terms from the criminal and drug domain.

It must be stressed that not all of these terms are exclusively the argot of gangs. The wider Chicano community/Mexican-American community also uses many of the Calo terms and sometimes a respectable old grandmother chooses cautiously from Calo as well (Reyes 1988) (Hallcom 1981)( Sanchez l983).

Language choice, of course, is a matter of personal ideolect among the gang-affiliated as it is for everyone else, chosen in part for whomever the interlocutors are performing.

For example, on a number of occasions young men were reprimanded by their contemporaries for using “taboo words” in front of older women: namely the investigator and other older graduate assistants. Most gang and non-gang affiliated youth refrained from using “maldiciones” in front of older members of extended family or in the presence of parents with only a few exceptions. If the parent(s) had also been gang affiliated at one time, language use was a bit freer and rougher in their presence as compared to that used in front of non-gang affiliated parents.


Similarly, “mojado” becomes “mojao.” Dropping the voiced fricative /d/ in the intervocalic position occurred throughout when speaking Spanish.


※ 以下の SNS 共有ボタンは JavaScript を使っておらず、ボタンを押すまでは SNS サイトと全く通信しません。

Twitter Facebook