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Fronteras: Study Finds Some Young Mexican Americans Borrow Linguistic Traits To Create, Reinforce Social Media Identities

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Martha Sidury Christiansen's research involved the study of thousands of Facebook posts from approximately 58 bilingual Mexican Americans.

How we present ourselves publicly can differ from our private interactions and communications. The way we communicate goes beyond speech and often extends to an online presence via email, Facebook, Twitter or other social media platforms.

A bicultural ethnographer at the University of Texas at San Antonio examined how a particular group of Mexican American youth actively adopted patterns in their online presence associated with African American English, an area of study that’s in and of itself, controversial.

“Social media is an extension of our lives. It’s a place where we can perform different identities,” said Martha Sidury Christiansen, associate professor of applied linguistics at UTSA’s Department of Bicultural Bilingual Studies. “So, what I wanted to see is, how are bilingual Mexican (Americans) enacting their identities online?”

Christiansen examined 1,300 Facebook posts, conducted interviews and then analyzed the discourse used by this bilingual community online. Her research discovered certain vernacular language traits typically attributed to African American speakers were widely adopted by Mexican American youth as a way to construct a “non-white” identity.

The range and use of these vernacular traits were distinguished by a variety of factors, including gender, age and the degree of their bilingualism. Christiansen found this particular language use had a strong association with how this community presented their identities online. Ultimately, she acknowledged the constantly evolving nature of language and the role it will continue to play in identifying with a variety of adopted diverse cultural backgrounds.

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Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter at @terrazas_lauren