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Travis Doug Sorenson: Voseo-to-tuteo accommodation among two Salvadoran communities in the United States


This study documents and accounts for maintenance and change in dialectal features of Salvadoran Spanish in the United States, especially voseo, as opposed to tuteo, terms signifying the use of the second person singular familiar pronouns vos and , with their corresponding verb forms. It compares two distinct Salvadoran populations, one in Washington, D.C., and the other in Houston, Texas. Salvadorans constitute the largest Hispanic group in the nation’s capital, while in Houston they are outnumbered by other Hispanics, particularly Mexicans. It was predicted that Salvadorans in Washington would maintain voseo more and employ tuteo less than those in Houston. This sociolinguistic phenomenon is accounted for by Accommodation Theory. Based on previous studies, it was also predicted that male participants would maintain voseo more than females due to the covert prestige of this form. 

To test these hypotheses, data were gathered using three protocols. The first was a questionnaire, with over 100 respondents in each city, on second person singular address forms and social variables. In the second protocol, ten pairs of subjects in each city engaged in different verbal activities aimed at eliciting direct forms of address. The third protocol involved unstructured home visits with two married couples to observe spontaneous speech. The results supported the hypotheses in some regards more than others. When considering all the protocols, the levels of voseo were much lower and those of tuteo much higher in both cities than what had been predicted. As expected, voseo usage rates in Washington were higher than in Houston in the second and third protocols, but voseo claiming rates in the first protocol were slightly higher in Houston. Also as expected, in both the first and second protocols there was a significantly higher rate of accommodation to tuteo among women than men. The most salient finding from the home visit participant observations was that while there was voseo use in Washington there was none in Houston.

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