‘Talking Both Languages‘: 20 Perspectives on the Use of Spanish and English Inside and Outside the Workplace

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Taylor & Francis


Strategies for deciding which language to use when forms part of the sociolinguistic competence of speakers who can speak more than one language. Language choices are shaped by a number of factors, including linguistic proficiency of both speaker and interlocutor, the ingroup or outgroup status of each, and the setting in which an exchange takes place. Language choices in the workplace are further influenced by company policies and by the asymmetrical power dynamic in worker–customer interactions. This paper reports on interviews with 20 Latino workers who each use Spanish and English in a different workplace in New York City. Participants were asked about their use of the two languages with customers, coworkers and supervisors in the workplace, and with friends, family members and strangers outside the workplace. The major themes that emerged from the interviews are presented, including some commonalities found with other studies of language pairs in the commercial setting.