"Aquí el español es muy diferente": Mexican Americans' linguistic accommodation in social interactions with Spanish peers
Meghann M. Peace
Study abroad (SA) provides students with the opportunity to develop their language skills and enact new identities through linguistic choices. A considerable body of work focuses on second language (L2) speakers’ experiences in Spain (e.g., Geeslin & Gudmestad, 2008; George, 2014, 2018; Pope, 2016; Reynolds-Case, 2013; Ringer-Hilfinger, 2012, 2013).
Heritage speakers of Spanish are an understudied population of SA students, although the limited research on their experiences in Spain shows them to be a diverse group (e.g., Moreno, 2009; Quan, 2018), and their minimal accommodation to Peninsular Spanish seems to be driven by different reasons (e.g., George & Hoffman-Gonzalez, 2014, 2019; Kentengian & Peace, 2019). Only one study (Kentengian & Peace, 2019) has examined heritage speakers’ interactions with local peers. If identity performance varies in response to context, then research cannot be limited to their interactions with professors and host family members. Interactions with peers must be considered as well.
This chapter examines the linguistic choices and identity stances of five Mexican Americans who spent a 16-week semester in Spain. Data collected through multiple measures shows their language use and accommodation to their peers' Peninsular dialect. The participants accommodated in different ways, for different reasons, and to enact different identities. These results show the multiple possibilities inherent in a small but growing SA population.
Language, accommodation, and identity
Accommodation theory states that speakers can use language to reduce differences between themselves and their interlocutors by adopting their interlocutors’ linguistic features. Conversely, they may choose to accentuate speech differences that exist between them and their interlocutors (e.g.,
Giles, Coupland, & Coupland, 1991). Such convergence or divergence is driven in part by a speaker's particular sense of identity.
This chapter employs the perspective of identity as something that is variable (e.g., Bucholtz & Hall, 2004; Pavlenko & Blackledge, 2004) and constructed in interaction (e.g., Mori, 2012). Through language, individuals enact identities, choosing features that correspond with the image they wish to present. The identity that individuals choose to present may be affected by their particular ethnicity, if they wish to highlight it, if they wish to hide it, or if they feel that it is threatened by their interlocutors or by society (e.g., Gallois & Callan, 1991; Giles et al., 1991; Pavlenko & Blackledge, 2004).
Identities can be organized across space and time, as speakers select linguistic forms and features that correspond not only to a certain place but also to a certain time (e.g.. Blommaert & De Fina, 2017). They may enact identities in line with the local community or present identities that correspond to imagined future communities to which they would one day like to belong (e.g.. Kinginger, 2004; Norton, 2013). The idea of one’s identity being variable is further explored in Bucholtz and Hall’s (2004) tactics of intersubjectivity, or “the relations that are created through identity work’’ (p. 382). Several tactics - adequation and distinction, and authentication and denaturalization - establish relations of, respectively, similarity and difference, and genuineness and artifice (Bucholtz & Hall, 2004, p. 383). Speakers use language to establish with their interlocutors the particular relations that they desire.
Linguistic accommodation is, therefore, a complicated social behavior, driven by issues of identity, relationships, ethnicity, and the temporal and spatial particularities not only of the interaction but also of moments considered important to the interlocutors. SA offers a context in which accommodation to the local language, and the reasons for it, may be examined.
Study abroad in Spain
Spain is the third most-visited SA destination among US students (Institute of International Education, 2018), and a number of studies have examined their experiences there. Results are mixed as to whether or not SA students accommodate to Peninsular Spanish. These studies examine learners’ accommodation to phonological and morphological features (/0/, ///, and vosotros).
The interdental fricative /0/ is salient in Peninsular Spanish, which should make it especially susceptible to accommodation (e.g., Trudgill, 1986). However, L2 students tend not to use it. In research by Geeslin and Gudmestad (2008), nine out of 130 participants produced the variant in a monologic role-play task. Their rate of  ranged from 8% to 100% in the task. Of the 209 contexts in which it could have been used in a study by Ringer-Hilfinger (2012), it was produced six times. Seven out of 15 participants in a
“Aquí el español es muy diferente” 53 study by Knouse (2013) produced , but at low rates (36/2,119 occurrences across the group). The highest rate of  production in a study by George (2014) was 30%, but the majority of her participants produced it 2% of the time. Of Pope’s (2016) four participants, two accommodated to , one used it half of the time, and the fourth avoided it. Accommodation was observed in students who had more social connections with Spaniards, whereas students with more Latin American connections avoided the phoneme. The uvular fricative /%/ has shown similar results. The majority of George’s (2014) participants produced it 2% of the time, but students who had social connections with Spaniards produced it more frequently.
Another salient feature of Peninsular Spanish is the second-person plural pronoun vosotros. Reynolds-Case’s (2013) participants showed an increase in vosotros use with age peers throughout the semester. In a study by Ringer-Hilfinger (2013), half of the participants produced vosotros 33% of the time. The highest rate observed by George (2018) was 25%, and a third of the participants never produced vosotros; those who used it tended to spend more time involved in the local community.
These studies indicate that accommodation is possible, though not necessarily likely, among L2 learners. Those who accommodate to Peninsular Spanish are the minority. These studies suggest that SA participants who accommodate to Peninsular Spanish have more local connections and more positive opinions of Spaniards.