Examining linguistic expression of ethnicity as a part of identity for Hispanic Congress members of the United States House of Representatives representing districts in the states of California, Texas, and Florida

LaReina Hingson, Purdue University


The identity expression of Hispanic politicians is increasingly relevant as Hispanics in the United States are expected to reach 128 million by the year 2060, according to the United States Census Bureau. Many of these Hispanics will be looking for candidates they identify with, potentially reshaping American politics (Scherer & Dias, 2012). While much interest has been generated in descriptive and substantive representation of Hispanic politicians, only two known studies have explored the identity choices of Hispanic politicians with regard to ethnicity: Gomez's (1992) attitudinal study and Lee's (2013) gender identity study. The purpose of the present study was to explore the extent to which ethnicity is linguistically expressed as part of a Hispanic United States House of Representatives Congress member's overall identity. Using Bucholtz and Hall's (2005) socio-cultural linguistic approach to identity, four research questions were asked: How does ethnicity emerge in Hispanic Congress members' speech? Which ethnicity(s) do Hispanic Congress members express? What is the relationship between a Hispanic Congress member's choice(s) of ethnic expression and his/her familial origin? To what extent is ethnicity a part of Hispanic United States Congress members' identity after election? Data were collected from 348 C-SPAN and LexisNexis publically available speech events of Hispanic United States House of Representatives Congress members from California, Texas, and Florida. Among the findings were: Latino was used only by Mexican-American Democrats, meaning it is not only heritage affiliated but party affiliated; Hispanic is predominately a pan-ethnic label of others but not self; not only the use of Spanish but the length of Spanish use revealed different identities among Congress members; and although Cuban Congress members had less instances of ethnic expression, in terms of word-count ethnicity was 53% of their total identity expression. The average total ethnicity expressed in Congress members' identity by word-count was only 17%, suggesting that while some members (e.g., Congresswoman Napolitano) may use ethnicity extensively, overall Hispanic Congress members are American Congress members "first and foremost."




Webb, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Linguistics|Communication|Political science|Sociolinguistics

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