Proposed video documentary, "Latino Language in the USA"

This proposed 60-minute documentary tells the story of U.S. Latinos1 and their languages through the perspectives of speakers themselves. Despite numbering more than 60 million people and forming our largest minority group at 18% of the total U.S. population (U.S. Census population estimates 2018), Latino language practices are widely misunderstood not only among the general public but also policymakers and educators, often with harshly detrimental outcomes for individuals and communities. Told in English, Spanish, and “Spanglish” with English and Spanish subtitle options, the documentary is intended for public television and secondary and postsecondary educational settings and will feature a mix of everyday people, humanities scholars, and expert linguists from across the United States.

            After briefly addressing the history of the presence of Spanish-speakers in the United States, we showcase a variety of people including but not limited to:

  • Monolingual Spanish speakers in North Carolina who recently arrived from Mexico and are trying to learn English;
  • Communities in New Mexico where English and Spanish have coexisted since colonial times;
  • Political exiles from Venezuela in Miami who operate a clothing business for affluent, Spanish-speaking clients;
  • Adolescent Puerto Ricans in New York who call their language Spanglish;
  • Zapotec speakers in Oregon and Mixtec speakers in Los Angeles (both indigenous languages of Mexico) who have limited proficiency in English and Spanish;
  • Monolingual English speakers in Chicago who speak Latino English, a dialect that many people confuse for a ‘foreign accent’

Through these individuals’ narratives, we seek to educate viewers on the realities of language and Latino identity in the U.S., while also disavowing persistent myths including “Latinos aren’t learn English,” “Spanish in the U.S. is a random mishmash of English and Spanish,” and “Children of immigrants should receive instruction only in English for the best educational outcomes”. We have secured the participation of 12 Board members (colleagues in linguistics, Latino Studies, and education) and will be visiting the 13 sites displayed on the map below, chosen to represent a variety of Latino communities in size, urbanity, countries of Latin American origin, and length of time in the U.S.


      The film draws inspiration from the Peabody Award-winning documentary American Tongues (Alvarez and Kolker 1987) which explores dialect variation in American English and its many social implications such as job and housing discrimination based on a person’s accent. It also draws expertise from the series of films produced by the renowned Language and Life Project at North Carolina State University ( including the critically acclaimed Talking Black in America (Hutcheson and Cullinan 2018) which addresses the history of African American English and sociocultural issues around its use.

            In spite of the success of these and other language-based documentaries, no film has yet systematically explored the full range of issues around the languages used by Latinos in the United States.


Co-Principal Investigators (PIs):

Kim Potowski, The University of Illinois at Chicago

kp photo

Phillip M. Carter, Florida International University


Almeida Jacqueline Toribio, The University of Texas at Austin



1 We are currently in discussions with our Board to determine whether the film will use the term Latino/Latina, Latinx, or something else.