James Collins

Jane Hill's "Mock Spanish: A Site for the Indexical Reproduction of Racism in American English" advances some important analytical and substantive issues concerning our understanding of racism and language/culture. I was familiar with the general cast of the argument from "Hasta la vista, baby" which appeared in a special issue of CRITIQUE OF ANTHROPOLOGY (13(1993):145-176). The earlier paper had discussed Cowboy Spanish, Nouvelle Spanish, and Mock Spanish with a wit, flair for close analysis of systematic linguistic data, and political seriousness that delighted English reviewers unfamiliar with this approach to linguistic anthropology.

The current paper builds upon and develops from the earlier argument. It addresses two important issues. One is the analytic-theoretic issue of how to understand Mock Spanish as direct and indirect indexicality. This contrast, found in the work of Silverstein and Ochs as well as a 1992 issue of PRAGMATICS on "Linguistic Ideologies", separates the intentional, overt and commonsensical aspects of language use (direct indexicality) from the systematic yet covert and often counter-intuitive aspects of language use (indirect indexiality). So, Mock Spanish is obviously humorous, worldly, and laid-back; it much less obviously buys into, requires and reproduces a systematic derogation of Spanish and Spanish-speakers. It is Hill's virtue to have given us close attentive analyses of strategies -- derogation, euphemization, affixing, and hyperanglicization -- that is, ways in which direct and indirect indexing co-occur in the ephemeral yet incessant 'humor' of greeting cards, restaurant menues, billboards, and movie dialogue.

The second and substantive issue concerns contemporary racism. Hill takes on an important question, how "Whiteness" elevates itself by appropriating from racialized others, in ways that lower those others. The appropriation (or "incorporation") is linguistic and discursive, and I find Hill's discussion near the end of the paper valuable in its treatment of a continuum of racist discourse. We need not be too concerned that there are probably more than the types points she discusses -- vulgar racism; elite, qualifying racism; and Mock Spanish ironic racism -- while appreciating that this is a useful set of contrasts that forces us to think about the pervasiveness of racism. It is very hard to attack or be critical about humor with seeming, well, ill-humored, but Hill is on to an important point about racist (or sexist) humor. As we examine the analyses of semantic derogation, euphemization, and hyperanglicization, the general form of the argument is something like the following: "In order to laugh at this, you need to share, to not question, these assumptions." These assumptions, systematically indexed yet rarely brought to conscious articulation, are those of racist stereotypes and racial superiority: the overweight, sexually gross Mexican, the serape and sombrero, the funny language. To use an idiom slightly different from Hill's, the discourse of Mock Spanish supplies subject positions, identities that may be entered into ("if you enjoy this joke, this wit, you are one of us"); it does not require intentional speakers so much as discursive coherence; it does not require conscious racist intentions, but rather a stilling of alternative or critical viewpoints.

Having addressed the much that I find highly worthwhile in this manuscript, let me now raise a few questions and criticisms. One concerns the discussion of strategies, in particular "Affixing". While this strategy is immediately familiar and clearly part of Mock Spanish, I had more trouble here than with the other strategies seeing the negative presuppositions. It is clear that "affixing" treats the Spanish language casually, and violates its grammatical norms, but is there more that can or should be said about derogatory potentials? Another question concerns the relation between Mock Spanish and overtly racist discourse (see FURTHER EVIDENCE FOR RACISM IN MOCK SPANISH). Here as I understand it, "Mock Spanish usage reveals its fundamental character by being embedded in grossly racist texts" (FURTHER EVIDENCE, paragraph 2), which are (1) gross visual stereotypes (serapes, sombreros, jokes about beans) and (2) overtly racist stories. But why is the film "Encino Man", overtly racist and few of gross stereotypes, in the hyperanglicization section, but not listed with the grossly racist texts? Additionally, the main argument off this paper is that there is an inherent indexical duality, a direct and indirect indexicality which are essential to Mock Spanish as unconscious racializing discourse, so what is "the fundamental character"?