P11 – Svitlana Lyubymova

Svitlana Lyubymova is a PhD in the English language, Associate Professor, Post-doctoral Researcher of National Linguistic University, Kyiv, Ukraine. She is the author of the monograph on cultural and cognitive aspects of American sociocultural type “Flapper”, and academic articles on language representation of cultural stereotypes and concepts published in Ukraine, Russia, India, Bulgaria, Poland, the USA, and Lithuania. Currently, she is working on Doctor of Philology thesis, devoted to dynamics of media representation of American socio-cultural stereotypes.

Media Representation of Latin American Stereotype

The subject of my study is media representation of sociocultural stereotypes that are regarded emotionally charged images of social groups.  Stereotypes are grounded on implicit assumptions and behavioral implications, reflected in evaluative characteristics of language means (Quasthoff 1978; Bartmiński 1999, 2005, 2016; Ashmore, R. D., Del Boca 2015).

Stereotyping is a basic human cognitive activity, connected with the mental operation of detecting similarities and distinctions with already established categories. It is inherent for human cognition as it helps to digest diversity of social world. From the point of cognitive abilities of the human, stereotyping cannot be regarded positively or negatively as it was proven: we positively assess the group we belong or admire, while negatively perceive alien or not respected group (Lin et al. 2003; Fiske et al. 2010).

In the modern age of tolerance, many people deliberately reject to live on negative stereotypes because they seek to be impartial in their judgments about other people, however, they are implicitly influenced by media that convey a biased attitude towards people (Hinton 2017). An outright expression is condemned in any society, although it has been experimentally proven, implicit negative stereotypes are firmly ingrained in the mind and continue to exist (Lai et al. 2016). Reinforced or created in media discourse, negative stereotypes are essential tools to manipulate people’s opinion. Thus, investigation of verbal forms of negative stereotypes is of importance for enhancing social equality.

The media representation of American cultural divergence constitutes a “mosaic” of ethnic stereotypes, relatively stable cores of which contain the information about the historical past, traditions, customs, lifestyle, appearance of a particular nationality, which once called forth stereotyping. Ethnic stereotypes (Stangor, Shaller 1996,Turner1999, Priest, Slopen, et al. 2018) manifest shared background knowledge and unquestionable beliefs in forms of ethnic labels, which correlate with attributed qualities of ethnic groups.

An example of a widely-spread in media ethnic stereotype is a Latin American, which is marked by two types of designations: politically correct Hispanic, Latino/ Latina, Latinx and derogatory Greaser, Spic, Taco Bender, Beaner. Introduced by Nixon administration after the 1970 census, the word Hispanic refers only to people from Spanish-speaking countries, including those from Latin America and Spain. It indicates diverse groups of varying Spanish ancestry and is used interchangeably with terms Latinoand Latina, which refer to a very broad group of people of Latin American origin, excluding Spain. Indicating genders, male Latino and female Latina emphasize an alien nature of not assimilated ethnicity. Consequentially, a gender-neutral, pan-ethnic term Latinx has been introduced in media discourse to avoid pointing out on gender of Latin American descendants.

The word evidences growing use as a descriptor for Latinos and has been even introduced to dictionaries in 2018. At the same time, researchers found that only about one in four adults in the US who identify as Hispanic or Latino have heard the term Latinx, while just 3% say they use it to describe themselves (Kaur 2020). The term claims to be unwarranted as showing “an absurd Anglicization of a language that generations struggled to conserve” (Sopo 2019).

That’s With The X In Latinx? | #TheKatCall | mitú

This political hypercorrectness gives the opposite result from that of wished and required. It is a very complicated and subtle point of friendly coexistence of different nations in a multinational country.

Derogatory ethnic terms reflect a biased attitude to ethnic minority. Antipathy is accompanied by a group label, which represents the image of a group in its verbal form. Such is the word spic/ spick that conveys alienation and degradation of those, considered not to know English properly. In its emotional charge, the term spic is analogous to nigger and chink, which emphasize inferior status of ethnic minorities. However, it should be noted, that white people of low income enjoy their own ethnic derogatory terms, e.g. white trash. Thus, verbal derogation concerns social status of groups, not always ethnicity.

Although there are several theories of the word spic origin, the term is usually described as going back to the beginning of the 20th century, when it was used in reference to workers at the Panama Canal. It was reported by the journalist of the Saturday Evening Post,  sent there to write about North American laborers digging out the canal.

Panama Canal workers

The term was also marked by a writer for Scribner’s magazine, who heard it on the US-Mexican border from white troopers at Fort Bliss in reference to Mexican men (Vidal 2015). So, hypothetically, the term was introduced by media and caught up by people who shared the opinion of Anglo-Saxon superiority.

At Ford Bliss, 1916

Even more old than spic, ethnic derogatory term greaser appeared in the 19th century for designating Mexican drovers, considered coarse, brute, and greasy. Since the 50s of the 20th century, the term with the same pejorative connotation reappeared in language use for designation of a motorcycle subculture.

The 1950’s American Greasers

Based on a visual characteristic of car mechanics, who pomaded their hair, the word implied a low social status. Parties, pilferage, motorcycle races and rock-n-roll music of Greasers scared conventional older generations and favored fixation of its meaning  as “a poor and brutal young man” (Dezell 2018, 357).    

Appeared recently Beaner and Taco Bender (Romero 2019) have replaced the word greaser in media discourse. The words taco and taco bender were recorded in the 1990s (Delzell 2018, 777), while timing of the pejorative name beaner is unknown. Reflected in these terms eating habits, which include traditional dishes of beans and rolled-up corn cakes, make Latin Americans targets for ridicule. Though, traditional cuisine’s restaurants are very popular around the world, people are easily stereotyped by the way they eat. 

Traditional dishes of beans

I could not but agree that “the dinner table may seem an unlikely battleground”, but food is “one of the first things a conquering group demonizes when it’s trying to repress a smaller group (Arellano 2012), as culinary habits is closely connected with culture of the minority. The derogatory terms underline not so much the difference in cuisine, as uncover alienation of ethnic minority.

Media representations of stereotypes reflect the processes going on in social life of a country. The rhetoric of public leaders majorly conditions media stereotyping. Presidential anti-Latino rhetoric, which, in view of upcoming elections, has been changed from comparing Mexican immigrants with “rapists” in 2015 to acknowledging “the exceptional drive, talent, faith, skill, imagination, and devotion of Latino Americans” in 2020 (whitehouse.gov 2020). This may have the consequences, anticipated to show off in media-discourse soon.


Deconstruction of biased stereotypes starts from a detailed investigation of psychological, cultural, and not the least, linguistic means of stereotyping. Linguistic research of verbal stereotyping is in the front line of fighting with bias as “What happens can be described in different ways, in ways that invoke not only different evaluations, but also different ontological perspectives” (Paul Chilton, 2004, 49). Stereotyping is affected by how we view others, how we view ourselves, and what we think we know about other cultures.

Arellano, G. (2012). Love the Beans, Hate the Beaner: Even White Supremacists Can’t resist a good Burito.LA Weekely, June 7, 2012. Accessed at https://www.laweekly.com/love-the-beans-hate-the-beaner-even-white-supremacists-cant-resist-a-good-burrito/
Dalzel, T. (2018).The Routledge Dictionary of Modern American Slang and Unconventional English. 2nd Ed., Kindle.
Chilton, P. (2004). Analysing Political Discourse: Theory and practice. London, New York: Routledge.
Fiske, A. P. Fiske, S. T. (2010). Social Relationships in Our Species and Cultures (Eds.) Sh. Kitayama, D. Cohen Handbook of Cultural Psychology. New York, London: Guilford Press, 283-307.
Hinton, P. (2017). Implicit stereotypes and the predictive brain: cognition and culture in “biased” person perception. Palgrave Communication 3. https://doi.org/10.1057/palcomms.2017.86
Kaur, H. (2020). Why people are split on using ‘Latinx’ CNN, August 12, 2020. Accessed at https://edition.cnn.com/2020/08/12/us/latinx-term-usage-hispanics-trnd/index.html
Lai, CK, Skinner AL, Cooley, E. (2016) Reducing implicit racial preferences: II. Intervention effectiveness across time. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General; 145 (8), 1001–1016.
Lin, M.H., Kwan, V.S., Cheung, A., Fiske, S.T. (2005). Stereotype content model explains prejudice for an envied outgroup: Scale of anti-Asian American
Stereotypes. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin: SAGE Journals, 31(1),34-47.
Romero, D. (2019).The worst slur for Mexican-Americans is still a mystery for some. NBC News, February 1, 2019. Accessed at https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/worst-slur-mexican-americans-still– mystery-some-n959616
Sopo, G. (2019). Progressives, Hispanics are not ‘Latinx.’ Stop trying to Anglicize our Spanish language. USA Today, October 25, 2019. Accessed at https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2019/10/25/latinx-race-progressives-hispanic-latinos-column/4082760002/
Vidal, J. (2015). Spic-O-Rama: Where ‘Spic’ Comes From, And Where It’s Going. NPR, March 3, 2015. Accessed at https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/03/03/388705810/spic-o-rama-where-spic-comes-from-and-where-its-going
whitehouse.gov (2020). Remarks by President Trump at Latino Coalition Legislative Summit, March 4, 2020. Accessed at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-latino-coalition-legislative-summit-2/

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