‘This is a dialect like any other’: How Miami’s Latinos shaped emerging English dialect

Photo courtesy of Lance Aspner via Unsplash

Isabel Rivera | Contributing Writer

Miami is famous for being a majority-minority city in which the Latino community makes up over 70 percent of the population, however, the impacts of this go far beyond cafecito breaks and into a whole new realm – a Miami dialect.

New FIU research published in English World Wide linked certain Miami calques – direct translations of Spanish expressions into English – as evidence of a new regional dialect for the melting-pot city. 

Co-authored by FIU sociolinguist Philip Carter and University at Buffalo graduate student Kristen D’Alessandro Merii, the study notes that the emergence of the dialect is due to the close contact both languages have shared over the past six decades of Miami’s history.

“In addition to the Cuban majority population, there are large numbers of Colombians and Venezuelans and Nicaraguans and Ecuadorians and Argentines – people from all over the Spanish-speaking world are here in significant numbers. That creates a really interesting sociolinguistic situation by itself,” said Carter in an interview with PantherNOW. 

To measure the extent of this linguistic intersection, a group of first and second-generation Miami residents were presented with local expressions and asked to rate and compare them to “standard” expressions not influenced by Spanish. Common Miami sayings such as “get down from the car,” translated from the Spanish “bajar del carro,” and “meat empanada” – typically used to define the more specific “beef empanada” – were featured; even expressions as subtle as the use of “super” in examples such as “super hungry” as opposed to the non-local “very” made the cut. 

The research expectedly found most of these expressions to be largely phased out by second-generation participants. 

Yet, as Carter explains, the survival of those widely used phrases in Miami English is a linguistic marvel surely pointing to the beginnings of a dialect, as they’ve managed to establish themselves in the daily conversations of these primarily English-speaking bilingual participants. 

Though not native to Miami, Carter admits to having adopted certain calques himself in the past 13 years since his move to the Magic City. 

“I will say I use the word ‘pass’ in a very Miami way because it is so ubiquitous here since ‘pasar,’ in Spanish, is such an important verb,” said Carter. “In Miami English, ‘pass’ carries a lot of weight in ‘Pass me the photos,’ or ‘I’ll pass you the payment after dinner,’ . . . I kind of find myself saying that sort of stuff.” 

While this study is one of many that Carter has conducted on the Miami dialect, it’s gone on to garner the most attention from South Florida with Carter claiming that his The Conversation article on the study has been read by over 2 million people. 

His explanation? Long-awaited visibility and representation for Miamians and how they express themselves. 

“The Miami-born have such linguistic abundance and wealth and, yet, they’re often critiqued that their Spanish is not good enough, that their English is different, that their Spanglish is not really a language,” said Carter. 

“The study simply shows that this is a dialect like any other dialect, neither better nor worse. The research has resonated so deeply because people are finding the way they speak legitimated and valued and seen.”

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