A Study Examines the Birth of a Dialect of English in Miami Which is Influenced by Spanish

Calle Ocho in Little Havana (Miami), during carnival. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Miami, 14 May 2023 – The city of Miami lives under the influence of the Spanish language, which is spoken by a large proportion of the population. There is now being born a possible new dialect of English which uses certain expressions from Spanish, in generations which are bilingual, according to a study by the Florida International University (FIU) published in English World-Wide, a magazine which specialises in variants of the language.

On Thursday the FIU published some of the results of a study which shows that certain expressions exclusive to Miami are evidence of the emergence of an English dialect (a kind of Miami English) in the south of Florida, which is what results when two languages come into close contact.

In one case, the study shows, expressions in Spanish are being “borrowed” and translated directly into English and then used by bilingual generations.

“Carrying out an investigation such as this one, one is reminded that there is no such thing as a ’real’ or a ’pretend’ word, there are only words, and all of them come from somewhere”, said the FIU linguist Phillip Carter, the author of the study.

“Every word has its own history and that applies to all words spoken in Miami”, said Carter, who has studied spoken English in the city for a decade, understood as a variant with a subtle Spanish structural influence, spoken principally by second, third or fourth generation native English speakers.

Previously, the specialist has studied so-called “carbon copies”, which is when a speaker translates an expression literally, from one language to another.

The study reveals that this is what is happening in Miami, that is to say that Spanish expressions are being introduced into the local English language.

For example: “Bajar del carro” becomes “get down from the car”, and not “get out of the car”, the latter being the standard English way of saying it, influenced by the Spanish expression spoken in south Florida.

The phrase “una empanada de carne” becomes “a meat empanada” in place of the more common “beef empanada”, because, says the study, in Spanish it all depends on the context: “carne” may refer to any meat (including chicken or pork) or specifically only beef.

“There does not exist a single language that has not borrowed words from another”, said Carter, after pointing out that “borrowing is an unavoidable reality in all the languages of the world” and that when the majority of a population speaks two languages “you get a lot of interesting linguistic connections”.

The study includes a series of expressions in common usage in Miami in a number of English speaking groups, focusing principally on first generation Cuban Americans born in Cuba who emigrated after the age of 12, but also on second generation Cuban Americans born and brought up in Miami and who speak more English than Spanish.

Although some Spanish influenced expressions weren’t used by second generation speakers in Miami, nevertheless, they were not completely abandoned, the study concluded.

“Get down from the car” (“Bájate del auto”) and “super hungry” (“súper hambriento”), for example, remained in use.

Actually, “meat empanada” (“empanada de carne”) and “give me a chance” (“dame una oportunidad”) were used with the same frequency by the second generation as by the immigrant one.

“This shows that the Miamians rate certain phrases in different ways and don’t see them as being grammatically incorrect”, said Carter, adding that “it’s how dialects are born”.

Carter also wanted to know how these kinds of Spanish-influenced expressions were perceived by Miami residents compared with their reception by English speakers from other parts of the U.S.A.

For this he selected more than 50 sentences that Miami natives found to be more favourable than did speakers from outside of south Florida.

For example, the aforementioned “get down from the car” and “super hungry” sounded wrong to people from the rest of the country, whilst for people in Miami they sounded “perfect” or “correct”.

Carter says that the data suggests there’s a fine line that separates what sounds “foreign” from what sounds acceptable in Miami.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso


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