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Miami English Recognized as Dialect

A new dialect has been found to be emerging in Miami—the distinct vernacular is a heavily Spanish-influenced dialect of American English influenced by decades of integration of Spanish speakers. 

Miami is proudly one of the most cosmopolitan and bilingual cities in the U.S., with a majority Hispanic population and an estimated population that’s just 25% Native English speaking.

Linguists at Florida International University in Miami have been monitoring the linguistic shift, and have decided that this particular linguistic development is an example of how a dominant language can evolve through the adoption of characteristics of a less established language.

Professor Phillip M. Carter, director of the Center for Humanities in an Urban Environment at the Florida International University said “All words, dialects, and languages have a history. In Miami, there are many ways of speaking English. The variety we have been studying for the past 10 years or so is the main language variety of people born in South Florida in Latinx-majority communities. The variety is characterized by some unique but ultimately minor pronunciations, some minor grammatical differences, and word differences, which are influenced by the longstanding presence of Spanish in South Florida.”

The new dialect borrows aspects of Spanish and directly translates them into English, while retaining the existing Spanish phrase structure. Linguistically, this is known as calque. 

An example of this is: bajar del carro in Spanish, becomes “get down from the car” in English – rather than a standardized translation, “get out of the car”, which would be expected in most American-British English dialects.

It has been observed that this new dialect is not limited to bilingual speakers and linguists have pinpointed certain phrases in use by native English speakers.

“These are examples of literal lexical calques – direct translations. What is remarkable about them is that we found they were not only used in the speech of immigrants – folks who are leaning on their first language Spanish as they navigate the acquisition of English – but also among their children, who learned English as their co-first language,” Carter said.

In 2022, Carter and linguist Kristen D’Allessandro Merii carried out a study to document Spanish-origin calques within English spoken in South Florida. A national group from outside South Florida were also asked to participate in a similar task.

In the study, 33 people in Miami were asked what they thought of over 50 sentences in the new dialect. The largely diverse group included: first-generation Cuban Americans, second-generation Cuban Americans, and non-Cuban Hispanic people. In response, the sentences were then rated on whether they sounded “perfect,” “okay,” “awkward,” or “horrible.”

Linguistic findings showed that the dialect typically sounded “natural” to participants in Miami, but atypical to people living outside the region. The findings emphasized key structures in the formation of dialects – whereby subtle grammatical differences add up over time, until people who don’t speak the dialect find it ungrammatical.

Carter stressed that it was important for Miami English – and any dialects which emerge from marginalized communities – to lose its stigma.

“I want Miami English to lose its stigma because Miami English is someone’s home language variety. It’s the language that person learned from their parents, that they used in school, that they hear in their community. It’s the language variety they developed their identity in, developed their friendships in, found love in. Why should that be stigmatized?” Carter said.

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