If you don’t recognize the phrase, “Get down from the car,” then you likely don’t hail from Miami, or how about it is “depart Miami”. Two examples of what people in the city know to be a specific language known as “Miami English.
In America, there is an array of dialects that vary by state, city, and community. These particular dialects, like those in the Midwest or Southern California, may stand out more than the rest, but each place has its particular way of articulating English. Miami is no exception to this rule.
The English language spoken in 305 is distinct in its pattern and energy. Unfortunately, its features have not been studied enough to be labeled a dialect — until today.
In 2013, a study’s lead author and a sociolinguist from FIU, Phillip Carter, began an extensive study regarding the Miami dialect. His prior research involved Latino-English dialects in Texas and North Carolina. What he discovered in Miami was distinct. He labeled it Miami English and recognized it as a variation of English containing slight structural nuances from Spanish, mainly spoken by native English speakers who are descendants of Latinos of two, three, or four generations.
He can refer to the English spoken in Miami as its dialect because of the specific vowel system that characterizes it.
When seeking to comprehend how one language has impacted another, linguists tend to start by listening to the vowels. Since Miami is so diverse and multilingual, Carter was eager to ascertain if Spanish vowel sounds had impacted English words and thus, shaped the sound of Miami English.
Demonstrating that vowel sounds diverged requires more than just comparing samples of speech. It requires physics, specifically.
Carter and his team wanted to identify the movements of the tongue which make the various vowel sounds. All speech is created by soundwaves that originate in the vocal cords; however, these soundwaves are transformed into distinct sounds based upon the movements of the tongue. Various languages employ different tongue shapes to create the same vowel sounds.
The group conducted interviews with twenty individuals from Latino or Hispanic backgrounds who were born in Miami, as well as five Anglo-white people living in the area. Phonetics software recorded and studied these conversations, which collected a great deal of data on vowel sounds and mapped tongue movements based on the results. The interviews lasted approximately an hour.
“With this study, we were able to say ‘For this group of people, the sound is produced with tongue down and forward,’” Carter said.
Carter commented that through their research, they confirmed that, for the examined population, the sound was generated by placing the tongue down and forward.
Carter’s research highlighted that Spanish vowels significantly affect how English words are spoken in Miami, mainly among Latinos. While Spanish is known for its five vowel sounds, English has around eleven.
Carter noted that there had been various times in history when two languages coexisted near each other, leading to their mutual influence and the formation of dialects.
The diverse city of Miami has been long impacted by Spanish, with Carter’s research dating back to 1959. This was when the Cuban Revolution ended, leading to the emigration of many Cubans to South Florida. For the following century, Miami saw an influx of more Cuban immigrants and those from Central and South America and the Caribbean.
The variety of cultures in Miami makes the city stand out from other places in the United States. This fact has caused Carter to consider many new issues related to the English language in Miami.
Carter posed the question of whether Miami English contains features that are from the Cuban people and culture. He also asked if what is considered Miami English is actually Cuban American English or if it has been influenced by other Latinx groups living in the area.
Carter, the director of FIU’s Center for the Humanities in an Urban Environment, explains that the Miami English project is meant to benefit the people born in the region. It aims to pass by any preconceived notions or exaggerated accounts of Miami. Connected to identity, language is an important element to consider. For Carter, this project is all about identity.
Carter noted that language is not just a linguistic element but something that ties directly to individuals and their identities. He emphasized that Miami English is unique to this place and the people who inhabit it and that it displays their stories and who they are. She concluded that it is something to be proud of and should be celebrated.
The research results were reported in the American Speech Journal.
The FIU published a study in the journal English World-Wide that conclusively demonstrated that a distinct dialect is arising in South Florida due to expressions unique to the 305. This is common in many parts of the world when two languages are in close contact. In this example, Spanish terms are being translated literally into English and being passed down and used by those who are bilingual.
Carter noted that when conducting research of this type is a reminder that there is no such thing as “real” and “pretend” words – there are only words. They all have a history, including all words spoken in Miami.