Academic Minute Podcast

Phillip Carter, Florida International University – Miami English

On Florida International University Week: In certain places, two languages can blend together to form something new.

Phillip Carter, associate professor of linguistics and English, explores how.

Phillip M. Carter is a sociolinguist and scholar of language and culture, focusing primarily on language diversity, politics, and identity. He works interdisciplinarily, moving between quantitative and qualitative approaches to sociolinguistics, critical discourse analysis, ethnography, and critical theory. His scholarship addresses a range of issues of contemporary concern, including the relationship between social formations and linguistic variation, Spanish language change in the U.S., maintenance and shift of Spanish in the U.S., and popular discourses about language.

He has authored and co-authored numerous chapters in books and papers in leading international journals, such as Journal of Sociolinguistics, English World Wide, Language & Linguistics Compass and Language in Society. Carter is also the co-author of Languages in the World: How History, Culture, and Politics Shape Language. Carter has also brought attention to the language communities he studies through national and international media, including the Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald, The New York Times, CNN, CNN en Español, MSN Latino and BBC Mundo.

Miami English

I’ve been studying the different ways people speak English my whole career, but when I moved to Miami over a decade ago, I was hearing something unique. Since then, I’ve been researching this dialect, a variety of English with subtle structural influence from Spanish. It’s mostly spoken by second-, third- or fourth-generation English speakers who usually – but not always – also know Spanish.

My latest work found that one of the defining features of Miami’s dialect are words and expressions translated directly from Spanish.

This phenomenon – what linguists call “calques” – is common when two languages come into close and sustained contact. In this case, Spanish words and expressions are directly translated into English.

These direct translations can be subtle. For example, the Spanish phrase “bajar del carro” becomes “get down from the car” — not “get out of the car.”

As a part of our study, a series of Miami expressions were given to several groups in Miami with bilingual speakers. Most were no longer used by the second-generation participants. But some stuck around, like “Get down from the car.”

Another part of our study looked at how Miamians and people outside of Miami perceived these expressions. We had participants rate local and non-local ways of saying 25 expressions and found that although both groups rated the nonlocal versions higher, the Miamians rated the Miami expressions more favorably, while national audiences said some just sounded “awkward.”

This tells us Miamians assess certain phrases differently — and don’t consider some examples ungrammatical. So, those are the ones that are passed down.

This is how dialects are born.

Read More:
FIU Center for Humanities in an Urban Environment
[Wiley] – Languages In The World: How History, Culture, and Politics Shape Language


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