University Sociolinguist Debunks Miami English Stereotypes

Alonso Montano
Contributing writer
The Beacon

The way people speak in Miami is unique. Local English has a distinct sound, an almost tropical rhythm and most people are familiar with it thanks in large part to de facto Miami Mayor Pitbull. It is known as Miami English and is now being considered a native American dialect.

Yes, people do speak English here in Miami.

Phillip Carter, a sociolinguist in the department of English, has been conducting research focusing on Hispanic-English dialects. He has been presenting his findings and debunking certain misconceptions associated with Miami English.

For example, Carter highlights the fact that Miami English is a native dialect, not an accent, based on standard American English but its pronunciation and rhythm is strongly influenced by Spanish.

It is spoken by native English speakers, mostly second-, third- and fourth-generation Latinos, who learn it as their first language variety," said Carter in a recent interview with FIU News.

One important characteristic of Miami English is its vocabulary, which is greatly influenced by Spanish. Words like "oye," "dale," "mami," and "chonga" are commonly heard around many parts of Miami on any given day. Phrases such as "pero like," "pobrecito," and "ah bueno" are also frequently used.

However, these words and phrases are not used exclusively by Latinos. Many non-Latinos find themselves speaking Miami English and using some Spanish words in their everyday activities.

"'Dale' is trademark Miami," said Alex Simeonov, a business major from Bulgaria who has been living in Miami for many years.

Simeonov also explained how he has had to learn some Spanish in order to get by in Miami. "When I buy food I have to use Spanish words like "empanada," "arepa," and "croqueta.'

Another main aspect that makes Miami English unique is its vocalic system and the use of certain consonants.

According to Carter, in English there are about 11 to 14 different vocalic pronunciations; whereas in Spanish there are only five, so many people in Miami tend to use a variation of the Spanish system which is simpler. Additionally, consonants like the letters L, R, and S are pronounced a little different sometimes.

"Despite the fact that for most speakers this influence is ultimately very light, it can be extremely salient for English speakers unfamiliar with the dialect," said Carter.

Angela Torres, a senior majoring in nutrition and dietetics, thinks that people in other parts of the country could probably notice she is from Miami.

"By the way I say things and conjugate things," said Torres. "We in Miami also don't like beating around the bush."

Popular videos on Youtube, like "Sh*t Miami Girls Say," have also popularized certain phrases and words which are common in Miami English. According to the video, characteristics of Miami English include the overuse of the words "super," "like," "bro," and the use of words such as "irregardless" and "supposebly."

"I use a lot 'like' and 'super,' and 'oh my god' too," said Torres.

Also, literal translations from Spanish to English like "get down from the car" from "bájate del carro" are quite common as well. Word elongation is also common in phrases like "no way" where they elongate the Y and "that’s crazy" where they elongate the A in crazy.

And even though it is being widely accepted as a native dialect, Miami English is still seen as "broken English" by many and there are some stereotypes that go along with that idea.

"Other people are probably going to think you don't speak English right," said Hanna Stern, a sophomore majoring in nutrition and dietetics; she is a native from Colombia.

Carter believes these stereotypes are just misleading notions and hopes people will learn more about the origin of the dialect.

"Every dialect has its own history, and no one language variety is more or less correct than another," said Carter.

In recent weeks, Carter has been featured in interviews on national and international media channels such as CNN, El Nuevo Herald, The Miami Herald, and Caracol Radio in Colombia.