‘Miami English’ Is a Real Thing, Linguists Say

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By Crystal Harlan

June 14, 2023

The dialect is the result of decades of contact between Spanish and English in South Florida, particularly when speakers translate directly from Spanish.

Have you ever heard someone say they plan to “make a party” instead of “throw a party” or that they “got down from the car” rather than “got out of the car”?

If you’ve spent some time in Miami, the answer is likely affirmative. As a Spanish speaker, I can tell that these are literal translations from Spanish (hacer una fiesta, bajar del carro). And as an editor, my first instinct would be to correct these phrases.

However, I might think twice before pulling out my editing pen after reading that these expressions form part of a new dialect taking shape in South Florida, according to recently published research.

The dialect is the result of decades of contact between Spanish and English in South Florida, particularly when speakers translate directly from Spanish.

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In Miami, Spanish and English have been in close contact since the end of the Cuban revolution in 1959, spurring the migration of hundreds of thousands of Cubans to South Florida. Today, most of Miami-Dade County is bilingual, and in Doral and Hialeah, 80% and 95% of the population, respectively, identify as Latino or Hispanic.  

The study’s lead author, Florida International University sociolinguist Phillip Carter, has spent nearly a decade researching Miami English, a variety of English with subtle structural influence from Spanish, mostly spoken by second-, third- or fourth-generation native English speakers.

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“There’s not a single language that doesn’t have words borrowed from another language,” Carter said. “Borrowing is an inescapable reality of the world’s languages. When you have two languages spoken by most of the population, you’re going to have a lot of interesting language contact happening.”

Now before you say that this is just Spanglish, what’s interesting is that these expressions with notable Spanish influence are being used by people in South Florida whose primary language is English. 

“In an experiment, we asked Miamians and people from elsewhere in the United States to rate local expressions such as ‘married with’ alongside the nonlocal versions, like ‘married to.’ Both groups deemed the nonlocal versions acceptable. But Miamians rated most of the local expressions significantly more favorably than folks from elsewhere,” Carter said.

So there you have it. Miami is truly a unique place. ¡Hasta tiene su propio dialecto de inglés!

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Author

  • Crystal Harlan

    Crystal is a bilingual editor and writer with over 20 years of experience in digital and print media. She is currently based in Florida, but has lived in small towns in the Midwest, Caracas, New York City, and Madrid, where she earned her MA in Spanish literature.

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