Few would doubt Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution in Cuba transformed the look of Miami. The city’s vibrant Latin music and dance scene, thriving Cuban coffee bars, cigar shops, restaurants and colorful street art can all be credited to the wealth of culture that crossed the Florida Straits with the hundreds of thousands fleeing the island’s new communist regime.
Those changes, it turns out, also extend to the way Miami sounds. According to linguistic analysts at Florida International University’s center for the humanities in an urban environment, a new dialect has evolved blending Spanish meanings and English words into a colloquial form of language readily understood here by those who speak and hear it, but which just sounds “off” to the majority of English-speaking Americans.
Examples include people who say they are “getting down” from a vehicle, instead of getting out; “making a party” instead of hosting one; and “throwing a photograph” as opposed to simply taking it.
The dialect incorporates what linguists call “calques”, or “borrowed translations” from a speaker’s native language directly into another, such as the literal translation of the Spanish phrase “hacer una fiesta” into “to make a party” in English, or “casarse con”, meaning to be married with someone, not married to.
It’s a different concept, the researchers say, from the more familiar, so-called Spanglish or Franglais hybrid of single words or short phrases melded from two separate languages.
Instead, what has happened in Miami, notably since waves of Spanish-speaking Cuban immigrants began arriving after the revolution in their homeland six decades ago, has been a gradual assimilation from their Spanish phraseology into a widely understood local parlance in English.
“We really learn our language not from our families, but from speech communities around us,” said Phillip Carter, FIU professor of English and linguistics and affiliate of the university’s Cuban Research Institute, who led the research.
“What happens when the speech community is majority foreign born, as in the case of Miami where it’s about 65%, you have people responsible for caregiving, nannies, schoolteachers, children in the classroom, reinforcing those language patterns, and that’s kind of how it enters the