Working paper Open Access

Spanish-influenced prosody in Miami English

Enzinna, Naomi

In 2013, various news organizations—including the Miami Herald, Sun Sentinel, and Business Insider—published articles on the emergence of an English dialect unique to Miami. Due to frequent and prolonged contact between Spanish and English in South Florida, this Miami English dialect is claimed to have the following characteristics: subtle vowel shading, a palatalized L,1 and a “syllable-timed” rhythm. Additionally, Miami English is said to include Spanish-inspired calques. “For example, instead of saying, ‘let’s get out of the car,’ someone from Miami might say, ‘let’s get down from the car’ because of the Spanish phrase bajar del coche” (Watts, 2013). According to sociolinguist Phillip M. Carter, Miami English is spoken by Miami natives: “What’s noteworthy about Miami English is that we’re now in a third, even fourth generation of kids who are using these features of native dialect. So we’re not talking—and let me be clear—we’re not talking about nonnative features. These are native speakers of English who have learned a variety influenced historically by Spanish” (Haggin, 2013). However, little systematic study has been done yet to support these impressionistic observations.

This study aims to test these claims using linguistically sound measures, taking into account various influencing factors and narrowing in on a single property of the dialect: prosody. More specifically, this study investigates the influence of Miami’s high Hispanic population on the variety of English spoken in Miami. In 2013, 65.6% of Miami-Dade County was Hispanic (U.S. Census Bureau, 2014). However, this percentage varied widely across the county. For example, Hialeah’s population was 94.7% Hispanic, while Aventura’s population was only 35.8% Hispanic (U.S. Census Bureau, 2014). Considering these differences, this study aims to address whether neighborhood demographics influence who acquires this Spanish-influenced English variety. Additionally, this study investigates the influence of parent language and L2 age of acquisition.

The language groups investigated in this study are (1) English monolinguals from Miami,2 (2) English monolinguals from Ithaca,3 (3) Spanish-English bilinguals who are from Miami and learned English at an early age, and (4) Spanish-English bilinguals who are not from Miami and learned English at a later age—henceforth, MEMs (Miami English Monolinguals), IEMs (Ithaca English Monolinguals), EBs (Early Spanish-English Bilinguals), and LBs (Late Spanish-English Bilinguals), respectively. Basic descriptions of these participant groups are presented in Table 1. The continuum (arrow) represents each group’s predicted similarity to English (left) and/or Spanish (right).

To compare the prosody of these language groups, read speech was collected and compared using rhythm (Ramus et al., 1999) and pitch (Kelm, 1995) metrics. Results show that MEMs’ rhythm and pitch differ from (non-Miami) English and are compara-ble to Spanish-English bilingual speech. Surprisingly, results further suggest that MEMs with English-speaking parents (MEME) and from neighborhoods with a lower Hispanic population (MEML)—who likely have less direct contact with Spanish than MEMs with Spanish-speaking parents (MEMS) or from neighborhoods with a higher Hispanic population (MEMH)—may be leading this change.

Consequently, this study provides evidence for Labov’s (2014) claim that children may reject features of their parent language (in this case, English) when the speech community is highly stratified. This study argues that frequent contact between English and Spanish speakers in Miami—as well as the social, political, and economical prominence of Spanish in Miami (Lynch, 2000)—is causing Miami English to acquire Spanish-influenced prosodic properties. Further, it sheds light on how language contact can influence prosody, creating new language varieties in diverse speech communities.

In the remainder of this paper, I briefly discuss relevant literature on prosody (Section 2), bilingualism (Section 3.1), and Spanish in Miami (Section 3.2). In Sections 4 and 5, I describe the study and present results. Last, in Section 6, I discuss the results and conclude.

This thesis is copyrighted, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) - see https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/
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