Still from “Shit Miami Girls Say” by Aimee Carrero, Michelle Sicars, and Giancarlo Sabogal (screenshot via Youtube, courtesy Michelle Sicars )

I grew up speaking Miami English, but I didn’t know it. Generously peppering my speech with “pero like,” I arrived in Chicago for college blissfully unaware that my version of the language sounded different — that is, until a friend gently interrupted me when I said I had to “get down from the car.” Perhaps somewhere deep in my brain I knew the phrase was “get out of the car,” but because almost everyone around me had always said it otherwise, I never thought of how it might sound to the rest of the world.

If your red-eye just got in this morning for Art Week, you might start picking up on the words and expressions that make “Miami English” so special. Here, it’s never “really hot” or “very hot” — it’s súper hot. If you got stuck in traffic, you might say getting to your destination was “a mission.” And Miamians know exactly what they’re getting when they order a “meat empanada” (beef, duh). But in sociolinguistic interviews, out-of-towners had trouble guessing which meat, exactly, could be found inside the culinary delicacy, said Phillip Carter, a linguist at Florida International University. That’s because the Spanish term carne, Carter told me in an interview this week, has a “much wider semantic range.”

Carter has identified some of these vernacular idiosyncrasies as part of his research on Spanish-influenced lexical phenomena in the region. The longest continuously spoken dialect of English in South Florida is African-American English, spoken by the descendants of enslaved people who came to Central and North Florida after the Civil War and were met with Afro-Caribbean anglophones. His research focuses on the period after the 1959 Cuban Revolution, when a new dialect born of sustained contact with Spanish emerged. (Today, Spanish is the most common non-English language in Florida households, followed by Haitian Creole, and nearly 70% of Miamians are Spanish speakers.)

When referring to “Miami English,” Carter is specifically referring to a variety of English developed by people of Cuban-American and other Latinx heritage.

Carter was partly inspired by classics of Miami Internet culture like the brilliant 2012 explainer “Shit Miami Girls Say,” where you can become acquainted with highlights of the regional tongue such as “eating shit” — a literal translation of comiendo mierda, meaning to do nothing or laze about — and hear the word “salmon” proudly pronounced with a heavy “L” sound: “I’ll have the sal-mon, please, and a pink wine.”

He was also curious about another pattern he perceived in the region: People of Latinx descent were often ashamed of the way they spoke English, even as the dialect was, from a linguistic perspective, marked by an “overabundance” and by no means a poverty of language.

“I was observing students who were able to code switch and had their own variety of Spanish and there was all this linguistics richness,” Carter said. “But there’s this idea that there’s English and there’s all other languages. It’s constructed as having a private place or a pedestal onto itself, it’s symbolic of the American dream, of arrival, and you don’t want to adulterate it.”

This notion resonated deeply with me: I still experience a tinge of embarrassment when I catch myself saying things like “making the line” rather than “waiting in line.” These expressions are known in linguistics as “calques,” word-for-word translations that exist across languages and cultures. On the other hand, “irregardless” constitutes a “metaphorical extension,” where we apply principles of generic cognition — in this case, the prefix ir- denoting the opposite of a concept — to the root word. When I confessed that I had mixed feelings about having misused these English phrases, Carter pushed back.

“Do you misuse it, or do you use it in a way that’s meaningful to your community?” Carter said. “That’s a tough pill for some people to swallow, but that’s the way language works. Language didn’t come from God. It came from speakers.”

Whether you’re in town for the next four days or never leaving the 305, irregardless, it’s worth celebrating and embracing Miami English for what it is: a product of the city’s cultural wealth, diversity, and immigration patterns, all of which have come together to yield a wholly unique sociolinguistic evolution. You might not find Spanish-language materials at Art Basel, but if you look outside the bubble, you’ll hear lots of it, sometimes hiding in plain sight in ordinary English phrases. As for me, I’ll be the one chugging my third cafecito when I finally make it off the causeway. It’s gonna be a mission, bro.

Valentina Di Liscia is the News Editor at Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...

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