‘Get Down from the Car’ and Other Miami Expressions

A new study by Florida International University examines ‘Miami English’
Miami is home to a language that combines English with Spanish in some cases.
Spanish phrases are mingling with English in South Florida. Pixabay

“Get down from the car.” If this expression doesn’t ring a bell, you’re probably not from Miami.

Some expressions unique to the 305 are evidence a distinct dialect is emerging in South Florida, according to new research by Florida International University recently published in English World Wide. It’s a common phenomenon in other regions of the world when two languages come into close contact. In this case, Spanish sayings are being “borrowed” and directly translated into English — then passed down and used by generations who are bilingual. 

“When we conduct research like this, it’s a reminder there aren’t ‘real’ words or ‘pretend’ words. There are only words. And all the words come from somewhere and someplace,” said FIU sociolinguist Phillip Carter, the study’s lead author. “Every word has a history. That goes for all words spoken in Miami.”

For nearly a decade, Carter has researched Miami English — a variety of English with subtle structural influence from Spanish, mostly spoken by second-, third- or fourth-generation native English speakers. He previously studied how it sounds. This time, he examined how words are used. Specifically, calques — when a speaker directly translates an expression from one language, considered the “source language” into another language.

This is what’s happening in Miami. Spanish expressions are being introduced into English. The translations can be subtle. For example, “bajar del carro” becomes “get down from the car” — not “get out of the car.” And “una empanada de carne” becomes “meat empanada” instead of the more specific “beef empanada,” because in Spanish, “carne” can refer to all meat (including chicken and pork) or specifically just to beef.

“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.”

A series of expressions commonly used in the 305 were given to several groups in Miami with bilingual speakers, focusing primarily on Cuban immigrants and Cuban Americans in two groups: first-generation Cuban Americans born in Cuba and who immigrated to Miami after the age of 12 and second-generation Cuban Americans born and raised in Miami who use English more than Spanish.

Most of the examples were phased out and no longer used by the second-generation participants. They didn’t abandon them all, though. “Get down from the car” and “super hungry” stuck around. In fact, “meat empanada” and “give me a chance” were used with the same frequency by both the second generation and the immigrant generation.

Check out this YouTube video for more examples:

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