jeudi 17 juillet 2008

Yo Hablo Miami Patois

Ok, after our return from our first trip back “home” since being in Paris, I thought I would share some quirky thoughts and observations about that weird and wonderful place called South Florida, also known as the Hong-Kong of the Caribbean, the Third-World Banana Republic and Cuba Libre.

The English language has been entirely forsaken in Miami-Dade County. Every time we were approached by random people, whether it was sales-assistants at shops or people who were angry in traffic, it was always in Spanish, or should I clarify and call it “Spanish”. Mind you, I’m a native Spanish speaker and not one of these linguistic jingoists, but it’s just a little too much; a little out of control already. I don’t like it when foreign tourists here in Paris blurt out in English without even asking whether their interlocutor speaks it, but those are just tourists: how much worse would it be if the majority of the resident population did that? Never mind: it would be Montreal.

This phenomenon would be mitigated to some extent if the Spanish being spoken was a true and correct representation of the language of Cervantes, but alas, it is not. It is a highly Anglicized mish-mash full of expressions like “Mira que nice”, “ese restaurant es muy fancy”, “Estoy vacumeando la carpeta”, “el avión está full”, “Ay, que cute”, etc. One of the funniest I ever heard was “deliberar groserías”, as in “to deliver groceries”, though in actual proper Spanish it means “to deliberate vulgarities”. As a result, I concluded that since most locals in Miami do not speak proper English OR Spanish, they are neither bilingual nor monolingual but in fact alingual. Did I just coin that phrase? If so, please mail me some royalties. So yes, a city full of alingual adults.

Alingual is one way of looking at it. The other way to look at it, from a Linguistic point of view, is that the local people in Miami speak their own pidgin dialect. I now officially christen this dialect Miami Patois. Again, don’t forget my royalties. I confess that I too start speaking it after spending a few days there. The problem with Miami Patois is it has no fixed rules or regularity. It’s only defining characteristic is that languages must be switched suddenly and frequently mid-sentence. The switch takes place depending on 1) whether it is shorter or easier in one language than the other, 2) whether the word pops into the conscious mind more quickly in one language than the other, for whatever reason and 3) generally whichever language’s version of the word or phrase requires the least effort. As such, it is a very individual dialect and every person’s version is a little bit different.

I’ll give an example from my recent trip. I walked into Publix looking for a cash machine, so I went up to one of the employees and, like a stupid tourist, asked the question “Where is the cash machine?” To this question, I received the predicable answer: “¿Que?” So I tried again: “¿Donde está el cajero automático?” Another puzzled expression, followed by “¿El que?” So I try to think like the local that I was not so long ago and ask a third time: “¿Donde está el eitiém? (A.T.M.)” to which I received a prompt and coherent reply.

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