The social meaning of Spanish in Miami: Dialect perceptions and implications for socioeconomic class, income, and employment

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Abstract

In this study, we investigate the ways in which three national-origin varieties of Spanish commonly heard in metropolitan Miami—Cuban, Colombian, and Peninsular—are conceptualized by young adult residents of Miami-Dade County in terms of implicit perception. Further, we test whether or not perceptions about Spanish can predict social outcomes in the domains of labor, employment, and income. Three male residents of Miami were asked to read a text in their home variety of Spanish. All men were college educated in their respective countries of origin (Cuba, Colombia, and Spain) and are professionally employed in Miami. For each voice heard, participants were given background information about the speaker, including the parents’ country of origin. In some cases, the parents’ national-origin label matched the country of origin of the speaker (Speaker: Cuba, Origin-label: Cuba), but in other cases, the background information and voices were mismatched (Speaker: Cuba, Origin-label: Spain). This manipulation allows us to separate the perceptions based on the elements of the speech signal from the provided social information. Participants were asked to rate the voice/background permutations on five-point Likert-scales for a range of personal characteristics. Data were analyzed for significance using a three (dialect) X four (label) within-subjects ANOVA with a series of specific statistical contrasts. Our analyses of these judgments showed three kinds of significant effects: (1) main effects of language variety, (2) main effects of the background label, and (3) interaction effects. Overall, we find that adolescent Latin@s in Miami-Dade exhibit divergent perceptions of national-origin varieties of Spanish and that they use sociolinguistic differences to make predictive judgments about nonlinguistic, social attributes related to socioeconomic class, including family wealth, personal income, and profession.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Although these turns of phrase suggest that these linguistic features are socially stigmatized or are inherently wrong or incorrect, linguists recognize that the phonological process of lenition or consonant “weakening” is a natural process in language change. Furthermore, similar patterns are not condemned, for example, in Rioplatense varieties of Spanish.

  2. 2.

    For participants who identified as Hispanic/Latino, we collected information on family national origin background. Although there were not enough participants in each group to run separate statistical analyses, we report the national-origin background information here: 91 (43%) Cuban, 29 (14%) Central American, 2 (10%) Colombian, 9 (4%) Dominican, 4 (2%) Mexican, 14 (7%) Puerto Rican, 13 (6%) Venezuelan, 20 (10%) South American (other than Venezuela or Colombian), 8 (4%) Spanish (Spain).

  3. 3.

    In this article we use the term Anglo White to refer to the population of typically monolingual English-speaking people of European descent who are variably referred to in popular discourse as “Caucasian,” “Anglo,” and “White.” We do not use the term “White,” which is commonly used in academic writing on ethnicity, since many people in Miami who inhabit the racio-ethnic category “Latino” consider themselves racially “White.” We also avoid the term “Anglo,” which tracks in some parts of the US as a euphemism for “White.”

  4. 4.

    Participants did not hear every condition for two reasons. First, the number of conditions tested made it logistically impossible to test every condition with every participant for reasons related to participant attrition. Second, we limited the number of conditions heard by each participant in order to increase the plausibility of the manipulation. That is, the more mismatched dialect/label permutations a speaker hears, the more likely they are to catch on to the experimental manipulation.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the three anonymous external reviewers for their invaluable feedback on the manuscript, to Andrew Lynch and Melissa Baralt for their feedback at various stages of the research and writing process, and to David Neal for his expertise in study design and statistical analysis. We are especially indebted to Scott Schwenter for suggesting that we pursue this line of research, and to Sarah Mahler for including our study in this special edition and for providing invaluable feedback on several drafts of the manuscript. Any errors herein are our own.

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Carter, P.M., Callesano, S. The social meaning of Spanish in Miami: Dialect perceptions and implications for socioeconomic class, income, and employment. Lat Stud 16, 65–90 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41276-017-0105-8

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Keywords

  • Miami
  • Spanish
  • Dialect perception
  • Sociolinguistics
  • Cuban Spanish
  • Latinidad