[lg policy] Phillip M. Carter: It’s time for Miami to embrace bilingualism

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Tue May 12 14:56:39 UTC 2015

 Phillip M. Carter: It’s time for Miami to embrace bilingualism
 Posted by Evelyn Perez <http://news.fiu.edu/author/esuperez> × 05/11/2015
at 2:10 pm

*The following op-ed was written in Spanish and published in the print
edition of Diario las Americas on Wed., April 15. Phillip M. Carter is a
professor of linguistics in the FIU Department of English
<https://english.fiu.edu/>. Carter has conducted research on bilingualism
and Hispanic-English dialects in the United States, particularly in Texas,
North Carolina and Florida. He has recently brought extensive media
attention to the Miami English dialect through national and international
media, including the Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald, CNN, CNN Español, MSN
Latino and BBC Mundo.*
[image: Phillip M. Carter, professor of linguistics in the FIU Department
of English]

Phillip M. Carter, professor of linguistics in the FIU Department of English

Despite all of the economic success that high levels of societal
bilingualism have made possible in Miami, very little is done in terms of
public policy and education to promote and protect it – and what needs
protecting is our Spanish. Miami is demographically unique in that it has
the distinction of being both the most Latino large city in the U.S., as
well as the most foreign-born. On account of these statistics, we can add a
third distinction to the list: Miami is now also the most bilingual large
city in North America. As an oral phenomenon, there are – proportionally
speaking – more fluent bilinguals in Miami than in San Antonio, Los
Angeles, and even Montreal, the Canadian city known for its language
politics and strong support of French.

In many ways, Miami thrives on its bilingualism. The Spanish-language media
and entertainment industries in the U.S. are largely based here, creating
jobs for tens of thousands of people. Tourists from across Latin America
flock here, in part because of the ease of getting around in Spanish. And
across Miami-Dade County, condos are sold and deals are closed because of
the presence of *both *languages, Spanish and English. In fact, the
economic value of bilingualism in Miami is so tremendous that one wonders
if the city could exist in its current form without it.

To the casual observer, Spanish in Miami may seem safe and inevitable –
it’s easy enough to hear and see Spanish across the county, from Doral to
Miami Beach. But most of the Spanish-speaking going on in Miami-Dade is
among immigrants, not their children and grandchildren who are born here.
For the Miami born, research shows that what linguists call *language
shift, *a phenomenon in which a speech community replaces one language with
another, is well underway. This means the Miami born are becoming more
English-speaking and less bilingual. My own research with Professor Andrew
Lynch (University of Miami) shows that Miami-born Latinos even harbor
negative perceptions of Spanish as compared to English. This is a
disturbing finding since language attitudes are one of the key factors in
predicting whether or not a language will be transmitted to the next

The biggest threat to the sustainability of Miami’s bilingualism is the
lack of bilingual education programs in our schools. This lack is
remarkable considering not only Miami’s demographic profile and the value
of Spanish to our economy, but also the fact that the bilingual education
movement in this country was pioneered here when Coral Way Elementary
became officially bilingual in 1963. That program was considered so
successful that school districts across the U.S. took note and followed
Miami’s lead. But today, the vast majority of our students do not have
access to comprehensive bilingual education. My undergraduate students at
FIU, who are mostly Miami born Latinos, are native bilinguals who should
have equal working capacity in English and Spanish. But after thirteen
years of compulsory education in English, they very often lack literacy
skills in Spanish and generally feel unprepared to use Spanish in
professional settings. Some even feel ashamed of their Spanish. And while
non-Latinos in prior generations may have bemoaned the presence of Spanish
in Miami, my non-Latino students desperately wish they had access to it.
They are in general far more persuaded by the economic, sociocultural, and
cognitive advantages of bilingualism than by outmoded notions about the
righteousness of English monolingualism.

For all the advantages of bilingualism in Miami, one has the impression
that Spanish is merely tolerated here, rather than embraced and cultivated.
We need not follow Quebec’s hardline model of language policy in order to
protect local bilingualism, but as a minimum, the skill of bilingualism
should be available to all local students who want access to it. The
reality of language shift is upon is – it’s up to us to decide what to do
about it.

* – Phillip M. Carter **| pmcarter at fiu.edu <pmcarter at fiu.edu>*


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