Is this English: “Get down from the car!”?

For anyone familiar with the ethnic and linguistic make-up of Florida, it will come as no surprise that in the Miami area (and elsewhere in the state), everyday language use is characterized by a mix of English and Spanish. “Spanglish” is a term used to describe the influence of English into spoken Spanish. Now a linguist at Florida International University (Phillip Carter) has published findings that indicate a new version of English is emerging in the Miami area which is heavily influenced by Spanish. An article on the research in Scientific American provides some examples:

“We got down from the car and went inside.”
“I made the line to pay for groceries.”
“He made a party to celebrate his son’s birthday.”

For most speakers of North American Spanish, those sentences sound strange. In fact, as Carter points out, these are “literal lexical calques,” i.e., direct, word-for-word translations.

“Get down from the car” instead of “get out of the car” is based on the Spanish phrase “bajar del carro,” which translates, for speakers outside of Miami, as “get out of the car.” But “bajar” means “to get down,” so it makes sense that many Miamians think of “exiting” a car in terms of “getting down” and not “getting out.” Locals often say “married with,” as in “Alex got married with José,” based on the Spanish “casarse con” – literally translated as “married with.” They’ll also say “make a party,” a literal translation of the Spanish “hacer una fiesta.”

Carter provides additional examples that are based on phonetic transfers: “’Thanks God,’ a type of loan translation from ‘gracias a Dios,’ is common in Miami. In this case, speakers analogize the ‘s’ sound at the end of “gracias” and apply it to the English form.

A YouTube video provides further examples from Carter’s research:

Jesus’ language

Jesus in Aramaic

Jesus in Aramaic

The language that Jesus spoke, Aramaic, has been in the news lately, in an article in the Smithsonian language and in a story yesterday on NPR.  Aramaic used to be the lingua franca of Middle East and beyond, but today is spoken by a small number of inhabitants of isolated villages in Northern Iraq, Turkey and Syria.  There is fear that the language is in danger of extinction.  In fact, according to the article, Aramaic is spoken as the everyday first language in only one place today, the village of Maaloula, in the hills outside Damascus, Syria.  I’m surprised that prophets of the End of Days have not descended on the village, as the place most likely for Jesus’ return, since linguistically he’d feel right at home (after some adjustment to the particular dialect). Actually Jesus most likely spoke Hebrew, Greek and maybe other languages.  That issue came up a few years back when Mel Gibson’s Passion of Christ was released, with dialogue in Aramaic and Latin and subtitled in English.

War and migration have contributed to the decline in the number of Aramaic speakers. Its decline may also result from another language’s dramatic rise in the 20th century, namely the spectacular revival of modern Hebrew, for centuries used in Jewish worship but not spoken as a living language.  Many speakers of Aramaic were Jews and migrated to Israel, eventually giving up their mother tongue for Hebrew.

So where are linguists seeking out speakers of pure undiluted Aramaic dialects?  Chicago!  The Smithsonian article chronicles a field linguist’s visits to older speakers of various dialects of Aramaic and it turns out there a large number in the Chicago area.  The linguist is trying to find unadulterated versions of different dialects and it often happens that emigrants maintain more faithfully aspects of the language, which in the home country have undergone change, as all languages do.  It’s great that the language is being recorded and analyzed for posterity but it seems unlikely that Aramaic will see a reversal in its decline.  Unlike Hebrew, it suffers from not having a national state behind it.   But it would certainly be sad to see Jesus’ language die out.