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

Phillip M. Carter, Salvatore Callesano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)65-90
Number of pages26
JournalLatino Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science

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