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as I'm far from being good English speaker, I use to watch series to improve my skills. I'm fan of various genres, from Star Trek to How I Met Your Mother and I can say until now, I felt "aligned" with it, meaning I knew why such and such grammar was used, when it was slang, shorter form etc.

Just recently I've picked up Dexter, nice one btw, and I can't stop wondering. People there (actors) speak completely different than what I was used to listen to. I don't mean accent or pronunciation (although I can see differences here, too) like in thread Why are movies so hard to understand (and what can you do about it)? but more like the actual (lack of) grammar.

For example, people many times skip words ("[are] You [willing to] be there?" or "See [you] tomorrow?") and what was most surprising for me, they rarely use past and future tenses. So instead of let's say "You have had a fight?" actor just asks "You fighting?" or instead of "Have you you told her that?" just "You tell her?" or similar (yes, it's often combined with mentioned skipping of some words).

So my question is, is it really some kind of Miami slang (with influence of immigrants from Cuba who don't speak so well English) or it's just the series or it's just me being completely wrong?

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Never trust what you hear in a movie, or a telefilm. –  kiamlaluno Mar 28 '11 at 13:21
I haven't watched Dexter enough to know whether this is really what's going on, but I wonder whether some of this might just be phonetic reduction. I doubt that the English actors are actually saying just "See tomorrow", but it may be that they're pronouncing "See you" as [si: jə] with a very short schwa. It would be easy to miss the "you" entirely in this case. –  JSBձոգչ Mar 28 '11 at 13:34
JSBangs: yes, this is of course possible, maybe it was bad example (I just grabbed some simple sentence) but I swear similar "shortcuts" do happen in the series. Not to mention that rare usage of past/future tenses. It really puzzles me. –  Miro Kropacek Mar 28 '11 at 13:42
As somebody who has watched the first four seasons of Dexter, and a native English speaker (US, but far from Miami), I can say I haven't noticed anything out of the ordinary in the speech. There may be a few isolated oddities I'm forgetting, but as a rule it all seems natural to me. To me, the series pulls off English as spoken in casual environments much better than many other shows, which seem stiff and formal. Casual English in the US is full of dropped words. –  PeterL Mar 28 '11 at 19:34
All these TV series in fact downplay the slurring and the dropped words. In real life we encounter this sort of speech even more frequently. One movie that in my opinion does a very good job of giving the actors natural-sounding dialogue (i.e., people talking over each other, speaking in "shorthand", often ungrammatically) is the independent no-budget production Primer. –  Eugene Seidel Apr 22 '12 at 13:57
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3 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

It sounds to me like people are just leaving out words, as opposed to completely violating the grammar. This often happens in conversation.

  • "You fighting?" -> "Are you fighting?" (as in a continuous disagreement instead of a momentary battle)
  • "You tell her?" -> "Did you tell her?"
  • "You be there?" -> "Will you be there?"

It seems like people are just leaving out the helping verbs. It's certainly not proper but it's acceptable in casual conversation.

As for whether or not Miamians speak this way, I can't say, but I'd guess lots of native English speakers will speak this way from time to time. I'm in Canada and I would not find any of this speech surprising or difficult.

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This is probably the best answer, but I think half of the explanation is missing. To wit... Autotune isn't supposed to sound realistic; the greenish tinge in The Matrix isn't supposed to look like the real world; and writers will happily write lines that nobody would actually say if it contributes atmosphere. The language of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is different from the language of The Wire. Some elements of each style are reality-inspired, but both are (surely) intentionally exaggerated too. –  Jason Orendorff Mar 28 '11 at 19:07
I find your answer best fitting but I'm not saying Alain's one was wrong, one just have to decide :) You're completely right, just now I've heard it again, "[Did you] Find anything?" makes a sense now. Interesting lesson. Thank you for answers and comments, guys. –  Miro Kropacek Mar 28 '11 at 21:53
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In common speech, American English speakers take a lot of shortcuts. The best example I can think of is "I don't know" which becomes "I dunno", reducing to "Iuhno" and finally the mouth fully closed, "mmmmm". We all understand it as "I don't know" just based on the pitch variation.

Non-native ears are certainly not conditioned to catch all of these dropped syllables, so your interpretations may or may not be correct about what they're really saying. Practice, practice, practice.

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Not just American English either — all the examples in the question and in this answer (including the pitch variation on mouth-closed I don't know) would be perfectly well-understood to my British English ears. Indeed, I'd always assumed such ellipsis to be quite common: the French je ne sais pas is usually rendered /ˈʃɛˌpɑ/ (*j'sais pas) in conversation, for example. They're the kinds of things you get used to with practice at listening to native speakers, I guess. –  Owen Blacker Feb 26 '12 at 1:00
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As a fifth-generation Miamian, I was intrigued by the first part of your question, but stymied by your examples. Although Miami has a reputation for informality, I don't think we cut out words more than anywhere else.

I thought you were going to ask about how Spanish often influences the tone, word use and syntax of English, with two-thirds of residents listing Spanish as their native language, and many other residents proficient in Spanish as a second language (including myself).

There is interesting local analysis of the so-called "Miami Accent" in this post and this Sun-Sentinel article.

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