Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Miami Accent

Wikipedia and research are not compatible. Why? Because my dog can edit Wikipedia, and my dog plays with dead roaches! Hell, I bet his dead roach can edit Wikipedia. I have therefore banned Wikipedia from my English classroom. That said, today my hypocrite self was browsing Wikipedia. In the Miami entry, I spotted a link for "Miami accent" and came upon this priceless nugget:

In Miami, a unique accent, commonly called the "Miami accent", is widely spoken. It developed mostly by second- or third-generation Hispanics whose first language was English. It is very similar to accents in the Northeast, but contains a rhythm and pronunciation heavily influenced by Spanish. However, a Miami accent is not Spanish-accented English, as many Miami residents who are not Hispanic, or do not speak Spanish, speak with the Miami accent as well. It is most common amongst those born and raised in Miami, and can commonly be heard spoken by Blacks and White non-Hispanics, as well as in Hispanics. However, not all Miamians have the accent. The accent is acquired in some areas, but not others.[citation needed]

First things first. My desire to edit the hell out of this convoluted paragraph replete with grammatical craziness was difficult to overcome. Apparently, Wikipedia doesn't know where to place commas or how to form the passive voice. Then there are the WTF sentences. Can someone please tell me what it means if an accent is not spoken in Hispanics or whether accents are even spoken in the first place?

Moving on, what most struck me was the equivocal nature of the passage. The point? Miami has an accent. Only Miamians have it, but not all Miamians have it, and it's not really an accent, but it's an accent (kind of), which comes from Spanish, but not only Spanish speakers have it, and it exists in some areas but not others. Get it? Got it? Fail.

Not that I'm sure how to define this "accent" either. My whole life, I've been able to identify "Americanos" in Miami by the way they speak. Having been born here, I am of course an "Americana," too, but I am first-generation "Americana," which is not the same thing. If your parents respected your teenage privacy by knocking on your bedroom door before barging in, chances are your family has been reproducing in the U.S. of A. for a while.

The fact that these privacy-respecting Americans sound different to me means that those of Hispanic origin born in Miami must have a uniquely Miami accent. As the above passage states, this is not the same thing as a Spanish accent. My parents, who were raised in Cuba, have a Spanish accent. (They don't sound like Scarface, though. Nobody sounds like Scarface! It's an appalling caricature. Okay, maybe a few Miamians sound like Scarface, but that's probably because they think it's cool to sound like Scarface.)

So if there indeed is a Miami accent, it's an American one, in the same way that the southern twang or the New York, Boston, Chicago, or Minnesota accents are American. Yet the distinctive intonation and pronunciation of the average Miamian isn't widely recognized as an American accent.

This is all quite confusing, so I leave first-generation "Americanos" and privacy-respecting "Americanos" alike with the following questions:

1) Does Miami have an accent?
2) What does a Miami accent sound like, anyway?
3) What will it take to get the Miami accent New York accent status?
4) Does Sarah Palin stand as a one-woman accent category? Such a maverick!

Please enlighten me with your insight before my mind explodes with the "accentiness" of it all.


  1. 1. yes
    2. it's sing-songy, and you guys stress certain syllables, usually involving vowels.
    3. a "Miami Shore" tv show
    4. i refuse to address this question as a matter of principle.

  2. Thanks for the feedback. People like sing-songy, right? Sing-songy is good?

    I oppose a "Miami Shore" show. Eww. How about we get our own "Sopranos"? We can call it "The Garcias," and the badass characters can intimidate the hell out of you while munching on pastelitos.

    P.S. I respect your principles.

  3. Best blog post ever! I laughed, I cried... LOL.

  4. P.S. Added you to the blogroll! Welcome!

  5. My family has been in Miami since slightly before 1920, having been well established just in time for the "Great Miami Hurricane" in 1926. The only thing I noticed amongst older family members who were actually born and raised in the area is the tendency to pronounce Miami as "Mia-ma." Also, no real Miami-area native will ever refer to Dade County as Miami-Dade. It's just Dade ;-)

  6. @ Pepe: Thanks for the compliment and for adding me to your blogroll. Much appreciated!

    @ Mike: True. Dade is Dade. Your family has seen so much change in this city over the years. Must be interesting to hear all their stories. As for the word Miami, I have heard it pronounced Mia-ma before. One also hears Mee-ami, usually from Latin people. I never say it that way, though.

  7. There is a Miami Accent. What does it sounds like? Some have it worse than others, I think it's a mixture of a failure to enunciate and as one person said, stressing vowel sounds. When I lived in Orlando and Chicago, I would call my friends back home (home=Miami) and they would say I sounded like a "white girl." When I was home for the summer and would speak to my "American" friends they noticed a change in the accent.
    Tune into any reality show that has a Miami cast member or "The Real Housewives of Miami" and I think you'll hear the "Miami accent" loud and clear.

    There is a sing-song rhythm to it and I know a few non-hispanic born and raised Miamians that speak "Miami" lol :)

  8. 1) Not really. But most people like to believe each place has it's own accent. The question is how much does it vary from the next place. Each place has their own vocabulary. Miami certainly mixes Spanish and English together a lot. But native English speakers and people who were born and raised in Florida sound entirely American in Miami. They only pronounce Spanish words with accents. The only time I hear them pronounce English words with Spanish-speaking accents is if they are doing it on purpose. Unless they are an immigrant or American-born and lived in their parents country in part of their childhood. There is diversity beyond Latinos and much diversity within the Latinos. There are many West Indians too. Excluding Haitians, all the English speaking groups like Jamaicans are likely to have a greater proportional influence on the local accent since they are still speaking their native language.

    2) Since the answer to one is no, it can't be answered. Most people in the New York area don't actually have a New York accent. And most people out of New York have a hard time knowing what an authentic one is because so many actors that don't have it do terrible impressions. And so many of the actual natives who are actors try over doing it. People start thinking things like the Nanny's weird laugh or Ray Romano's gargly voice are products of the New York accent. They aren't.

    3) When it develops it's own accent. As far as everyone else is concerned, the accent of Miami is a Spanish-speaking immigrant's accent. People expect you to either sound American or to sound like you're an English speaker from Puerto Rico. That's not what the native sounds like. If the area were to have slowed down immigration and migration from other states, they might be able to develop their own accent. Does any city really do this in modern day though? How is a ''Houston accent'' different than other Texan accents? If there are differences, people outside of Houston don't know about it.

    4) No. She comes from a town in Alaska highly populated by people from Minnesota, North Dakota and northern Michigan who moved there during the New Deal in the 1930's. That is why her accent doesn't sound much different than Michelle Bachman's (who's from Minnesota). Perhaps they overemphasize it to be stereotypical and draw more attention to themselves though.

  9. Wow, um, I know this is like four years late, but I just had to say that there definitely is an accent, but it's still in formation. The Cuban immigration changed a lot, and we're only starting to see the effects on the accent today, in the third- and fourth- generation since the first Cubans came in the sixties and seventies. It has a lot to do with vowels and consonant shading, and very little to do with so-called immigrant accents. Linguists are beginning to study it and everything. Spanglish is its own thing, but the specific Miami accent is very much an accent. I'm white, for example, and my relatives from the Midwest tell me that I have an accent that sounds odd to them. So yes, there is an accent, and if you're still curious look up Dr. Phillip Carter. He's one of the Linguists doing studies on the Miami accent.

  10. Hi, Katherine. You may be four years late on commenting, but I'm nearly three months late on publishing your comment. I've neglected this blog to work on my travel blog, but I'll be getting back to it soon. Anyway, thank you for the insight. I'm fascinated by languages and how they develop, and it's great to learn that linguists are now studying the Miami accent in earnest. I just briefly looked up Dr. Phillip Carter to get a general idea of his thoughts, and I look forward to delving into it all further when I have some free time. In case anyone reads this later and is interested, I'm adding a link to a YouTube video in which Dr. Carter briefly explains exactly what you were describing. Thanks again. :) YouTube link here: