How 5 Decades of Hispanic Immigration Gave Miami Its Own Unique English Dialect
For decades, Florida's most well-known dialect was the one made famous by author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Called "Florida Cracker" by white natives, it's now spoken mostly in the Panhandle and a few other shrinking spots throughout the rest of the state. But it turns out that at the very same time the cracker dialect was declining (thanks largely to in-migration from other parts of the country), Miami was developing a dialect so distinct from the rest of the state that residents of Broward County (only one county north of Miami-Dade) are capable of noticing the difference.
The Miami Herald explains how five decades of migration from Cuba, the Caribbean, and Central America makes the city's dialect unique:
The difference in the Miami sound lies primarily in the vowels, which have a certain affinity with Spanish pronunciation. English has 11 different vowel sounds, while Spanish only has five. English words like “man” and “hand” include a long nasal “A” sound that doesn’t exist in Spanish. Miamians now pronounce these words with a subtly Spanish shading a bit more like “mahn” and “hahnd.”
Miami’s “L” is a bit different from the rest of the country’s, too. Miamians tend to have a slightly heavier “L” — a bit more like the Spanish “L” — than most Americans. It can be heard in the way they drag the “Ls” in “Lauderdale” or “literally.”
Rhythm is also a factor. In Spanish words, all syllables are equally long, while English syllables fluctuate in length. The difference is only milliseconds, but it’s enough to be noticeable.
J.J. Revuelta's rude awakening came when he left his Southwest Miami-Dade home for the University of Florida in Gainesville.
Some strangers from up north gave Victor Morillo the shocking news during a cruise.
And Rod Mendoza was 19 before someone broke it to him, just last week.
"I have an accent?" he asked, in the surprised but suspicious tone of someone who's just been told his parents have been putting the presents under the Christmas tree. "I don't get outside of Miami, so I never noticed this accent. I notice French accents."
Top image: A man walks by a mural in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton.