The Miami accent is an evolving American English accent or sociolect spoken in South Florida, particularly in Miami-Dade county, originating from central Miami. The Miami accent is most prevalent in American-born Hispanic youth who live in the Greater Miami area.
The Miami accent developed amongst second- or third-generation Miamians, particularly young adults whose first language was English, but were bilingual. Since World War II, Miami's population has grown rapidly every decade, due in part to the post-war baby boom. In 1950, the U.S. Census stated that Dade County's population was 495,084. Beginning with rapid international immigration from South American countries and the Caribbean (exacerbated by the Cuban exodus of the early 1960s), Miami's population has drastically grown every decade since. Many of these immigrants began to inhabit the urban industrial area around Downtown Miami. By 1970, the census stated that Dade County's population was 1,267,792. By 2000, the population reached 2,253,362. Growing up in Miami's urban center, second-, third-, and fourth-generation Miamians of the immigration wave of the 1960s and 1970s, developed the Miami accent. It is now the customary dialect of many citizens in the Miami metropolitan area.
The Miami accent is a native dialect of English, not learner English or interlanguage. It is possible to differentiate this variety from an interlanguage spoken by second-language speakers in that the Miami accent does not generally display the following features: there is no addition of /ɛ/ before initial consonant clusters with /s/, speakers do not confuse /dʒ/ with /j/, (e.g., Yale with jail), and /r/ and /rr/ are pronounced as alveolar approximant [ɹ] instead of alveolar tap [ɾ] or alveolar trill [r] in Spanish.
The Miami accent is based on a fairly standard American accent but with some changes very similar to dialects in the Mid-Atlantic (especially the New York area dialect, Northern New Jersey English, and New York Latino English.) Unlike Virginia Piedmont, Coastal Southern American, and Northeast American dialects (see section below), "Miami accent" is rhotic; it also incorporates a rhythm and pronunciation heavily influenced by Spanish (wherein rhythm is syllable-timed).
Some specific features of the accent include the following:
Phonology and sounds of the Miami accent as reported in the Miami Herald:
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.
Features of the Miami accent from a report on the Miami accent from WLRN Radio:
First, vowel pronunciation. In Spanish, there are five vowel sounds. In English, there are eleven. Thus, you have words like "hand," with the long, nasal "A" sound, pronounced more like hahnd because the long "A" does not exist in Spanish.
While most consonants sound the same in Spanish and English, the Spanish "L" is heavier, with the tongue sticking to the roof of the mouth more so than in English. This Spanish "L" pronunciation is present in Miami English.
The rhythms of the two languages are also different. In Spanish, each syllable is the same length, but in English, the syllables fluctuate in length. This is a difference in milliseconds, but they cause the rhythm of Miami English to sound a bit like the rhythm of Spanish.
Finally, "calques" are phrases directly translated from one language to another where the translation isn't exactly idiomatic in the other language. For example, instead of saying, "let's get out of the car," someone from Miami might say, "let's get down from the car" because of the Spanish phrase "bajar del coche".
Speakers of the Miami accent occasionally use "calques": idioms (that would sound awkward or unusual to other native English speakers). For example, instead of saying, "let's get out of the car," someone from Miami might say, "let's get down from the car". Other Miami terms especially common among Miami youth, often called "slang," include: