Of course, not everyone in Miami speaks like the YouTube actors. As with any regional dialect in North America, those in the upper classes tend to sound closer to the standard accepted English, while the lower classes tend to have stronger regional and non-standard accents.
This range in dialect isn’t unique to Miami. It occurs whenever two languages have come into sustained contact. What makes Miami’s language evolution extremely rare is how quickly it took place.
Miami has always been home to Latin American immigrants, but the first sizable wave arrived from Cuba during the 1960s, followed by the Mariel influx of the 1980s and then the balseros of the 1990s. They were joined by political refugees fleeing regimes in Nicaragua and Venezuela and by immigrants from Colombia and Mexico and other countries to the south.
Immigrants overwhelmed the city’s population so quickly that before long children growing up in Miami were learning English from people who were not native English speakers themselves. This led to a number of nonnative features like Spanish vowels and “L” sounds being incorporated into the language.
But it’s wrong to think of Miami English as broken English or one that is less correct than the English spoken in other parts of the United States “I think it’s unfortunate that speakers harbor a sense of shame or embarrassment or misinformation about their native dialect,” Carter said.
Every dialect has its own particular heritage, and no one dialect is more correct than another. “Real English is spoken right here in Miami. This is it,” Carter added.
Despite this, misconceptions of “correct” and “incorrect” speech still exist — sometimes to the detriment of those who speak the Miami dialect. Many people believe that “Standard American English” sounds like the English spoken in the heartland and not speaking this standard can be an obstacle in the professional world.
For actor Cedric Dumornay, at least it has not been an insurmountable one. He became aware of the Miami sound only after he won a monologue contest. When he met the contest’s producer in Los Angeles, he was told that he would be typecast only for Caribbean or Hispanic roles because of the way he spoke.
“She said, ‘If you really want to work in this industry, you have to be able to do a general American accent,’ ” Dumornay explained. So he began taking classes with Lisa Jeffery, an accent reduction coach based in Miami.
Jeffery teaches people to speak with a standard American accent. In other words, to switch their Miami sound off, temporarily. Most of her clients come for professional reasons. They include businesspeople, lawyers, broadcasters and actors.
The Miami dialect can strike non-Miamians as “cutesy-wootsy,” in Jeffery’s words. People tend to associate it with what has made Miami globally famous — its vivacious, sexy, South Beach culture. “Now that’s perfect for young girls who are going to party on South Beach because it is so cute. … But once they get jobs and they become professionals, it’s not so popular,” Jeffery said.
Nicolas Espinosa, 23, moved to Miami from Argentina when he was 10. He thinks his Argentine accent had faded and been replaced by the Miami accent. He sees the accent as a mark of the unique mix of cultures found in Miami.