“You sure you just don’t wanna coke?”
Sh*t got REAL back in 2009 with the 2009 Mad TV sketch, “Bon Qui Qui at King Burger” (where you could have it your way, but don’t get crazy). If you haven’t seen this video or memorized Bon Qui Qui’s jabs, you can do so below.
It’s never said explicitly where Bon Qui Qui is supposed to be from, but the way she speaks reminded me of a Nuyorican accent.
If you don’t know what Nuyorican means/is, lemme tell you: Back in 1917, the US government gave citizenship to virtually all Puerto Ricans (long story). La gran migracion of thousands of Puerto Ricans followed, especially after World War II (think West Side Story) with a huge number settling in New York City. Like most new immigrants, many moved to certain areas of the city, and Spanish Harlem, the Lower East Side, and the South Bronx quickly became Puerto Rican enclaves. Today, there are more US-born Puerto Ricans than island-born Puertoriqueños!
If you still don’t get it: New (Nu) York + Puerto Rican = Nuyorican
Following a Bon Qui Qui-esque situation one day, a Dominican & Puerto Rican friend of mine introduced me to Maurica, your local Lower East Side Latina transsexual.
Disclaimer: people might argue that videos like these perpetuate negative stereotypes of minorities…this is true, but not something I’ll be addressing in this post. Fact of the matter is, these comedians, Anjelah Johnson and Yannis Pappas, are pretty spot on in their imitations. If you’re from the New York area, you’ve without a doubt encountered a Bon Qui Qui or a Maurica.
So what are these Nuyorican accents and why how did they come about? One thing that is very evident when looking at any Spanish-American accent is that the rhythm is syllable-timed. What h*ll does this mean? In case you haven’t noticed, English is a language where stress and emphasis are very important in expressing meaning. To conVERT and a CONvert are quite different. If you’re Southern it’s CEment, Northern it’s ceMENT. Where you put the emphasis on syllables inside of a word is just as important as the emphasis within an entire phrase, and the emphasis can be seemingly arbitrary in most cases.
Syllable-timed languages include Romances languages like Spanish and French. Each syllable takes up the same amount of time with more or less the same amount of stress. Pronounce banana like an American and it comes out ban-aaan-a, with a long stress on the second syllable, but if you say it in French or Spanish, it’s ba–na–na, with each of the three syllables receiving the same amount of stress.
Dialects like Nuyorican English and Chicano English took the syllable-timed trait of Spanish and extended it into English, and so they are syllable-timed dialects with a different rhythm (really hard word to spell!) than Standard American English.
The /t/ and /d/ sounds are also realized differently by Nuyorican English speakers: they are dentalized rather than alveolarized – for all you non-linguists, alveolar consonants are those made on your alveolar ridge, which is juuuust above your teeth, kind of behind your teeth sockets. When /t/ and /d/ are dentalized, this means the sounds are realized behind the teeth, which actually makes a huge difference in sound. In American English, we make most of our t’s sound like d’s (just say water and you’ll know what I mean) and d’s are rather minimal – Nuyorican speakers seem to almost exaggerate these two sounds.
Consonant clusters are simplified: left becomes “lef”, bent becomes “ben”, cold becomes “col”, and most importantly, that’s IT becomes “dass IT”. The /u/ sound, in Standard American a very loose sound that aquires a W sound at the end (say “you” out loud and you’ll know what I mean), in Nuyorican English is more like 000u, straight, sharp, and to the point.
Somestimes you can hear tinges of Spanish syntax too: “I can go to the bathroom?” Instead of “Can I go to the bathroom?”, coming from “Puedo ir al baño?”, “I’m not going to do nothing” from “Yo no voy a hacer nada” – double negatives, in English a big no-no but in Spanish a necessary evil – are all over Nuyorican English.
Like most East Coast dialects, Nuyorican English is non-rhotic, meaning the R-sound is not pronounced. “You from WestchestAH?” Why, yes, in fact, I am.
What’s really interesting about Nuyorican English and Chicano English is that a lot of their speakers don’t even speak Spanish! This isn’t an accent at all, but a dialect like Southern English or African American Vernacular English that gets passed on through generations and the communities that speak them.
Lots of American dialects have formed from the linguistic traits of the ethnic groups that settled in a certain area – Scandinavian traits formed Mid-West English, Scots-Irish traits are still found in Appalachian English, French influence is still found in the sounds of Cajun English to this day. Nuyorican English is alive and flourishing thanks to decades of New York – Puerto Rico love!