This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. This blog is not supported by advertising, it's supported by the generosity of my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

How to talk like a Phoenix local


Something that people take great pride in is talking like a local. That is, speaking with the correct pronunciation of people who grew up somewhere. To outsiders, the difference is too subtle to detect, but locals can tell if you're from there. In some places, locals can tell if you're from the north side of town, or a particular neighborhood, or whatever. Actors often study these accents, and invariably get them wrong from the point of view of people who really know. And this got me thinking about how people in Phoenix talk.

If you grew up somewhere, and never lived anywhere else, of course you can't hear your accent, it simply doesn't exist for you. To you, that's just the way that people talk. Personally, I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and moved to Phoenix when I was 18. I spent several years in Southern California, and then moved back to Phoenix when I was 31, which was, uh, quite a while ago. But like most people, I carry the accent that I grew up with, which is called a "Twin Cities" (Minneapolis/St Paul) accent.

The Phoenix accent (to give it a name) is mostly midwestern. The influence of Minnesota, Iowa, etc. on Phoenix is very strong. Phoenix is, after all, a fairly young city, and while there are people who have been born there, and their parents, and grandparents, and even great-grandparents, they're rare. If you compare that to, for example, Philadelphia, there could be over a dozen generations who have grown up there, and that's common. So, to be fair, Phoenix really hasn't had enough time to develop a distinct accent. You know, the kind that an actor needs to study for months before taking a role. But there is a sound of a Phoenix local. I'll try to explain.

The first place to start to learn to "speak like a Phoenix local" is with a midwestern accent. Luckily, that's very easy, as it's the standard accent (or lack thereof) of the United States - what I call the "Man on the Six O'clock News". It's mostly a Twin Cities accent (not to be confused with a Minnesota accent). Listen to any newscaster anywhere in the country and you'll hear the Twin Cities accent. Soften it up a bit and you have a midwestern accent. When I first started teaching, in my late 30s, I was so nervous that I was accused of sounding like a radio announcer. My voice will still do that under stress. To be comfortable in Phoenix you have to loosen up a bit.

So you start with a midwestern accent, and then you have to add a bit of Spanish spice. Phoenix locals know how to pronounce words with two ls - like tortilla, or Estrella. No, it's not tor-TILLA, it's tor-TEE-ya. And Es-TREY-ya. But calm down here, you don't have to sound like Antonio Banderas, you just get the Spanish pronunciation just a little bit right. When you get it wrong, a giant cartoon piano falls on your head, and the locals start laughing at you.

Since I've lived in Phoenix so long now, and have friends in California and Minnesota, I can distinctly hear their accent. Which means that I must sound kinda funny to them. I talk mostly like a Phoenix local, but I still carry the accent I learned as a kid, as childhood like accents pop up when you're nervous, as I was when I made the video below.

Here's what I sound like, not a perfect Phoenix accent, but close.