Thursday, January 21, 2010

On the Lower East Side, New Yorkers no longer talking like New Yorkers, research finds


From Fox News:

In the early 1990s, comedian Mike Myers regularly dressed up in a giant wig, gaudy fake nails and gigantic sunglasses to become Linda Richman -- a stereotypical New Yorker who had fits of feeling "verklempt" and thought that Barbara Streisand's voice was "like buttah."

"Welcome to Coffee Talk," Myers said at the beginning of his Saturday Night Live sketch, twisting the vowels with an exaggerated New York accent.

This unique accent -- which has set New Yorkers apart for decades -- may now be disappearing among some of Gotham's natives, according to a Jan. 9 presentation at the Linguistic Society of America in Baltimore.

In 1966, linguist William Labov noticed that New York City residents had a peculiar way of saying words like "bought" and "daughter" that pushed the vowels up and into the back of the throat. He included this linguistic quirk, the "raised bought," in his "Atlas of North American English," a definitive text for scientists who study language.

"The longer your family's residence in New York, the more likely you are to raise bought," said Kara Becker, a graduate student at New York University in Manhattan.

Becker revisited the way people talk on Manhattan's Lower East Side for the first time in 40 years. Working with local community activist groups, she interviewed 64 native speakers over the course of two years and analyzed thousands of vowel sounds in their speech.

Older residents like Michael, born in 1933, still sound like New Yorkers when describing their mother's "sauce." But younger residents of Manhattan's Lower East Side, like 25-year-old Sam, did not pronounce "talk" and "cause" like their older neighbors, even though their families have lived in the neighborhood for several generations.

25 comments:

Goggla said...

Hey, you talkin' to ME?!

Barbara Hanson said...

My mother smacked me in the head when I said "tawk." Still, I have a most definite NYC/Brooklyn accent. How could I not?

esquared said...

fuhgeddaboudit

glamma said...

thank god for jersey shore...

prodigal son said...

I grew up in Brooklyn, but as the son of Midwestern transplants. Most of my friends and neighbors were also transplants or their children (I grew up in the first gentrified neighborhood in Brooklyn).

So to the extent I have an accent at all, its a Midwestern accent and I'm sure this is the case for even more people now.

For years, non-New Yorkers I met would ask me how I could grow up in Brooklyn and not talk in a "Brooklyn accent", and I explained that most people who talked that way now live in New Jersey. But for the last five years or so I've not been getting this question. People outside New York are starting to catch on.

You can still here the old New York accent in some of the southern Brooklyn neighborhoods, and among old people in the rest of the city, but its clearly dying out. Incidentally, New York's always large non-white population never spoke that way.

Mileage said...

Accents and dialects evolve. The Boston accent of my grandparents was quite different from the Boston accent I hear in my old Boston neighborhood nowadays,although it is still very 'Boston" sounding.

MH said...

Some of us still tawk like that, but not as much so as our parents. Its a very comforting sound.

Anonymous said...

Ha, I grew up here in Manhattan, and I always said it was people from the boroughs that had the NY accent.

Melanie said...

I am from Brooklyn--been told I have an adorable accent..differnt parts of the lovely boro have different twangs. YO.

Robert said...

Young people now universally speak with the nasally "Valley Girl" California accent, wherever they live. I am always surprised listening to native New York teens and 20-somethings...they sound exactly like they come from L.A. in the 80's.

Barbara Hanson said...

Prodigal, if you grew up in the first gentrified neighborhood in Brooklyn, you are, by my caculation, somewhat older than Queen Victoria.

EV Grieve said...

Thanks for the comments.

@Robert. You're absolutely right... Their conversations seem to go also include: "Yeah, like, you know..."

zincink said...

Out of all the people I know only three people, including myself, have a NY accent. It seems as if anyone under the age of thirty haven't latched onto the typical sound or haven't been here long enough.

l.e.s.ter said...

The Chinese-American girls who grew up in my Lower East Side tenement have very thick traditional Lower East Side accents. It always seemed funny to me.

PG said...

Isn't "verklempt" a specifically Yiddish word? I wonder to what extent the traditional Lower East Side accent was based on immigrant Eastern Europeans' -- and especially Jews' -- adaptation to English. Since the LES hasn't been a Jewish immigrant neighborhood for a couple generations, it makes sense that the accent would be dying out.

glamma said...

haha real NY'ers pronounce "OI" like "ER." for example my 92 yr old grandfather from the bronx says "terlet" and "jernt" instead of "toilet" and "joint."

Goggla said...

LOL, we need some audio. I'd love to hear the 92 yr old grandfather from the Bronx say 'toilet' and 'joint' in a sentence. :)

glamma said...

yeah, he was a cop LOL...

Patricia Kennealy Morrison said...

My Irish grandparents from the South Slope also said "terlet" and "berl" (for "boil"). I don't do that, but I do follow their linguistic heritage and say "raddiator", not "raydiator". And of course, as a born NYer I stand on line, not in line...

Jill said...

My accent changes remarkably depending on who I'm talking to. Get me in a room with other New Yawkers and I am tawking with a gIant accent. When I'm with my oldest childhood friends we sometimes stop and laugh at how we sound.

My son, born and raised here, influenced by my Queens accent and his dad's midwestern non-accent, seems to have erred on the side of the midwest and that of his friends, most of whom have immigrant parents.

Barbara Hanson said...

My Norwegian grandmother said "erl." (My Irish grandma never did. You can tell by the terminology which one I was close to.) This led to an awkward moment when I was about five years old. Nana said something about the erl in the driveway and I said, loudly, "Mommy, what's erl?" I am fifth generation Brooklyn on one side and fourth on the other, but neither my mother nor my father ever said "erl." According to Glamma's standards, neither they nor I are "true New Yorkers." Kiss my ass in Macy's window, Glamma!

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, my father born in 1926 & raised in Fort Hamilton said "terlet" & "erl." he claims to have learned to drop saying bird like "boyed," but I don't know about that....

I learned to pronounce my R, but one thing still distinguishes a lot of New Yorkers.... They tend to say "DRAW" instead of the intended "DRAWER." The Dressa Draw. I didn't even realize that I did it until it was pointed out & I've caught it coming out of a lot of NY native mouthes... anyone?

esquared said...

sheila mcclear just wrote something about this topic for the new york post. wonder if she got the idea from you or fox news. it's quite insightful and informative, nonetheless

Lisa said...

My dad and mom (born, respectively, 1920 and 1929 in Brooklyn) used to swallow their "t"s on words like "bottle" - so it would come out BOH-ul, with a hard stop after the "h".

Melanie said...

I still gong the g in long island--
and only my Rhode Island friend now a ew Yorker of some years seems to notice it. Though my friend from PA and a now New Yorker again said I sound like Ceal her mother-in-law from Manhattan Beach.
Yo-I rather be hood when Brooklyn was good.