New York dialect
The New York dialect of the English language is spoken by many European Americans, and some non-European Americans who were raised in New York City and much of its metropolitan area. It is one of the most recognizable dialects within American English.
The English spoken in northern New Jersey and the English spoken in eastern Long Island are distinct from, yet share much in common with, the New York City dialect. In contrast, a variety of unrelated dialects are spoken in those parts of New York State outside the metropolitan area. (Labov et al. 2006)
- 1 Macrosocial extensions
- 2 History
- 3 Beyond New York
- 4 Linguistic features
- 5 Notable people who speak with a New York accent
- 6 See also
- 7 Bibliography
- 8 References
- 9 External links
The New York dialect is closely confined to the geographically small but densely populated New York City dialect region, which consists of the city's five Boroughs, Western Long Island although the border there is not clearly established, the lower Hudson Valley, and several nearby cities in northeastern New Jersey, e.g., Weehawken, Hoboken, Jersey City, Bayonne, and Newark. However, the terms “New York English” and “New York dialect” are, strictly speaking, misnomers. The classic New York dialect is centered on middle and working class European Americans, and this ethnic cluster now accounts for less than half of the city's population. Now, the most secure strongholds of the New York dialect are arguably the suburban areas of Nassau County, western Suffolk County, Westchester County, Rockland County, northeastern and southwestern Queens, and Staten Island, although many strong New York dialect speakers remain in Queens, The Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. Finally, despite common references to "a Bronx accent", or "a Brooklyn accent", no published study has found any feature that varies internally beyond local names. Impressions that the dialect varies geographically may be a byproduct of class and/or ethnic variation.
The variations of the New York accent are a result of the layering of ethnic speech from the waves of immigrants that settled in the city, from the earliest settlement by the Dutch and English, followed in the 1800s by the Irish and Midwesterners (typically of French, German, Irish, Scandinavian, and English descent). Over time these collective influences combined to give New York its distinctive accent. Up until the earlier 20th century, many Eastern European Jewish and Italian immigrants, as well as some later immigrants, arrived and further affected the region's speech. Sociolinguistic research, which is ongoing, suggests some differentiation between these last groups' speech may exist. For example, William Labov found differences in the rate and degree of the tensing and raising of (oh) and (aeh) of Italian American versus Jewish American New Yorkers. Jewish Americans were more likely than other groups to use the closest variants of (oh) and Italian Americans were more likely than other groups to use the closest variants of (aeh). In the NPR interview linked below, Labov talks about Irish origin features being the most stigmatized. Still, Labov argues that these differences are relatively minor, more of degree than kind. All European American groups share the relevant features.
One area that is likely to reveal robust patterns is usage among Orthodox Jews. Such features include fully released final stops and certain Yiddish contact features, such as topicalizations of direct objects (e.g., constructions such as Esther, she saw! or A dozen knishes, you bought!). There is also substantial use of Yiddish and particularly Hebrew words. It could be argued that such features are not characteristic of New York dialect because they exist among Orthodox Jews in other dialect regions. Still, in combination with other New York dialect features they are characteristic of a specific local ethno-religious community. There is no research, however, establishing these facts in the New York dialect literature.
Most African American New Yorkers speak African American Vernacular English (AAVE), though with some New York dialect features. Many Latinos speak another distinct ethnolect, New York Latino English, characterized by a varying mix of traditional New York dialect and AAVE features along with features of Spanish origin.
Social class factors
Many professional class New Yorkers from high socioeconomic backgrounds often speak with less conspicuous accents; in particular, many, though hardly all, use rhotic pronunciations instead of the non-rhotic pronunciations, while maintaining some less stigmatized features such as the low back chain shift and the short-A split (see below).
Similarly, the children of professional migrants from other parts of the U.S. usually do not have many, if any, New York dialect features, and as these two populations come to dominate the southern half of Manhattan and neighboring parts of Brooklyn, the dialect is in retreat in some of the more gentrified parts of the city. Many teens attending private prep schools are barely linguistically recognizable as New Yorkers except in their pronunciation of the broad A in "water" and other Northeast characteristics. Nevertheless, many New Yorkers, particularly from the middle and working class, maintain a clear New York accent.
The origins of the dialect are diverse, and the source of many features is probably not recoverable. Labov has pointed out that the short-A split is found in southern England as mentioned above. He also claims that the vocalization and subsequent loss of (R) was copied from the prestigious London pronunciation, and so it started among the upper classes in New York and only later moved down the socioeconomic scale. This non-rhotic (R-less) aristocratic pronunciation can be heard, for instance, in recordings of Franklin D. Roosevelt. After WWII, the R-ful pronunciation (rhotic) became the prestige norm, and what was once the upper class pronunciation became a vernacular one.
Other vernacular pronunciations, such as the dental (D)s and (T)s may come from contact with languages such as Italian and Yiddish. Grammatical structures, such as the lack of inversion in indirect questions, have the flavor of contact with an immigrant language. As stated above, many words common in New York are of immigrant roots.
Beyond New York
As a result of social and commercial contact between the two cities, and the influx of immigrants from the same countries, the traditional dialect of New Orleans, Louisiana, known locally as Yat, bears distinctive similarities with the New York dialect, including palatalization of the /ɜr/ vowel, a similar split in the short-A system, and fortition of /θ/(See below for more information on these features). Albany, New York, and northern New Jersey, also display influence from the New York City dialect.
See the article International Phonetic Alphabet for explanations of the phonetic symbols used, as indicated between square brackets [ ]. These represent actual pronunciations. The symbols in curved parentheses () are variables, in this case historical word classes that have different realizations between and within dialects. This system was developed by William Labov. A link to a site with an example text read in various accents, including New York, can be found under external links.
New York dialect is predominantly characterized by the following sounds and speech patterns:
- The low back chain shift: The /ɔ/ vowel sound of words like talk, law, cross, and coffee and the often homophonous /ɔr/ in core and more are tensed and usually raised more than in General American. Labov (1966) describes this pattern as varying on a scale from [ɔ] to [ʊ]. An inglide typically accompanies higher variants giving [oə] or [ʊə]. /ɑ/ in father and /ɑr/ in car are backed, diphthongized, and sometimes rounded to [ɑə] or [ɒə]. The result is that card in New York can be similar to cod in parts of New England. In addition, a subset of words with /ɒ/ as in lot feature a lengthened and diphthongized variant, [ɑə]. This variant may appear before a word final voiced stop, /dʒ/, or /m/ (e.g., cob, cod, cog, lodge, bomb). It also occurs variably before voiced fricatives (e.g., bother), /ʃ/ (e.g., wash), and in the words on, John, and doll (Wells 1982: 514).
- The short-A split: There is a class of words, with a historical short-a vowel, including plan, class, and bad, where the historical /æ/ is raised and tensed to an ingliding diphthong of the type [eə] or even [ɪə]. This class is similar to, but larger than, the BATH lexical set, in which Received Pronunciation uses the so-called broad A. Other words, such as plaque, clatter, and bat, retain a lax, low-front [æ], with the result that bad and bat have different vowels. A related (but slightly different) split has occurred in the dialect of Philadelphia. Although the lax and the tense reflexes of /æ/ are separate phonemes in these dialects, their distribution is largely predictable. See Phonemic æ-tensing in the Mid-Atlantic region for more details.
- /oʊ/ as in goat does not undergo fronting; instead, it remains [oʊ]. This groups New York with the "North" class of dialects rather than the "Midland", in which /oʊ/ is fronted. Relatedly, /uː/ as in goose is not fronted and remains a back vowel [uː] or [ʊu]. This lack of fronting of /oʊ/ and /uː/ also distinguishes New York from nearby Philadelphia. Some speakers have a separate phoneme /ɪu/ in words such as tune, news, duke (historically a separate class). The phonemic status of this vowel is marginal. For example, Labov (1966) reports that New Yorkers may contrast [duː] do with [dɪu] dew though they may also have [dɪu] do. Still, dew is always [dɪu] and never [duː].
- Diphthongs: The nucleus of the /aɪ/ diphthong is a back and sometimes rounded vowel [ɑ] or [ɒ] (right as [ɹɑɪt]) and the nucleus of the /aʊ/ diphthong is a front vowel [æ] (rout as [ɹæʊt]). The sociolinguistic evidence (Labov 1966) suggests that both of these developments are active changes. The fronted nucleus in /aʊ/ and the backed nucleus in /aɪ/ are more common among younger speakers, women, and the working and lower middle classes.
- Pre-R distinctions: New York accents lack most of the mergers before medial /r/ common in other varieties of North American English:
- The vowels in marry [mæri], merry [mɛri], and Mary [meri] ~ [mɛəri] ~ [mɛri] show either a two- or three-way contrast.
- The vowels in furry /fɜri/ and hurry /hʌri/ are distinct.
- Words like orange, horrible, Florida and forest are pronounced /ɑrəndʒ/ and /fɑrəst/ with the same stressed vowel as pod, not with the same vowel as port as in much of the rest of the United States.
- Merger of /ɜr/ and /ɔɪ/: One of the stereotypes of New York speech is the use of a front-rising diphthong in words with /ɜr/ (e.g., nurse). This stereotype is popularly represented in stock phrases like "toity toid" for thirty-third. The phonetic reality of this variant is near [ɜɪ]. This variant may also appear in words with /ɔɪ/ (e.g., choice), resulting in verse and voice as homophones. The diphthongal variant for /ɜr/ is highly stigmatized. Labov's data from the mid-1960s indicated the form was recessive then. Only two of his 51 speakers under age 20 used the form as compared with those over age 50 of whom 23 out of 30 used the form. Items with /ɔɪ/ may occur with [ɜr] (e.g., [tɜrlət] toilet), apparently as a result of hypercorrection. Younger New Yorkers (born since about 1950) are likely to use a rhotic [ɜr] in bird even if they use non-rhotic pronunciations of beard, bared, bard, board, boor, and butter.
While the following consonantal features are central to the common stereotype of a "New York accent", they are not nearly as ubiquitous in New York as many[who?] might assume. By contrast, the vocalic (vowel) variations in pronunciation as described above are far more typical of New York area speakers than the consonantal features listed below, which carry a much greater stigma than do the dialect's vocalic variations:
- R-lessness The traditional New York–area accent is non-rhotic; in other words, the sound [ɹ] does not appear at the end of a syllable or immediately before a consonant. Thus, there is no [ɹ] in words like park [pɒək] (with vowel backed and rounded due to the low-back chain shift), butter [bʌɾə], or here [hɪə]. This feature is slowly losing ground, as discussed above. Non-rhoticity now happens sometimes in New Yorkers with otherwise rhotic speech if Rs are located in unaccented syllables particularly in pre-vocalic position. Non-rhotic speakers usually exhibit a linking or intrusive R, similar to other non-rhotic dialect speakers.
- Vocalization of /l/ L vocalization is common in New York though it is perhaps not as pervasive as in other dialects. Like its fellow liquid /r/, it may be vocalized when it does not appear before a vowel (e.g., [sɛo] sell, [mɪok] milk).
- Alveolars The alveolar consonants /t/, /d/, /n/, and /l/ may be articulated with the tongue blade rather than the tip. Wells (1982) indicates that this articulation may, in some cases, also involve affrication, producing [ts] and [dz]. Also /t/ and /d/ are often pronounced with the tongue touching the teeth rather than the alveolar ridge (just above the teeth), as is typical in most varieties of English. With /t/, glottalization is reported to be more common in New York speech than in other American dialects, appearing, for example, before syllabic /l/ (e.g., bottle [bɑʔl̩]).
- (dh/th) fortition As in many other dialects, the interdental fricatives /θ/ and /ð/ are often realized as stops [t] and [d] or affricates [tθ] and [dð]. Labov (1966) found this alternation to vary by class with the non-fricative forms appearing more regularly in lower and working class speech. Unlike the reported changes with /r/, the variation with /θ/ and /ð/ appears to be stable.
- Intrusive G. In addition to the ubiquitous alternation of [ŋ] and [n] in -ing endings, the speech of some New Yorkers shows [ŋɡ] as a variant of /ŋ/. This variant is another salient stereotype of the New York accent and is commonly mocked with "Long Island" being pronounced [lɔŋɡɑɪlənd] popularly written, Lawn Guyland.
- Reduction of /hj/ to /j/. New Yorkers typically do not allow /j/ to be preceded by /h/; this gives pronunciations like /jumən/ and /judʒ/ for human and huge.
- Indirect questions. Word order of the original question is preserved in indirect questions, at least those introduced by wh-words, for example: He wanted to know when will he come instead of He wanted to know when he will come; or, She asked why don't you want any instead of the standard She asked why you don't want any.
There are numerous words used mainly in New York, mostly associated with immigrant languages. For instance, a "stoop" (from Dutch), is the front steps of a building entrance. A curious split in usage, reflective of the city's racial differences, involves the word punk. In the Black and Latino communities, the word tends to be used as a synonym for weak, someone unwilling or unable to defend himself or perhaps loser. That usage appears to descend from the AAVE meaning of male receptive participant in anal sex, a meaning which, in turn, may be largely lost among youth. Thus, a newspaper article that refers to, say, some arrested muggers as punks can have two different meanings to two different readers. Of course, the term also unambiguously means the follower of a particular musical and fashion peer cultural style (i.e. punk rock).
New Yorkers stand "on line", whereas most other American-English speakers stand "in line". Small convenience stores are called bodegas, from the Spanish term literally meaning "a liquor storehouse or a convenience store; corner store". See Regional vocabularies of American English.
Notable people who speak with a New York accent
The following famous people or fictional characters are often heard in public as speaking with features typical of a New York accent. Most, but not all, are native New Yorkers. Their pronunciation and vocabulary can be useful guides to the subtleties of speaking New York.
- Yat dialect
- North American English regional phonology#Northeastern dialects
- Regional vocabularies of American English
- New Jersey dialect
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- Varieties of English: New York City phonology from the University of Arizona's Language Samples Project
- William Labov's webpage There are links to many sites related to dialects, including references to his early work on New York dialect and the Atlas of North American English.
-  A paper by Labov on dialect diversity, including information on NY dialect phonology.
- The New York Latino English Project The site of the New York Latino English project, which studies the native English spoken by New York Latinos.
-  A site with samples of speech in various dialects, including New York.
-   AM New York's feature on the New York accent (cites several experts)
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