You Talkin' To Me?!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Is there such a thing as a New York accent? What exactly are the differences in diction of those from Brooklyn as compared to those from the Bronx? And, as the city gets more diverse, are we losing our unique way of speaking...? Kara Becker, a doctoral candidate at the NYU School of Linguistics, walks us through the variety of NYC dialects.


Kara Becker

Comments [39]

Tony from The Bronx

As a Bronxite, I feel that we should not try to become someone or something we are not.
My point is, never let anyone dictate or make fun on how you should talk (Tawk).
These days it seems to be the norm to drop our old accents, and accept a pre fabricated language taught in our schools, influenced also by other Americans and Television.
This downplays the existance of whom we truly are.
However you slice it, we are all New Yorkers.
Should I be at the mercy of sounding like a person coming out of the valley of California?
Like wow! Like, I DON'T THINK SO!

Jul. 26 2009 07:02 PM
lafou from nyc

I heard that some native New Orleans speakers have Brooklyn sounding accents and that both come from Dutch settlers.

Mar. 06 2008 06:35 AM
carbro from UWS

The Library of Congress ( ) has (or had) a clip of Walt Whitman reading some of his own work. What's striking is how New Englandy he sounds. A historian pointed out to me that when so much commerce was conducted over the waterways, Long Island was "closer" to Connecticut than Manhattan, and it wasn't until the advent of trains and automobiles (and likely the consolidation of the five boros) that Long Island speech became Nooyawkified.

Mar. 05 2008 02:07 AM
carbro from UWS

I totally agree with Voter, post #6 I think people's New York accents owe more to the dominant ethnicity of where they grew up than to the geography. People from Italian enclaves in Newark or the Bronx or Massapequa will sound more alike than people and distinct from, say, Irish enclaves in the same areas, which are different from Jewish ones, yada yada ...

The guest can't even pronounce her Noo Yawkisms properly. She called a car a Boston-like "cah" instead of a New York "cau," or even "caw".

It'll be fun to hear the sound of the generic New York accent (to the degree that we have one) once it assimilates some West Indian and some more (as it's already happening) Nuyorican.

Mar. 05 2008 01:59 AM
Ann from Manhattan

That was a really interesting discussion on language. Some of these comments are also interesting as they confirm the notion that many New Yorkers think it is a burough difference but many comments support the fact that it may very well be class dictated. AB and John Doe - Fugetaboutit!

Mar. 04 2008 02:41 PM
sucker for evidence from NYC

Ab, John Doe & Guest -
I'm neither a native New Yorker nor a linguist, but I'm a believer in the scientific method and after hearing this and reading the comments, I'm very interested in the facts and basis for research that verifies (at least within the academic community) that an accent either exists or does not? What metrics are you using, and do these parallel the metrics that people use when they anecdotally say "there definitely is an XYZ accent?" Is it vocab and slang? If so, how many words have to be different from the general base vocab and how is that 'base' vocab measured? Or is it something else you can measure?

It seems to me that without a clear definition of what constitutes an "accent," it's hard to evaluate whether the guest was making a reasonable claim or whether the people who claim to hear the accent are right? Can anyone provide concrete examples of the differences in speech that are actually considered features of an accent?

Mar. 04 2008 01:56 PM
janet from New Jersey

Dear John Doe,
The guest did not dismiss the Dutch infleunce on the NY accent - she correctly stated that she did not have knowledge on that subject but intead offered other closer influences such as German, etc.
One thing is certian New Yorkers are quite sensitive about anyone who doesn't think what they beleive is gospell.
Have you done the research on this subject - what are your credentials to address this issue?

Mar. 04 2008 01:52 PM
chestina (felt pressure to change it) from Midtown

I thought the "oi" was Oirish!

I agree - it matters not what the accent but the oidears! Good ideas sound good to me no matter who expresses them. I love accents everywhere - I am treated to accented French in NY - love it.

I read at Buckley's death that his odd manner of speaking came from having learned French first and then having lived in England.

I have impressions of so many people in my accent, having picked up all kinds of speech mannerisms from all kinds of people.

Mar. 04 2008 11:47 AM
Jonathan Kruk from Cold Spring NY

First, as a proud speaker with a New York suburban accent, I urge everyone to keep their regional accents! Lose your accent and you dis your roots! You wanna be from Nebraska?! No, den speak where you are from.
I understand, the Brooklyn accent with "des" and dem, and the earlier posted "loid" originate with the Dutch. That's cool talkin'.

Mar. 04 2008 11:11 AM
J from New York

There might be one NY white accent that has become one as different non-white groups like Italians and Jews have become one "white" group, but there are definitely different NY accents! There is the NY hispanic accent (or 2 or 3), the NY black accent, the 2nd generation Chinese accent, the Jewish accent etc. All you need to do is spend a day in a New York City Public school to hear that!! There's the my dad was a lawyer accent and the my dad was a plumber accent. There is the fast talking highly enunciated accent. There's the real slurred way of speaking. New York is defined that we are lots of people from lots of places, and our accents reflect that.

Mar. 04 2008 11:09 AM
David Zarko from Scranton, PA

I made friends with a gentleman in Holland some years ago who, contrary to the fashion at the time, learned American rather than British English. If you weren't listening closely, he sounded like he was from Brooklyn. Since then, I've had a number of Dutch students, and have noticed the same thing. There certainly must be a heritage connection in that accent, mixed liberally with Italian and Yiddish, but still the basis of the whole sound.

Mar. 04 2008 11:06 AM
Reginald Yong from Brooklyn NY

Americans like to talk about others having 'an accent', whether you're from Africian or Europe. I was floored once when I called a woman from an eastern European country and she remarked that I had an 'accent' like hers (i'm from Guyana). I suppose she meant I sounded foreign.

Mar. 04 2008 11:05 AM
John Doe from Manhattan


What bothered me the most was her complete dismissal of the Dutch influence on the Brooklyn accent. It was clear in her response that she had done ZERO research on this -- ahem -- little feature.

She's lucky Brian was soft-balling her because her presentation was quite poor.

Mar. 04 2008 11:04 AM
John Celardo from Fanwood, NJ

I traveled to Memphis a few years ago with my wife, and friends who are NYU PhDs. We had lunch in a barbeque place, and after we ate my buddy asked for couuufee. The waitress said whuuut? My friend repeated couuufee, couuufee. She again said whuuut? We complained about our difficulty understanding Southerners, but they don’t understand us either. And, education doesn’t always cancel regional speech.

Mar. 04 2008 11:03 AM
Kate Steinberg from Brooklyn

My parents are both 1st generation NYers, my father born in Bklyn of Jewish immigrants, and my mother of Irish immigrants. They have/had sort of an old-time middle class NYC accent that you don't hear much anymore. I lived until 7 in Manhattan, and grew up the rest of my childhood on far eastern LI where the local accent was almost Maine-like, and I seem to have an accent void. Weird, huh? That I picked up neither my parents' NYC accents, or my childhood friends' accents.

Mar. 04 2008 11:03 AM
Christian from NYC

in response to number 17 - the new orleans accent is not cajun. You are thinking of the 'yats' which is similar to New York. Cajun accents are french derived and come from south central - south west Louisiana.

Mar. 04 2008 11:00 AM
Catherine from Massapequa

What about the George Plimpton Manhattan upper crust accent? Doesn't that exist any more?

Mar. 04 2008 11:00 AM

John Doe,

I difference between a Queens and Brooklyn accent? C' native New Yorker would say that!

Mar. 04 2008 11:00 AM
Christian from NYC

I am originally from Louisiana. My pop had a very thick cajun accent. Once he joined the army, he was ridiculed quite a bit because of it, so he consciously articulated his speech, and eventually lost it. That accent used to be seen as low class/rural/poor. However, now the accent is becoming more popular.

Mar. 04 2008 10:59 AM
Janine from Manhattan

I came to NY (Staten Island) at the age of nine from California. Oy, the fights I got into with the kids who wanted to hear me pronounce Water, Orange, Talk, New York.
In college I entertained my dormmates by doing the New York accent. Also, I definitely think there are differences. People who came to Staten Island post-Verrazano Bridge definitely have a more Brooklyn-y sound.

Mar. 04 2008 10:59 AM
John Doe from Manhattan

No offense to your guest, Brian, but she seems generally ill-informed. I get a distinct impression that she's come by this hypothesis and tried her hardest to make her observations fit.

Mar. 04 2008 10:58 AM
Brendan from Brooklyn

Legend has it that the blue collar "Cajun" accent began when Irish nuns from from Brooklyn were sent down to New Orleans to teach at Irish boys schools in the 2nd half of the 19th century. It is very similar to an NY accent.

Mar. 04 2008 10:56 AM
Peter from New Haven

Not only does everyone sound like a valley girl, but they wear Boston caps!!!

The horror! The horror!

Mar. 04 2008 10:56 AM

Ugh this guest is off her rocker and NOT a New Yorker...the Jersey accent is definitely different than the Brooklyn and Queens accents. And there is a definite difference between Brooklyn and Queens accents.

Mar. 04 2008 10:55 AM
Peter from New Haven

"She loid to me!"

I read somewhere a long time ago, about accents, that in Brooklyn in the 1950s, the sentence "Hoyt was hurt" became "Hurt was Hoyt!"


Mar. 04 2008 10:55 AM
Susan from Yorktown Heights NY

As a child study/education major at St. Josephs College
(Bklyn) in the seventies, I was required to take a speech course which came close to beating the New Yawk accent out me. Those who didn't pass the course were not permitted to major in education. My students never know how lucky they were. Who knows what would have happened had they been subjected to my accent day after day!

Mar. 04 2008 10:54 AM
Peter from New Haven

Oh, and that woman from Bensonhurst might just as soon been from Yonkers, where I grew up in the eighties.

Mar. 04 2008 10:53 AM
Hal from Crown Heights

I heard this yesterday from a lady talking to a friend on bench in the Grand Central subway station:

"She loid to me!"

Mar. 04 2008 10:52 AM

Yeah I disagree with the guest a lifelong New Yorker I think there are differences between borough accents.

Mar. 04 2008 10:51 AM
Tom from Williamsburg

Since you're on the subject of accents. Where did the American accent come from? If you believe David Chase, the American accent was already firmly in place (cursing and all) in the times of Deadwood.

Mar. 04 2008 10:51 AM
Peter from New Haven

I swear, the second that guy opened his mouth I knew he was from Staten Island.

Mar. 04 2008 10:51 AM
Jennifer from Manhattan

I remember hearing that native Staten Islanders don't have an "accent," only those who came from Brooklyn, thus the connection b/w the two "accents" of the boroughs.

Mar. 04 2008 10:51 AM
John from Brooklyn

I'm a cop with the NYPD from the West Coast. The New York accent is alive and well in the NYPD. I often have misunderstandings due to the accent; one funny story: The Sergeant was addressing roll call, and told people to canvass porn shops. I couldn't figure out why nobody thought it was funny that he was telling us to go around and visit porn shops. Until I figured out he was talking about pawn shops.

Of course, I am disbelief when anyone says that I have a accent!

Mar. 04 2008 10:50 AM
Voter from Brooklyn

I wonder if accents like the "New York" accent much like many southern accents are more class based than race or nation of orgin based.Seems like (at lease in the media) the New York accent tends to be a blue-collar accent.

Mar. 04 2008 10:50 AM
Hugh from Park Slope

Aren't there distinct accents within the five boroughs. Brooklyn is different from the Bronx. And supremicist mid-Atlantic upper east side (meaning William Buckley or George Plimpton) is a sure marker of a Manhattanista who thinks he's better than any New Yorker.

Mar. 04 2008 10:49 AM

I think we are losing our "unique way of speaking". I was just remarking to my gf the other day that everyone is starting to sound like a valley girl suddenly.

Everyone saying "like" every 2 words and ending their sentences on an up note as if they were asking a question even when they aren't.

Mar. 04 2008 10:48 AM
Robert from NYC

I was born in da brunx in '46 and raised there in the 50s. I started college in '63 and a course called "Speech" was required at the NY College of Music. I lost, to a some extent, my Bronx speech patterns by practicing for this class and choral singing, and the changes stuck with my daily speech. People would ask me where I was from and when I'd reply the Bronx, they took on an inquisitive look saying but you sound British! I would laugh at that because, trust me, I did not and do not sound British. What I think they were saying is, gee you don't sound like you're from the Bronx, nor from NYC for that matter (so he must be British). But I have my Bronx words, as it were, and if you listen you hear them.

Mar. 04 2008 10:32 AM
michael winslow from INWOOD

I took 2 years of voice and speech with Shane Ann Younts who also teaches at NYU to acquire a standard American accent because my NY accent limited my acting roles.

I've found my NY accent really comes from a closed mouth. This causes the Ah vowel to be an awe. Also dropping "R"s.

Also I just hated my NY accent. When my friends imitated me I would cringe.

So now my NY accent is a choice I can virtually eliminate it with voice & speech practice and all I have to do to get it back is not practice.

Mar. 04 2008 09:39 AM
jeff from ny

I am foreign born but came to NYC at the age of 12. I have an accent, but one time standing at a bank in Florence, Italy- I met these americans from the mid west, who told me that I sounded american but with a foreign accent. Particularly they pointed out that i pronounced certain words (dog) like someone from NYC.
Also, once i asked a person that only reads lips if they could tell that i had an accent, and she could not, eventhough she told me that she could detect accents by reading lips.

Mar. 04 2008 09:39 AM

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