New York Accents

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

We’ll take a look at accents unique to the New York metro area, and explore how they developed and why some of them may be changing or disappearing altogether with Kara Becker, assistant professor of linguistics at Reed College. Plus, we’ll take your calls.

The phrase "Bother, father bought hot coffee at the car park!" is used by linguists to elicit dialect. We asked people from all over the New York metro area to read the phrase out loud. Hear the results below:

Melanie from New Jersey:

Fred from Long Island:

Alex from Brooklyn:

Sammy from Queens:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Can you guess which borough the New Yorker in our mystery clip (below) is from?

Post your guess in the comments section!

The identiy of our mystery New Yorker:


Kara Becker

Comments [32]

brenda from Westchester

Cindy from Brooklyn called in and was recorded for this show and I can't find it. Can you send it to me?


Nov. 18 2012 12:07 PM
Carolyn Bunkley from Whitestone, NY

I was born, raised, and still live in Queens. When I travel to Texas to visit family, I find that after about 3 days, the Noo Yawk starts to soften, and by the time I come home, my friends make fun of my "Suthun" accent.
I was hoping there would be some discussion of the accent my father's parents had, and the one that would come out in Dad after a few beers. Grandma put a piece of earlcloth under the boidcage. Grandpa helped Dad fix the earlboiner, and told me about how poils came from ersters.
My father never lost his old pronunciation of the 8th letter of the alphabet, haitch, but when he went into the service in 1942, he and others who shared his speech pattern worked very hard to lose it. They apparently were extremely successful, as I can't remember the last time I heard it in normal conversation anywhere.

Aug. 03 2010 01:12 AM
Liz from Savannah

"schlep" is probably more widely known than Leonard supposes -- I grew up in California, where both my Presbyterian-raised husband and I, raised an Episcopalian, certainly knew what it meant!

May. 29 2010 06:49 AM
chris from longuyland

The british have an accent becase of the french otherwise they would speak like
N.Y. ers (the right way ) :) (sort of kidding)

May. 26 2010 08:22 PM
Kate from Brooklyn

My grandmother, originally from Queens, still says "bah-uhl" (bottle) and "It-ly" (Italy), even though she has lived in Duchess Country for 60 years. Her mother apparently used to say "url" (oil) and "turlet" (toilet).

May. 26 2010 03:25 PM
Jess from Princeton, NJ

It's worth pointing out that there isn't any such thing as "accentless" English. People from the UK or Ireland (or anywhere in the Anglophone world) would strongly object to the notion that a classic US news-anchor accent is "accentless."

May. 26 2010 03:20 PM
Tanya from NJ

Ask kids we used to think it was funny to hear my grandmother talk (tawk) about her "gir uhl" (girdle) , or a "bah uhl"(bottle) no "d" or "t" sound in the middle (or should i say mi -uhl!). I have heard older women say it and I realize Grandma lived in New Jersey. It makes me smile.

May. 26 2010 02:00 PM

can you ask her the diference btw accent and dialect?????????????

May. 26 2010 01:55 PM
Brad from State College

I grew up in Vancouver, and North Jersey with a mother from Boston... How does speech/accents develop as children go through adolescents in different geography/settings? When does it become permanent...

May. 26 2010 01:55 PM
Tanya from NJ

I grew up in Rhode Island where we drank "cawfee milk" and said "youse guys". In fact, I was picturing my neighbor Tricia Pinto saying it when we were kids when I made the call.

May. 26 2010 01:55 PM
Karen from Brooklyn

Also, I think there's an emotional component to accents. Being born and raised in Brooklyn, I have almost no noticeable accent. When I'm very angry, however, I speak with a distinctly Brooklyn accent, which unfortunately does not help with being taken seriously when I'm upset.

May. 26 2010 01:54 PM
Jack Jackson from North Brunswick NJ

What about turning 'oi' into 'ur'. Such as turlet. I usually think that is from Queens. Am I right?

May. 26 2010 01:54 PM
Elli from NYC

Why do people drop the trailing T or D, as in "nex" or "suppose(d) to?"

May. 26 2010 01:53 PM
JT from Lawn Guy Land

It seems really difficult for some people to lose their accents, while it seems easy for some actors to acquire an accent. Is it just that some people have a better ear for this?

May. 26 2010 01:51 PM
Micheal from Manhattan

New Orleans accents sound like so called "eubonics" its just old southern speech

May. 26 2010 01:50 PM
Estelle from Austin


May. 26 2010 01:48 PM
Mark from Maplewood, NJ

Regarding not being able to lose your accent:

I grew up in NJ, and went to college in Boston. An older friend of mine there grew up in Boston, but had no accent - while his older brother had a classic "Boston" accent.

My un-accented friend explained that he lived in the dorms for two years with guys from NJ, and just lost the accent as a result!

May. 26 2010 01:44 PM
Tracy from NYC

Can we talk about the way some people from Long Island stress the g in "Long Island?" Like Sally, who called in. How common is this feature?

May. 26 2010 01:40 PM
Jack Jackson from North Brunswick NJ

The voice is from Brooklyn. Why? He sounds like Elliott Gould to me who is from Brooklyn.

I'm from Hackensack - Dad from Virginny and mom from Lincoln University. I sound like I'm from nowhere.

May. 26 2010 01:39 PM
gordon from Manhattan

What about this trend of ending every sentence with an up lilting question tone, like the caller I just heard, annoying but where does it originate. he sounded like he was trying to be careful at the beginning but the queens- moved to manhattan- came out in the end

May. 26 2010 01:37 PM
Jesse from Westchester

He sounds like Anthony Bourdain.

May. 26 2010 01:36 PM
Sandra from Astoria, Queens

I can always recognize a person from New Jersey by the way they pronounce "water." Without exception, all my Jersey friends pronounce it "wooder."

May. 26 2010 01:30 PM

In the mid sixties, every incomming seventh grader at Hunter College High School , was immediatly put into a "speech and drama" class with the aim of ridding all us potential "young ladies" of our New York accents.


May. 26 2010 01:30 PM
Steven from Brooklyn

What about accents from the British West Indies? They are ubiquitous and very different from the classic NYC accent. How are they affected by or changing the NYC accent?

May. 26 2010 01:29 PM
Robert from Manhattan

I grew up in the Bronx. But I never acquired a Bronx accent, perhaps because I spent so much time sitting in front of a TV set, listening to accentless newscasters and actors.

May. 26 2010 01:28 PM

I wonder if your guest will address the pronunciation by New Yorkers of words with an initial "h" like "huge" and "human" as if they begin with a "y". Can that pronunciation be traced back to an earlier linguistic influence?

May. 26 2010 01:28 PM
Estelle from Austin

(And I am not Jewish.)
Great segment, by the way!

May. 26 2010 01:26 PM
tammy from New Jersey

I'm from Canada and my kids' teachers are from Brooklyn. They teach my kids to read with a Brooklyn accent and I don't know how they are supposed to know when a word is spelled with an o but pronounced like an a (like "pot"). Whenever I do homework with my kids I ask them to "read like Mommy".

May. 26 2010 01:25 PM
Estelle from Austin

Use of Yiddish words isn't unique to NYC; I would imagine that anyplace with a large Jewish population---certainly where I grew up in southwest Houston---schlep and kvetch and keep tchotchkes. Oy!

May. 26 2010 01:22 PM
jill from Manhattan

Wishing Leonard Lopate would address the accent and diction of Ms Becker herself, who is immediately identifiable and categorizable as an upwardly mobile and well educated American of a certain age and generation.
For that matter, he could discuss his own charming speech patterns. (Ms Becker's, alas, are not charming)

May. 26 2010 01:18 PM
Micheal from Manhattan

Manhattan is different ... but I was curious as to how UKish the english of US films from the 30's and 40's was and how it was so suddenly changed after that
Queens is the most diverse place in the world and in history by the way

May. 26 2010 01:13 PM

Why do people sound like they are swallowing the end of the word when the say the word

May. 26 2010 01:12 PM

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