Posts Tagged ‘Bill Labov’

Though I can’t say I’m crazy about the Philadelphia accent — or, for that matter, the accents of other places I’ve lived, like Boston’s, Minnesota’s, and Rochester’s — I really would hate to see it go.

I do like trying to identify where new acquaintances might be from. And the homogenization of regional accents just seems a loss. Maybe not a loss on the scale of endangered languages, but a part of a regional culture we’re likely to miss once it’s extinct like the heath hen.

This was in the NY Times recently: “The Philadelphia regional accent remains arguably the most distinctive, and least imitable, accent in North America. Let’s not argue about this. Ask anyone to do a Lawn Guyland accent or a charming Southern drawl and that person will approximate it. Same goes for a Texas twang or New Orleans yat, a Valley Girl totally omigod.

“Philly-South Jersey patois is a bit harder: No vowel escapes diphthongery, no hard consonant is safe from a mid-palate dent. Extra syllables pile up so as to avoid inconvenient tongue contact or mouth closure. If you forget to listen closely, the Philadelphia, or Filelfia, accent may sound like mumbled Mandarin without the tonal shifts.

“Some dialects can be transcribed onto the page, but the Philadelphia accent really has to be heard to be believed. And when an accent goes silent, so do its speakers. A recent study out of the University of Pennsylvania reported that, like many regional phenomena, the Philly sound is conforming more and more with the mainstream of Northern accents. And that’s a shame.

“The beauty of the Philly accent, and I should point out it’s mostly to whites that these sweeping statements apply, is its mashing-up of the Northern and Southern. Nowhere but in the Delaware Valley can you hear those rounded vowels — soda is sewda, house is hay-ouse — a clear influence from Baltimore and points south.”

More at the NY Times, here. The article is by Daniel Nester. (Nester? Not related to I.H. Nester, my Philadelphia father-in-law’s long ago employer? Now, that would be a small world.)

By the way, if you are interested in the Penn study, check out the National Public Radio interview: “Students of Penn linguistics professor Bill Labov have been walking around some 89 Philadelphia neighborhoods for four decades. At the school’s linguistics lab, they have shelves and shelves of recorded conversations from Philadelphians born in 1888 all the way to 1992.” More here.

Graphic: Jennifer Daniel
Can you identify the sawf pressel, the wooder, torsts (as in ” ‘Lannic city is too torsty ennymore”), a samalem, arnj juyce, a sennid cannle, a miskeeda, and the tayyin rowll (Italian roll)?

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: