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"Toity poiple boids / Sittin on da koib / A-choipin an’ a-boipin / An’ eatin doity woims."
December 6, 2010 1:05 PM   Subscribe

"Toity poiple boids / Sittin on da koib / A-choipin an’ a-boipin / An’ eatin doity woims." From Atlantic Avenue to Zerega Avenue (map), the kinds of New York City accents made famous by the likes of Archie Bunker, Jimmy Breslin and Travis Bickle are disappearing. But though you may not often hear “foath floah” for "fourth floor" in Manhattan anymore, documentary filmmaker Heather Quinlan knows you can still hear strains of the old mellifluous tones in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx, and that's exactly what she's setting out to document in her film If These Knishes Could Talk.
posted by ocherdraco (51 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've always liked using the Speech Accent Archive to explore different accents and try to familiarize myself with ones I've needed for community theater. Their search is pretty abysmal, but there are several on there from New York.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:10 PM on December 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


I read in a old book about Mel Blanc that Bugs Bunny's voice was a mixture of Brooklyn and Bronx accents. Without qualification, that statement is now completely false.
posted by griphus at 1:12 PM on December 6, 2010


Heather is a sweetheart. It was my very great pleasure to meet her a few months ago, when I interviewed her about Irish accents of New York. She's awfully fun, and I just like her a lot.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:13 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


As someone born in Minnesota and living in Fargo, the accents in the Coen movie always struck me as "old people talk" -- that's how my grandparents and their generation talked, and my parents sound a little like but not really, and I don't think I sound anything like that.

Then I talk to somebody from California or Texas, and they immediately say, "hey, you must be from Minnesota, or Canada, or something, right?" grumble grumble. I also realized, after we'd been doing it for a while, that it's also the mocking tone that my wife and I use when browsing rummage sales and admiring the hokey 1970s fashions and poorly-done starving-artist paintings. "oh, yah, that there's a fine pair of polyster slacks, now, don'cha know?"
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:17 PM on December 6, 2010 [8 favorites]


I think she makes a point that boro specific accents are dying and are replaced with group accents, people used to travel very little between boros and could go years without leaving brooklyn. Even within New York most New York accents are considered low class, I got yelled at every time I said "tree" instead of "three" or used the word "youse".
posted by Ad hominem at 1:18 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Back in the late 80s I lived at "toity toid and toid" but I only ever heard it called that in jest.

Across the street was a record store called 33 1/3rd on 3rd and a pet store called 33rd and Bird.
posted by JaredSeth at 1:21 PM on December 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


Meanwhile, I can peg a Russian who grew up in Southern Brooklyn in half a sentence. The Sheepshead Bay accent is alive and well down here.
posted by griphus at 1:23 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


As someone born in Minnesota and living in Fargo, the accents in the Coen movie always struck me as "old people talk" -- that's how my grandparents and their generation talked, and my parents sound a little like but not really, and I don't think I sound anything like that.

Same thing here I knew guys in their 70's that were beyond comprension. Guys that said "earl" instead of oil, people who thought "whore" was actually spelled "whoa" because they had only ever heard it pronounced "who-a" and its not like they teach you hot to spell it in school. There is still the generic quido accent and a few others but thats it.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:29 PM on December 6, 2010


My favorite NYC accent is the announcer at Jack's 99Cent Store on West 32nd Street off Broadway. Classic. It's worth going in just to hear him list the specials on the third floor. Gives me a wry smile every time.
posted by nickyskye at 1:30 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've been living in New York a long time and I have to say.... I don't think thick New York accents sound charming or intelligent. I think the origins are interesting but actually hearing people talk that way doesn't turn me on at all.
posted by Liquidwolf at 1:30 PM on December 6, 2010


You'se just ain't hoid one done proper like.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:32 PM on December 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


PS Fun post, thanks ocherdraco.
posted by nickyskye at 1:32 PM on December 6, 2010


I don't think thick New York accents sound charming or intelligent.

Ah well, more for me, then!
posted by maudlin at 1:48 PM on December 6, 2010


This is a fascinating post. Thank you, ocherdraco. Nicely done!
posted by zarq at 1:51 PM on December 6, 2010


Even as I was growing up on Lawn Guyland in the '60s/'70s this accent was dying out. Only older people talked that way. I recall the old waitress at the local soda fountain who would call out "boiger!" whenever I ordered a hamburger (only 50 cents!).
posted by tommasz at 1:54 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I always think of Mr. Hooper, but then again I was a kid in the 70s. I have no idea what younger people would associate it with.
posted by metameat at 1:58 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I had either an elderly distant aunt or friend thereof who pronounced Cortelyou kuh-TILL-yuh. She was from Brooklyn, definitely Archie Bunker's generation. For some reason, the sound of her saying that one word has stuck with me.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 2:16 PM on December 6, 2010


This seems to be true. Growing up in Brooklyn in the 70s and 80s, me and my friends did our best to rid ourselves of sounding this way. We were self conscious of being from the outer boroughs and those were the days when being from the boroughs meant you were poor and uneducated. My cousin even went as far as taking speech classes to remove her thick Queens accent because it prevented her from getting hired at law firms. To this day I can't pronounce a couple of words without giving myself away. "Horror" and "Dresser drawer" always gets a laugh from my transplant friends.
posted by cazoo at 2:21 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Y'all should be proud of your accents. It's family, culture, and history. Socioeconomic status too, but the first three there are important.

I've always been somewhat sympathetic to the embattled French, too.
posted by Xoebe at 2:30 PM on December 6, 2010


No accents sound intelligent. They are the sound of people in a community identifying themselves with language... the stronger the association, the stronger the accent. Intelligent people identify with other intelligent people, and by intelliigent, I mean intellectual. Autodidacts generally don't hear enough proper pronunciation to despise their neighbors for being unintelligent, so you have programmahs in Baahstin droppin they ahhhs, and artists in Austin with a drawl so long and thick you could rope a calf with it.

My accent is fainter than I like... not because I'm ashamed of sounding smart, but because I'm proud of where I am, and who I'm here with.
posted by Slap*Happy at 2:34 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes the residents of those neighborhoods and in those socio-economic groups today all speak the queen's english. No accents amongst the working class in this town anymore.
posted by JPD at 2:52 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


The New York accent has a long pedigree. Why are we New Yorkers so ashamed of it? Is a Scotsman ashamed of his burr, an Irish person, the brogue? It's sad, really and I wonder why we New Yorkers have so much ingrained self-hatred for our linguistic patrimony. Do we really want to all sound like cookie cutter TV announcers?

I mean a Southern or a "Texas" accent, formerly derided as much as a New York accent is now a source of in-your-face pride. People who have never been on a horse in their lives move to Texas and et voila! all of a sudden talk like LBJ (I'm looking at you Dubya!)

Now on the subway they have this annoying (*) recorded announcement of a woman advising us "to stay away from the platform edge, especially when innering (sic) or leaving the station." Her accent? pure southern of course! She'd be great for the MARTA but if you're going to hire an announcer with a regional accent anyway, couldn't you at least show enough pride to have the person use your own accent? I have fantasies about meeting this person and doing a reverse My Cousin Vinnie.
Me: "Excuse me lady, what's 'innering?'"
VO gal: "Excuse me, sir, ENTERING!"

So say it loud I'm a Noo Yawkuh and I'm proud!


* It's annoying not because of accent, but because the NY MTA, finally proud of itself for bringing subway technology into the 80s, have programmed these announcements to play every freakin' second on a near non-stop loop. It'd be annoying in ANY accent.

posted by xetere at 3:00 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I ain't ashamed a shit. I've got a New Yawk accent and there ain't nothin' wrong with it.

Just the number of doors it opens and fascinating conversations and encounters it starts alone makes me laugh out loud at all the assholes who talk about how "low class" it sounds. People are charmed by it everywhere I've ever gone, and I can't even count the number of times I've been told "You talk just like tee vee!"

My accent and my native New York heritage is where I'm a Viking. Fuck alla youse who have a problem with it.
posted by perilous at 3:39 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Half the pleasure of visiting New York is listening to people talk.
posted by bwg at 3:42 PM on December 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


xetere, you're spot-on about the MTA announcer: she lives in Maine now, but grew up in and lived in Louisville, Kentucky before that.
posted by ocherdraco at 3:56 PM on December 6, 2010


I don't think thick New York accents sound charming or intelligent. I think the origins are interesting but actually hearing people talk that way doesn't turn me on at all.

Several million peolle are losing a nights sleep over your opinion. To be honest, people who have an aversion to regional accents irk me, it's like they want to erase any kind of regional identity and make evryone sound like anchormen. Fuck that.
posted by jonmc at 4:01 PM on December 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


xetere, you're spot-on about the MTA announcer: she lives in Maine now, but grew up in and lived in Louisville, Kentucky before that.


Just call me Henry Higgins.
posted by xetere at 4:34 PM on December 6, 2010


Great post!

> I've been living in New York a long time and I have to say.... I don't think thick New York accents sound charming or intelligent.

You know da way outta town, dontcha? Ya go straight up da Henry Hudson Parkway to da George Washington Bridge an' hang a left. I'm givin you directions by car because I don' figger you for someone who enjoys ridin da subway.
posted by languagehat at 5:04 PM on December 6, 2010 [8 favorites]


I should add that I've known two women, one from Tulsa and one from the Bronx, both who have very bland accenetd voices. When I was stunned upon hearing where they came from they both said that they used to get yelled at by their moms when they'd display any accent or regionalisms in their voices. That's just sad.
posted by jonmc at 5:27 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I make sure to appreciate the live conductor announcements on the subway, as I figure those ultimately will be replaced by Ms.-Maine-via-Kentucky. They all make me smile.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:03 PM on December 6, 2010


The live announcements are actually understandable nowadays, did they get better mics or did they start doing announcement auditions when hiring new conductors?
posted by Ad hominem at 8:14 PM on December 6, 2010


Here's my regional accent.
My New Yorker friends were puzzled by the plural "you" = "yinz". They were not puzzled by the term "yutz," however.
posted by eegphalanges at 9:17 PM on December 6, 2010


Why are we New Yorkers so ashamed of it?

Fear of being mocked on YouTube, perhaps?
posted by rodgerd at 9:22 PM on December 6, 2010


Fear of being mocked on YouTube, perhaps?
posted by rodgerd at 9:22 PM on December 6


Gotta hope dat Chloe ain't hoid aboud dis, den.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:37 PM on December 6, 2010


I was seeing to the heating in this building once, up in Carnegie Hill. I had to bring this plumber through each apartment so he could check the radiators. (It was a stupid thing, the furnace was under-sized and really the landlord was just buying time until spring when he would kick everyone out and then get new tenants for the next year. Lemme tell ya, that landlord was all class.)

Anyrate, so one of the tenants was a 'masseuse' (not really, not licensed, but she had to call herself something) who gave 'readings' and also (if the other two didn't work, I guess) colonics. She had a machine in the bathroom. The plumber, a nice enough guy, was from Sheepshead Bay and when we got to the 'masseuse's' apartment he did a triple take at the machine in her bathroom. He was a pro though and said nothing in the moment.

When we were done with the survey I bought him a coffee while he wrote up the invoice. When he was done writing he gave a look around and then kind of leaned in to me.
"So, uh, lemme ask yuh. That lady, in 9 - she's a hoo-wah, write?"
"A say what?"
"A hoo-wah."
"Ay, a... beg your pardon?"
"A HOOWAH. You know, a hoo-wah." He doesn't quite do a hip-grind but I think only because he saw that I was starting to get what he was onto.
"Aha. Ah, yeah. Yeah, maybe, I dunno."
"I think so. You see that thing in her toilet? I think she's a hoowah. You think she'd do a trade wid me? I fix her heat, she'd fuck me?"
I had to really look at him to see if he was putting me on or not. A 'hoo-wah', you kidding me? No, no, he really wants an answer, figures I must know, he's not kidding. I don't know if the woman was a prostitute or not, up until then it had never occurred to me.
"I dunno guy. All you can do is ask."
'Hoo-wah' this still blows me away, however many years on...only the dead can know Brooklyn.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:34 AM on December 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


I feel old now. Accents, dead? But...my first (deceased) partner made huge effort to train out his Brooklyn accent. But he was an actor at the time. His sister seemed to make every effort to emphasize hers. (guido)

My accent is completely and, at times embarrassingly, plastic. But when I get angry, it tends to come out with a Brooklyn accent, quite like that of my former sister-in-law. And me, a fine Midwestern WASP! LOL. My usual speaking voice today I'm not even sure what it is. Probably closer to the Queen's English than Midwestern American, but maybe not. It gets thick that way sometimes, and I have to make an effort to stay Midwestern. Oddly, for no known reasons, I sometimes speak in accents I can't identify.
posted by Goofyy at 2:23 AM on December 7, 2010


I should add that I've known two women, one from Tulsa and one from the Bronx, both who have very bland accenetd voices. When I was stunned upon hearing where they came from they both said that they used to get yelled at by their moms when they'd display any accent or regionalisms in their voices. That's just sad.

Why?

What is there to be proud of in saying "dis," "dese," and "dose" instead of pronouncing the words properly?

My mother did the same thing. While I do have a regional accent when it comes to certain words ("Longuyland") I'm not immediately identifiable as someone who grew up in Brooklyn and Queens. I like that. I tend to thing it helps me in business.

There are stereotypes associated with most accents. If you have.a choice, why not make an effort to raise your kids to speak in a way that folks in other, English-speaking areas of the world won't assume sounds uncouth or uneducated? Or worse, acts as a barrier to communication?
posted by zarq at 5:27 AM on December 7, 2010


If you have.a choice, why not make an effort to raise your kids to speak in a way that folks in other, English-speaking areas of the world won't assume sounds uncouth or uneducated?

Because it robs them of their cultural identity, and teaches them to be ashamed of their friends and family for an arbitrarily bullshit reason.

Howabout you teach them not to judge someone by their accent, instead?
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:25 AM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


zarq, honest question, I'm not being snarky: would you really prefer it if everyone talked the same way?
posted by languagehat at 6:49 AM on December 7, 2010


People who have never been on a horse in their lives move to Texas and et voila! all of a sudden talk like LBJ (I'm looking at you Dubya!)

George W. Bush moved to Texas with his family when he was 2 years old. He would indeed have been an unusual kid if he'd been riding a horse before his second birthday.
posted by Jahaza at 7:25 AM on December 7, 2010


I don't think thick New York accents sound charming or intelligent. I think the origins are interesting but actually hearing people talk that way doesn't turn me on at all.

Several million peolle are losing a nights sleep over your opinion. To be honest, people who have an aversion to regional accents irk me, it's like they want to erase any kind of regional identity and make evryone sound like anchormen. Fuck that.


Well sorry about that, no need to lose sleep over it. I didn't say I don't like regional accents or identities, I just don't really like New York accents that much. And no, I don't want everyone to sound the same. Like I said, I think accents are fascinating. The New York one just kinda gets on my nerves, maybe because I hear it too much. I love New York, I just don't romanticize the accent that much- maybe I should start. Sorry to offend.
posted by Liquidwolf at 7:28 AM on December 7, 2010


Because it robs them of their cultural identity, and teaches them to be ashamed of their friends and family for an arbitrarily bullshit reason.

It does no such thing. I certainly have a cultural identity. I was born and raised in New York, and have lived here for most of my life (I'm in my late 30's.) This is my home, and there are many, many things I love about it.

But while I don't personally define myself by whether or not I speak with an accent, I am cognizant that there are many people in the world who hear one and make assumptions. It's hard enough to get by in this world without having to clear unnecessary hurdles. Plus I work in an industry that emphasizes clear communications and in a job where it is necessary for me to be easily understood by many contacts for whom English is not their native language. So my relative (not complete) lack of accent helps a bit when I have to speak with folks in say, Korea.

Howabout you teach them not to judge someone by their accent, instead?

I absolutely plan to teach them not to judge people by their accents.

On the other hand, I do tend to think that (in the future) telling my kids that they might be better understood if they expressed themselves without a pronounced accent isn't teaching them to be ashamed of who they are, or of other people.
posted by zarq at 7:51 AM on December 7, 2010


So... they need to sound like they're from Peoria or people will think there's something wrong with them, but they shouldn't be ashamed of being New Yorkers?
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:56 AM on December 7, 2010


So... they need to sound like they're from Peoria or people will think there's something wrong with them, but they shouldn't be ashamed of being New Yorkers?

I disagree with your premise.

Racism exists. Sexism exists. Casual cultural assumptions exist. Ignorance exists. In my life I have experienced many acts of casual, institutionalized and at times violent antisemitism for being different in an American culture that vilified Jews. I absolutely think it would be harmful to my children not to educate them that sometimes people hold irrational assumptions and biases, both minor or major. I think that there are environments when it is acceptable to be different and others when it can be downright dangerous.

In doing so, I'm not telling them that they should be ashamed of who they are. I'm not telling them they shouldn't be proud of themselves and their hometown. I'm telling them to be prudent and circumspect. They live in the real world.

The classic New York accent I grew up with is obviously not dangerous. But at the same time I would be remiss if I didn't tell my kids that it has inappropriately become a bit of a punch line in modern culture, and that in general, people who speak incorrectly are often taken to be uneducated. Having people stereotype them by the way they speak would be yet another hurdle for them to clear.

You keep using the word "ashamed." I have now repeatedly told you that my children will be taught not to be ashamed of themselves. Just as I am not in any way ashamed to be Jewish, despite what I learned from a young age about the way Jews are viewed by some people in our culture.

This isn't a matter of shame.
posted by zarq at 10:00 AM on December 7, 2010


zarq, honest question, I'm not being snarky: would you really prefer it if everyone talked the same way?

No, not at all. That would be boring.

But at the same time I don't think that pushing one's own kids to speak with less of an accent is going to somehow spur mass conformity. :)
posted by zarq at 10:22 AM on December 7, 2010


By the way, slap*happy....

I'm a fifth-generation New Yorker on my mom's side. Was born in Jamaica, Queens. Have lived in one or another of the boroughs of this city for most of my life, work here and am raising my family here. There's a decent possibility that members of my family have been living in this city longer than any of the other New Yorkers in this thread.

Do you really think an argument that I'm somehow ashamed to be a New Yorker, or am going to deliberately or inadvertently teach my kids to be ashamed of their rich, wonderful heritage is going to be in any way accurate?
posted by zarq at 10:28 AM on December 7, 2010


There's a decent possibility that members of my family have been living in this city longer than any of the other New Yorkers in this thread.


1830's - first boat of jews from Germany.

The accent thing is socio-economic. Its not a choice. My mom grew up in a less wealthy part of the NY area then I did. My grandfather on her side grew up very poor in Queens. I have very little accent, she has a bit more of an accent, he had a pretty strong accent. But no one was trying to get rid of it, it just happens.

That's also why I'm not comfortable with the idea of the "NY accent disappearing" its not disappearing its changing as the urban population moves from being of white european descent to being from somewhere else. Does a 14 year old from Elmhurst sound like a 14 year old from a poorer part of LA or Chicago? Maybe the differences aren't as marked as they once were, but they still exist. Even if its just slang and grammar.
posted by JPD at 10:52 AM on December 7, 2010


You keep using the word "ashamed." I have now repeatedly told you that my children will be taught not to be ashamed of themselves. Just as I am not in any way ashamed to be Jewish, despite what I learned from a young age about the way Jews are viewed by some people in our culture.

I personally don't care much about religion, and don't usually put out a Menorah but I'd never EVER not put out a Menorah because I am afraid of what the goyim think. To me, your argument about the NY accent sounds uncomfortably close to that or at least a bit of momentum down that cliched "slippery slope" ride --

"don't say kawfee darling, what would the Midwesterners think?"

It sounds to me like you are ashamed, even if you say your not. Maybe I'm wrong, but...


The thing that gets me is, a Southern accent has been looked down upon as "redneck" or uncultured, what have you, for as long, and even longer than a New York accent. Now it has a sort of defiant reverse pride, and Southern politicians sound like they are trying to "out-drawl" each other! A New York version of Charlie Rose or Jim Lehrer wouldn't even make it past security, much less be on public television. Yet we New Yorkers still buy into the stereotypes. I can't imagine having this kind of conversation in Birmingham Alabama today, maybe fifty years ago, yes. I can't imagine a Mississippian thinking of an accent-reduction course to get ahead nowadays.

Yet if someone tells a New Yorker he doesn't have an accent, the response would likely be "Thank you" as if that New Yorker succeeded at "passing."
posted by xetere at 11:16 AM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


It sounds to me like you are ashamed, even if you say your not. Maybe I'm wrong, but...

I'm not really sure how I should respond to this. Or if I should even bother. You're either calling me a liar, or telling me that you know better than me how I feel about a situation that affects me personally.

Don't bother clarifying. I'll take the high road and walk away from the thread now.
posted by zarq at 12:26 PM on December 7, 2010


What is there to be proud of in saying "dis," "dese," and "dose" instead of pronouncing the words properly?

We're all up on prescriptivism vs. descriptivism here, right? There is no such thing as "properly" except what the culture defines. In older movies, "proper" characters spoke with a clipped, somewhat New England or even Transatlantic accent, because that was the way educated people were supposed to speak. Sometime later, a Midwestern flat accent became dominant.

In Britain, Received Pronunciation used to be the default, drummed into everyone at Oxbridge; now a more working class Estuary English is coming to be the London standard (most Americans would call it Cockney, but it's only partially).

Meanwhile, across a swathe of the United States, a Northern Cities accent is coming to the fore.

And of course, the English we speak today would be unrecognizable to Shakespeare. Was his accent correct? Is any particular American accent correct? It's absurd.

I'm not trying to perpetuate any pile-on, just pointing out how arbitrary a designation like "proper" is. Speaking the way the culture considers proper undoubtedly has benefits, and the converse is probably more true in that certain "improper" accents have extremely negative cultural baggage. There's nothing wrong with someone shedding that accent to advance their career, whether it's at UPS or CBS. But it's silly to ascribe universal values to any of that.

For a collision of two distinctive accents -- NYC-born William F. Buckley's classic patrician accent and Normal Mailer's somewhat tempered New Jersey accent -- see this Firing Line interview. Funny, the city native has the proper accent, and the arguably then-greatest-living American writer has a less proper one.
posted by dhartung at 10:06 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


This idea that anyone can be taught to speak "without an accent" is just silly. Such a construct merely proves that the person espousing such an unattainable ideal doesn't actually grasp how communication works.

Cripes, in the days of telegraphy, certain operators were recognizable by their "fist". This axiom remains true to this day. Insisting that anyone can be divorced from their background and biological predisposition is the height of arrogance.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 7:43 PM on December 9, 2010


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