New York Accent

COMM 380

Why Do They “Tawk” Like Dat?
A Brief Study of the New York City Accent

New York can easily be called the biggest collection of villages in the world, a melting pot of nearly all the world’s cultures in one small place. For years, the New York accent—from famous faces such as Rosie Perez to Spike Lee, Fran Drescher to Archie Bunker—has been studied, extolled and derided (Bortolot, 2011). New Yorkers keep their accents, wherever they originally may have come from, and the resulting sound(s) are what has come to constitute the globally recognized accent found in the unique “New York City English”. There are many different but recognizable characteristics and sounds that make up the famous accent. Many of which may have surprising origins, and many whose origins may never be known. Contrary to popular belief, in New York City, the origin and classification of accent has more ties to ethnicity than to a speaker’s specific geographic region (such as borough). Over the years and through the evolution of the New York accent, there have been many varying reactions and responses to it, from wearing it proudly to attempts at “un-learning” it altogether. The New York City accent is a variation of the English language that is spoken by the majority of individuals living in New York City and many of the surrounding areas, such as Philadelphia and Boston. Pioneer American sociolinguist William Labov has done the most work on the specific subject and has described it as the most recognizable variety of sounds in American English (Labov, n.d.). Overall, the New York accent is made up of all of the elements within the speaker and the city, and it has defined the language of New Yorkers for generations.
First of all, to understand where the accent originated, we must be familiar with some of the characteristic sounds that may have gone previously unknown or unidentified as a New York characteristic. Based on years of research, American sociolinguist William...