Yat dialect

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Yat is a dialect of English spoken in the Greater New Orleans Area. The term refers to those people who speak with the Yat accent and dialect of New Orleanians throughout the city. The name comes from the common use amongst said people of the greeting, "Where y'at?" (Where are you at?), which is a way of asking, "How are you?" The Yat dialect has its influences from Louisiana French and Southern American English, particularly Older Southern American English as well as from the presence of European languages brought with immigrants to the city. Port cities like New Orleans and New York City (with regards to the surrounding boroughs) have caused the growth of similar dialects as both cities attracted many European immigrants during the 19th century. The result has yielded similar dialects which combine sounds from Irish, German, Italian and many other immigrants' speech which have blended with the local dialect to create a new variant.[1]

While the term Yat is usually reserved specifically for the strongest varieties of the New Orleans dialect, the term often refers specifically to speakers of Yat in some parts of the city and the inner suburbs of New Orleans, Louisiana. Though Yat is said to be the language of the Ninth Ward, "Yat" is one of many sub-dialects of the New Orleans dialect that is spoken throughout the city.

History[edit]

Louisiana’s dialects compose the most diverse and eclectic vernaculars found in the continental United States.[2] Allan A. Metcalf discusses the socioeconomic associations linked with speakers of Yat. He notes that Yats mostly live near the Irish Channel in blue collar neighborhoods. The dialect's connotation with the working class, white population encodes the speaker’s identities. Metcalf describes the historical linguistic setting of Louisiana from the Choctaw to the French along with Spanish and English.[3]

The origins of the accent are described in A. J. Liebling's book, The Earl of Louisiana, in a passage that was used as a foreword to John Kennedy Toole's well-known posthumously published novel about New Orleans, A Confederacy of Dunces:[4]

There is a New Orleans city accent . . . associated with downtown New Orleans, particularly with the German and Irish Third Ward, that is hard to distinguish from the accent of Hoboken, Jersey City, and Astoria, Long Island, where the Al Smith inflection, extinct in Manhattan, has taken refuge. The reason, as you might expect, is that the same stocks that brought the accent to Manhattan imposed it on New Orleans.[5]

Today, few citizens of German or Irish background occupy the Third Ward, however, the presence of immigrant groups in the city of New Orleans has inevitably lead to the formation of the Yat dialect [1]

Historically, the city of New Orleans has been home to people of French and Spanish heritage, as well as those of African heritage, which led to the creation of the Louisiana Creole language. This city came under U.S. rule in the Louisiana Purchase, and over the course of the 19th century, the city transitioned from speaking French to becoming a non-rhotic English speaking society. Similarly, much of the south has historically spoken non-rhotic English. The city's geographic isolation has helped lead to the creation of a new local dialect.

A misconception in other parts of the US is that the local dialect of New Orleans is Cajun. The city's cultural and linguistic traditions are distinct from that of the predominantly rural Acadiana, an area spanning across South Louisiana. While there has been an influx of Cajuns into the city since the oil boom of the later 20th century and while there are some similarities due to shared roots, Cajun culture has had relatively little influence upon Creole culture and thus Yat culture. The confusion of Cajun culture with the Creole culture is largely due to the confusion of these French cultures by the tourism and entertainment industries; sometimes deliberately as "Cajun" was discovered to be a potentially lucrative marketing term.

A Yat accent is considered an identity marker of white, metropolitan people who have been raised in the greater New Orleans area. Speakers with a New Orleans accent are typically proud of their accent as it organically stems from the historical mixing of language and culture. As an African-American population has occupied New Orleans prior to 1803 before the presence of many other Western European immigrants, black New Orleanians share more lingual characteristics with the white (predominantly working-class) population than in most other communities in the Southern United States. This distinctive accent has been dying generationally in the city due to white flight of the city, but remains very strong in the suburbs.

Local variance[edit]

The Yat dialect is the most pronounced version of the New Orleans Accent. Natives often speak with varying degrees of the Brooklyn-esque accent, ranging from a slight intonation to what is considered full Yat. As with all dialects, there is variance by local speakers due to geographic and social factors. This results in many different levels of Yat throughout the area, marking distinct differences between higher-income people and lower-income people. Yat tends to differ in strength and intonation from neighborhood to neighborhood. The type, strength, and lexicon of the accent vary from section to section of the New Orleans Metropolitan Area. Longtime residents can often tell what area the other residents are from by their accent.

Speakers of this dialect originated in the Ninth Ward, as well as the Irish Channel and Mid-City. Slighter intonations of the dialect can be heard in some parts of the city, such as Lakeview, the Marigny, the Garden District, and some parts of Gentilly, but mainly in the suburbs. The dialect is present to some degree in all seven parishes that make up the New Orleans metropolitan area, from St. Tammany to Plaquemines. As with many sociolinguistic artifacts, the dialect is usually more distinct among older members of the population. The New Orleans suburban area of Chalmette is known for the strongest Yat accent of the Greater New Orleans area, due to the massive population of White Ninth Warders relocating to Chalmette in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana.

Linguistic features[edit]

Pronunciation[edit]

There are also numerous phonological differences between words pronounced in the dialect and their standard equivalents. This most often occurs in the form a stress-shift towards the front of a word (i.e. 'insurance', 'ambulance' as [ˈinʃuɻəns], [ˈæmbjəˈlæns]), or in the form of a change in vowel quality. A southern tendency that shifts vowel sounds known as monophthongization has distinctly separated Yat from other port city dialects.[1]

Some of the most distinct features are:

  • the rounding and lowering in some cases of /a/ and /ɔ/ to [ɔʷ] (i.e., 'God,' 'on,' 'talk', become [ɡɔʷd], [ɔʷn], [tɔʷk])
  • the loss of rhoticization on syllables ending in /ɻ/ (i.e. 'heart,' fire' become [hɔʷt], [ˈfajə])
  • the full rhoticization of a syllable-internal /ɔj/ (i.e. 'toilet,' becomes [ˈtɝlɪt]). This feature is more typical in men than in women.
  • the loss of frication in the interdental fricatives /θ/ and /ð/ (i.e. 'the,' 'there,' 'strength' become [də], [ˈdæə], [ʃtɻejnt])
  • the substitution of /ɪn/ or /ən/ (spelled -in, -en) for /ɪŋ/ (spelled -ing)
  • the split of the historic short-a class into tense [eə] and lax [æ] versions
  • the coil–curl merger of the phonemes /ɔɪ/ and /ɝ/, creating the diphthong [ɜɪ], before a consonant, in words such as boil, oil, and spoil, although this feature has mostly receded, except St. Bernard Parish

And then there are words which can be pronounced differently, yet according to no particular pattern: 'sink' [ˈziŋk], 'room' [ˈɻʊm], 'mayonnaise' [ˈmejnæz], 'museum' [mjuˈzæm], 'ask' [ˈæks], just to name a few examples.

New Orleans is pronounced [nəˈwɔʷlɪnz], [nəˈwɔʷlijənz] or with the /ɻ/ still intact. The N'awlins' [nɔlɪnz] of the tourist industry and the common [nuwɔɻˈliːnz] are not to be heard among natives. Louisiana is pronounced as the standard [luˈwiziænə] or a slightly reduced [ləˈwiziænə], but never[citation needed] as [ˈluziænə].

New Orleans accent in popular conception[edit]

The characters "Vic & Nat'ly" by local cartoonist Bunny Matthews are what some might call Yats.

The distinct New Orleans dialect has been depicted in many ways throughout the city and the U.S.

The main character of the cartoon strip Krazy Kat spoke in a slightly exaggerated phonetically-rendered version of early-20th century Yat; friends of the New Orleans-born cartoonist George Herriman recalled that he spoke with many of the same distinctive pronunciations.

Actual New Orleans accents were long seldom heard nationally. New Orleanians who attained national prominence in the media often made an effort to tone down or eliminate the most distinctive local pronunciations. Dan Baum's Nine Lives shares the feelings of Ronald Lewis, a native of the Ninth Ward who is embarrassed by his local dialect when speaking in front of a group of white northerners. After the displacement of Greater New Orleans area residents due to Hurricane Katrina, the United States was introduced to some of the New Orleans yat accents due to the constant news coverage. Stephen Seagal's show Lawman also exposed some of the Yat accents and dialects to the nation as well.

Ronnie Virgets, a New Orleans writer, commentator, and journalist, employs New Orleans dialects and accents in his written and spoken works, including the locally produced public radio program, Crescent City. WWNO, the local public radio station, broadcasts the program and provides access to past Crescent City programs on its website.

A Midwest Cajun restaurant chain based in Indianapolis, Indiana carries the name Yats. Also, cell phone company Boost Mobile used the phrase "Where Y'At?" in early advertising campaigns.

Who Dat? is a chant commonly tied to the Yat dialect and used in support of the New Orleans Saints football team. The entire chant is "Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?" Saints fans are collectively called "Who Dat Nation."

The Yat dialect is seldom heard when New Orleans is depicted in movies and television shows. Traditionally, characters portrayed from New Orleans are heard using a southern or Cajun accent. An example of this is 1986's The Big Easy in which Dennis Quaid speaks an exaggerated Cajun/southern derivation.[6] This trend has been challenged, though, in light of post-Katrina New Orleans representation, like HBO's Treme and Werner Herzog's The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, both of which feature actual New Orleans locals either speaking in Yat or one of its variations.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Ben Trawick-Smith (1 September 2011). "On the Hunt for the New Orleans Yat". Dialect Blog. Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  2. ^ http://aschmann.net/AmEng/#NewOrleans
  3. ^ Metcalf, Allan A. How We Talk: American Regional English Today. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. Print.
  4. ^ Toole, John Kennedy (1980). A Confederacy of Dunces. Baton Rouge: LSU.
  5. ^ Liebling, A. J. (1970). The Earl of Louisiana. Baton Rouge: LSU.
  6. ^ The Big Easy (1986) trailer on YouTube

References[edit]

  • Baum, Dan (2009). Nine Lives. New York: Spiegel & Grau. 

External links[edit]