New York accent
The sound system of New York City English is popularly known as a New York accent. The New York metropolitan accent is one of the most recognizable accents of the United States, largely due to its popular stereotypes and portrayal in radio, film, and television. The accent is largely confined to white lower- and middle-class residents of New York City proper, western Long Island, and northeastern New Jersey, directly across the Hudson River from Manhattan, though some of its features have diffused to many other areas; for example, one native working-class accent of New Orleans, Louisiana, locally known as Yat, is strikingly similar to the New York accent. The New York accent is not spoken in the rest of New York State, whose regional accents instead fall under the Hudson Valley and Inland North dialects. The traditional New York accent is predominantly characterized by the following sounds and speech patterns:
- Pre-/r/ distinctions: New York accents lack most of the mergers that occur with vowels before an /r/, which are otherwise common in other varieties of North American English. There is typically a Mary–marry–merry three-way distinction, in which the vowels in words like marry [ˈmæɹi], merry [ˈmɛɹi], and Mary [ˈmeɹi] ~ [ˈmɛəɹi] do not merge. The vowels in furry [ˈfəɹi] and hurry [ˈhʌɹi] are distinct. Also, words like orange, horrible, Florida and forest are pronounced with // or //, the same stressed vowel as part, not with the same vowel as port as in much of the rest of the United States.
|represented by the diaphoneme //||represented by the diaphoneme //|
|pronounced [ɒɹ] in mainstream England||pronounced [ɔːɹ] in mainstream England|
|pronounced [ɒɹ] in Boston||pronounced [ɔɹ] in Boston|
|pronounced [ɔɹ] in Canada|
|pronounced [ɒɹ] in New York City||pronounced [ɔɹ] in New York City|
|pronounced [ɑɹ] in the mainstream United States||pronounced [ɔɹ] in the mainstream United States|
|these five words only:
Tory, warring (etc.)
- Back vowel chain shift before /r/: //, as in Tory, bore, or shore merges with a tongue movement upward in the mouth to //, as in tour, boor, or sure. This is followed by the possibility of //, as in tarry or bar, also moving also upward (with rounding) towards /ɒr/~//. In non-rhotic New York speech, this means that born can be [bʊən] and barn can be [bɒən]. However, unlike the firmness of this shift in Philadelphia English, the entire process is still transitioning and variable in New York City English.
- Coil–curl merger: One of the stereotypes of New York speech is the use of a front-rising diphthong in words with // (or the NURSE vowel). This stereotype is popularly represented in stock phrases like "toity-toid" for thirty-third. The phonetic reality of this variant is actually unrounded [əɪ~ɜɪ]; thus, [ˈt̪əɪɾi ˈt̪əɪd]. This vowel was also used for the vowel //. Labov's data from the mid-1960s indicated this highly stigmatized form was recessive even then. Only two of his 51 speakers under age 20 used the form as compared with those over age 50 of whom 23 out of 30 used the r-less form. Younger New Yorkers (born since about 1950) are consequently likely to use a rhotic [əɹ~ɜɹ] (like in General American) for the diaphoneme // (as in bird), even if they use non-rhotic pronunciations of beard, bared, bard, board, boor, and butter. Labov considers that the phoneme "lingers on in a modified form". In other words, Labov is saying that the /ɜːr/ in New York is slightly raised compared to other dialects. Despite the near-extinction of this feature, Newman (2014) found [əɪ~ɜɪ] variably in one of his participants born in the late 1980s. Related to the non-rhotic variant, a form of intrusive r was also once reported for CHOICE words so that /ɔɪ/ may occur with an r-colored vowel (e.g., [ˈtʰɜɹlət] toilet), apparently as a result of hypercorrection.
While the following consonantal features are central to the common stereotype of a "New York accent", they are not entirely ubiquitous in New York. By contrast, the vocalic (vowel) variations in pronunciation as described above are far more typical of New York area speakers than the consonantal features listed below, which carry a much greater stigma than do the dialect's vocalic variations:
- Non-rhoticity (or r-lessness): The traditional metropolitan New York accent is non-rhotic; in other words, the sound [ɹ] does not appear at the end of a syllable or immediately before a consonant. Thus, there is no [ɹ] in words like park [pʰɒək] (with the vowel rounded due to the low-back chain shift), butter [ˈbʌɾə], or here [hɪə]. However, modern New York City English is variably rhotic for the most part, speakers with noticeable New York City accent also varies between pronounced and silenced [ɹ] in similar phonetic environment, even in the same word when repeated. Non-rhotic speakers usually exhibit a linking or intrusive R, similar to other non-rhotic dialect speakers.
- Laminal alveolar consonants: The alveolar consonants /t/, /d/, /n/, and /l/ may be articulated with the tongue blade rather than the tip. Wells (1982) indicates that this articulation may, in some cases, also involve affrication, producing [tˢ] and [dᶻ]. Also /t/ and /d/ are often pronounced with the tongue touching the teeth rather than the alveolar ridge (just above the teeth), as is typical in most varieties of English. With /t/, glottalization is reported to be more common in New York speech than in other American dialects, appearing, for example, before syllabic /l/ (e.g., bottle [ˈbäʔɫ̩]).
- The universal usage of "dark L", common throughout the U.S., is also possible in the New York accent. Newman (2014) reports /l/ even in initial position to be relatively dark for all accents of the city except the accents of Latinos. However, in the mid-twentieth century, both dark and "not quite so 'dark'" variants of /l/ are reported. The latter occurs initially or in initial consonant clusters, pronounced with the point or blade of the tongue against the alveolar ridge, though this variant is not as "clear" as in British Received Pronunciation.
- Also, // is reported as commonly becoming postalveolar before //, making a word like William for some speakers [ˈwɪʎjəm] or even [ˈwɪjəm].
- Vocalization of /l/: L-vocalization is common in New York though it is perhaps not as pervasive as in some other dialects. Like its fellow liquid /r/, it may be vocalized when it appears finally or before a consonant (e.g., [sɛo] sell, [mɪok] milk).
- Th-stopping: As in many other dialects, the interdental fricatives /θ/ and /ð/ are often realized as dental or alveolar stop consonants, famously like [t] and [d], or affricates [tθ] and [dð]. Labov (1966) found this alternation to vary by class with the non-fricative forms appearing more regularly in lower and working class speech. Unlike the reported changes with /r/, the variation with /θ/ and /ð/ appears to be stable. Historical dialect documents suggest th-stopping probably originated from the influence of immigrant speakers of German, Italian, Irish, and Yiddish to the city starting in the mid-19th century.
- Reduction of /hj/ to /j/: New Yorkers typically do not allow /h/ to be followed by /j/; this gives pronunciations like yuman /ˈjumən/ and yooge /judʒ/ for human and huge.
Social and geographic variation
Despite common references to a "Bronx accent" or a "Brooklyn accent," no published study has found any feature that varies internally within the dialect due to any sort of geographic differences. Impressions that the dialect varies geographically may be a byproduct of class and/or ethnic variation. However, one study has found that more speakers from Queens born in the 1990s and later are showing a cot–caught merger than in other boroughs, though this is likely class-based rather than location-based. Increasing levels of the cot–caught merger among New York natives also appears to be correlated with foreign parentage.
The classic New York dialect is centered on middle- and working-class White Americans, and this ethnic cluster now accounts for less than half of the city's population, within which there is even some degree of ethnic variation. The variations of New York City English are a result of the waves of immigrants that settled in the city, from the earliest settlement by the Dutch and English, followed in the 1800s by the Irish and western Europeans (typically of French, German, and Scandinavian descent). Over time these collective influences combined to give New York its distinctive accent.
Up until the immigration acts of 1920 and 1924 that restricted southern and eastern European immigration, many Eastern European Jewish and Italian immigrants, as well as some later immigrants, arrived and further affected the region's speech. Sociolinguistic research, which is ongoing, suggests that some differentiation between these last groups' speech may exist. For example, William Labov found that Jewish-American New Yorkers were more likely than other groups to use the closest variants of /ɔː/ (meaning towards [ʊə]) and perhaps fully released final stops (for example, pronunciation of sent as [sɛnt] rather than the more General American [sɛnt̚] or [sɛnʔ]), while Italian-American New Yorkers were more likely than other groups to use the closest variants of /æ/ (meaning towards [ɪə]). Labov also discusses Irish origin features being the most stigmatized. Still, Labov argues that these differences are relatively minor, more of degree than kind. All European American groups share the relevant features.
One area that is likely to reveal robust patterns is New York City English among Orthodox Jews, overlapping with Yeshiva English, which can exist outside of the New York metropolitan area as well. Such features include certain Yiddish grammatical contact features, such as topicalizations of direct objects (e.g., constructions such as Esther, she saw! or A dozen knishes, you bought!) or the general replacement of /ŋ/ with /ŋg/, as stereotyped in the eye-dialect phrase "Lawn Guyland" for "Long Island" ([lɔəŋˈɡɑɪɫɪ̈nd] rather than General American's [ɫɒŋˈäɪɫɪ̈nd]), strongly used among Lubavitcher Jews, but a stereotype for the New York accent in general. There is also substantial use of Yiddish and particularly Hebrew words.
Black New Yorkers typically speak African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), though sharing the New York accent's /ɔː/ vowel. Many Latino New Yorkers speak a distinctly local ethnolect, New York Latino English, characterized by a varying mix of New York City English and AAVE features, along with some Spanish contact features. Asian-American New Yorkers are not shown by studies to have any phonetic features that are overwhelmingly distinct, while White New Yorkers alone have been documented as using a phonetic split within // as follows: [äɪ] before voiceless consonants but [ɑːɪ] elsewhere.
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