Thursday, January 17, 2008

From Pixburgh to Meeyami

I am fascinated by language – in particular, how it evolves, and transforms, and adjusts to our need to express new ideas and new identities. Of course, living in Miami, it’s impossible not to think about language everyday. We have three official languages – Spanish, English and Haitian Kreyol. Spanish is the first language of nearly 67% of the population, while English is the first language of just over 25% of Miamians. Nearly 6% of the city speaks mainly Haitian Kreyol, and with a growing number of Brazilians, Portuguese is becoming more and more common. Miami really is the precise point where, geographically and culturally, Latin America, the Caribbean and North America meet, and the interaction of languages and dialects and accents here is just remarkable.

Spanish in Miami could be of the Cuban, Argentinean or Honduran variety – all of which are very different from each other. And, even English here has a lot of local distinction, depending on the origin of the speaker – Brooklyn, London, Kingston, Memphis, the Bahamas, Boston or Detroit. A guy I work with, from Boston, pahks his cah in the laht. My friend John, from Queens, had a great idear to go to the pizzer parlor, and Jason who’s from Amish-y Lancaster refers to roads made of macadam.

Tony shares my interest, and we both love to discover new regional language quirks and to love to tease and imitate each other’s regionalisms. Tony’s from Syracuse, New York, and his accent often causes people to think that he’s from Michigan or the Chicago area. The cute way he says seehlad dressing and kitty ceeht makes my heart smile. I think it’s so interesting that his accent is expressed all around the Great Lakes, with no real relationship to state borders.

And then, there’s my hometown, Pittsburgh, which not only has its own very distinct accent, but it’s own regionally specific vocabulary. It’s so distinct that there are even Pittsburghese dictionaries. Where someone from the South might ask, “Are y’all goin’ downtown today?” a Pittsburgher would ask “Are yinz gon’ dahntahn t’day?” Pittsburghers aren’t nosy. They’re nebby. Pittsburghers eat jumbo sammiches, pierogies, hoagies and kolbassa, and real Pittsburghers don’t bother with “th” sounds, unless it’s necessary to begin the sentence. Instead of asking “how is this?” a yinzer would ask “hah’s iss?” And Pittsburghers don’t clean their homes, they redd them up.

For whatever reason, I never had a really strong Pittsburgh accent…but most of my family and friends sure did. And, when I moved away, I covered my accent as much as possible, and I made sure to never let a “yinz” slip. But with age comes a different perspective, and now, I think the Pittsburgh accent that I left behind is really cool in its uniqueness.

Like any regional speak, the Pittsburgh accent and vocabulary is the product of a unique history with roots in an old Scots-Irish dialect and a lot of German and Eastern European influence - reflecting the city's immigrant past.

So, what accent do you have, and what regionalisms do you use? What words and/or phrases have you heard that immediately indicated that the speaker was from a particular place?


Michael said...

Hi! It just happened that I dropped by your blog and found this post really interesting. At least I found somebody from Miami again after so many weeks. Anyway, it's really a great share of experiences of researching on languages.

Joe said...

It is snowing in Atlanta today, y'all!!! It's getting slippy on the sidewalks and my car needs brushed off!

Frankie said...

Yinz goin' ta pahnd a few Irons 'n 'at?

I can't even type it correctly.

It's fun to hear Pittsburghese from my fellow coworker (who wears her Pixburgh Stillers garb as often as she can) but I'm quite happy I never picked up the lingo.

Although...we were just as bad with our own version of the Queens language. Seriously. Hi Gurl.

Lauren J said...

If you need to laugh, ask Tony to say "The cat walks past the moneymatic"

I promise you, it's worth it!

Andie Pandie said...

Found you via bunnytude. Growing up just south of the 'burg all of this is extremely familiar to me. Although we said, "nibby" not "nebby". :D