I love New York. And I hate New York.
I’ve lived in New York my whole life and have never been away from it for more than three weeks at a time, at most. While I do feel like New York and I have gotten to know each other really well over the years, she still surprises me once in a while. I mean, New York is huge. (And by “New York” I mean New York City, of course.) Some call it the capital of the world.
A few weeks ago, I had a discussion with my partner about the New York City accent. What was it really? I studied linguistics in undergraduate school, not because I wanted to be a linguist, but because I found the subject really fascinating. I love pointing out people’s accents (hopefully not to their chagrin) and learning about where they come from. I love the mechanics of pronunciation and the evolution of phonetics.
I described the New York accent as still being found in parts of Brooklyn and Long Island. The NY accent I envisioned was the classic R-lessness and L-vocalization in speech like that of Tony Danza and Fran Desscher. But does this accent actually still exist? Or were those just the representations I had been fed through the media? “Neither of us sound like that,” my partner argued. She too is a native “nuyokah” but has also lived in other parts of the world.
She was right. Probably only a handful of New Yorkers really talk like that. In fact, I didn’t hear it at all on the M5 when I rode it, at least not by my definition. I heard foreign languages, code switching, and accents, dialects, and creoles from other states and countries.
On my way back downtown, a women sitting next to me turned and asked, “This stop on Houston Street?” Her –ston in “Houston” was high and sharp, and the Hou- was rounded. I guessed that she was from The South; definitely not a native. Everyone knows it’s pronounced HOW-stən anyway.