Dr. Frankenstein in Yat

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A few days ago, TPM linked to an political ad in the New Orleans Coroner's race, which gives a good example of a particular NO accent (known as "Yat") about which A.J. Liebling wrote in The Earl of Lousiana:

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.

Liebling's comment follows a piece of dialog in which a lawyer talks about "Uncle Oil" (i.e. "Earl"). See Walt Wolfram and Ben Ward, American Voices, for more information.  Back in 2004, Language Hat mentioned Yat, with a link to a page now called "A Lexicon of New Orleans Terminology and Speech".

The YouTube ad is apparently an exaggeration of what one of the TPM commenters calls "a very old scandal [where] some very small bone chips and some corneas were removed during autopsies without permission of the relatives, according to their lawsuit". (See this article for more information.)


  1. Trimegistus said,

    February 3, 2010 @ 2:26 pm

    The "mad scientist" scene could also be a local New Orleans reference: years ago (1960s-70s) there was a much-loved local horror-movie host, "Doctor Morgus," played by Sid Noel, who did the typical mad-scientist schtick during commercial breaks. The character was revived (heh) in the 1990s, during the heyday of "Elvira" and Mystery Science Theater.

  2. Amy Stoller said,

    February 3, 2010 @ 3:18 pm

    I'm about to be even more picky than usual (can you imagine?), so please forgive me. For those who don't know about the wide variety of accents native to NOLA, your meaning would have been just a tad clearer had you written: "a good example of a particular NO accent known as 'Yat' ". [(myl) Done.]

    I had to coach nearly the entire white cast of Toys in the Attic in the accent of the Lower Garden District, which is nothing like Yat, and the black cast in a different variation, so the sheer number of NOLA accent distinctions (about many of which I am not especially well informed) looms large in my memory.

    I wish the clip had been longer. I have some good Yat stuff tucked away somewhere, I think, but I can always use more.

  3. David Eddyshaw said,

    February 3, 2010 @ 11:28 pm

    If I recall correctly, in John Kennedy Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces", the ghastly protagonist's even more ghastly mother is described as having this sort of accent, with a very similar explanation from the author as to why a New Orleans dialect might end up sounding like New York.

  4. Dmajor said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 3:42 am

    Don't you want to explain why that accent was named "Yat"?

  5. NOLA in Philly said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 4:51 am

    "Where y'at?!"

  6. language hat said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 9:55 am

    Don't you want to explain why that accent was named "Yat"?

    Don't you want to follow the links?

  7. Drew Ward said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 1:19 pm

    @NOLA in Philly

    Ya heard!

  8. Amy Stoller said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 3:37 pm

    @myl: I feel dizzy with power!

  9. NOLA in Philly said,

    February 4, 2010 @ 5:29 pm

    @Drew Ward

    Yeah you rite! :)

  10. Therese said,

    February 5, 2010 @ 10:00 pm

    I'm not a native Yat speaker, though my father and sister are (thanks to schooling and scholarships, I "tawk lika Uptawna" despite being an "Algerine" [or so they'd say]). It drove me crazy the first time I went to the New York/New Jersey area and heard all of these people who someone sounded like New Orleanians but with different stress patterns, etc. I was off the entire time.

    @David Eddyshaw
    Iggy's mother (Irene, wasn't it? classic Yat name!) was indeed a Yat. I always imagined her to be the type to wear pants suits (I believe that they're called jogging suits elsewhere?) in bright colors, except that's a bit anachronistic.

  11. James Kabala said,

    February 7, 2010 @ 8:11 pm

    David Eddyshaw: The very quotation from Liebling was used as an epigraph to the book, although whether chosen by Toole or a posthumous editor, I don't know.

    It was paired with another quotation from the same source about New Orleanians as fundamentally Mediterranean, and I never quite understood the juxtaposition. Was the point that Ignatius and his mother were out of place in New Orleans because they were Irish (from "the same stocks" who populated Manhattan) instead of Mediterranean? That theme was never developed in the rest of the book.

  12. Raymond said,

    December 8, 2011 @ 5:33 pm

    In the book "The YAT language of New Orleans," that is featured all over Google if you click on that title, tells you the complete history of the YAT language and how it got that name. The book also has a complete dictionary of all the YAT words, plus a lot of old pictures of the city going back to the early 1800's. It's a fun book to read. Incidentally, the word YAT to describe the Brooklyn type of accent used in New Orleans started back in the 1950's in the ninth ward in downtown New Orleans. It is a fun book to read. WOW

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