Learning not to tawk like a New Yorker?

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From today's NYT (Sam Roberts, "Unlearning to tawk like a New Yorker"):

The reader comments are interesting.

Contrary to what the voice coach says at about 2:24 of the video, [ɔ] (as in law the way that Lauren is heard saying it) is not a high back vowel — it's back but low-mid, or "open-mid" in the IPA's nomenclature. But quibbling aside, it's good to see such issues getting some coverage.

And after a couple of hours, there are more than 200 reader comments, indicating the level of public interest in such matters.


  1. Harold said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 2:11 pm

    It's useful to be able to code switch (accent switch) when convenient. Those don't have this natural ability are handicapped.

  2. Daniel said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 2:55 pm

    "It's divorcing yourself from where you came from."
    Reflexive pronoun with the object being 'where you came from' and not her.

  3. Kylopod said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 3:23 pm

    I read somewhere that Daniel Day Lewis worked on his 19th-century New York accent by listening to recordings of Walt Whitman. The NY accent has changed over time, of course: though people still say "tawk," I don't think I've ever met anyone who says "hoid" for heard, and I've known many New Yorkers, including some of my relatives. Walter Matthau and Mel Brooks talked that way, but I don't know that anyone younger than that (b. 1920s) does.

  4. VinnyD said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 3:53 pm

    I notice that in the article she describes herself as "Anglican-looking". I wonder if she's thinking of Anglo or Anglo-Saxon? — But perhaps Anglican is exactly what she means.

  5. Bloix said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 3:59 pm

    My father, who grew up in Brooklyn in the 20's and 30's, said that prospective public school teachers used to have to pass a speech test, which was designed to fail people who had strong working class accents. Young Jewish and Italian women apparently had to try to sound like east side matrons in order to get into first grade classrooms.

    Note that Sam Roberts says "Ms Sing-ger."

  6. Dw said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 4:21 pm

    Pretty much everyone says "tawk" for "talk". Who doesn't?

  7. Kylopod said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 4:32 pm

    I think "tawk" is meant to represent a longer, drawn out vowel–it's a bit like "too-awk," but not exactly.

  8. Coby Lubliner said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 4:34 pm

    I was just going to post a comment similar to Dw's. What is the point of writing "tawk"? Probably to indicate the pronunciation of the vowel as [o:], but that trick is lost on those of us who pronounce "aw" (and "al" in "talk" as [ɔ:].

    [(myl) I think this particular piece of eye-dialect represents the variable raising and breaking of THOUGHT vowels to something like [ɔə] or [oə]. Here's a (rather mild) example — listen to the words off and cloth in this phrase from New York 6 at IDEA, shown here as a spectrogram:


  9. John Cowan said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 4:38 pm

    There are still plenty of New Yorkers in their sixties and older who have the CHOICE-NURSE merger and other recessional features of the NYC accent — I probably run into five to ten of them per week. But it's true that the merger is not being passed on, and that the majority of natives (excluding AAVE-speakers, as always) have firmly rhotic NURSE even if their other vowels are variably rhotic. This does not mean that the accent is disappearing, only that it's changing.

    As a long-term NYC resident whose speech habits were formed just outside the isogloss bundle, I find "passing" (for what you're not) regrettable, but I can't blame the people who do it, only the others whose unthinking prejudices make it seem necessary.

  10. Coby Lubliner said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 4:42 pm

    PS. What's surprising is that Roberts didn't write "Noo Yawker".

  11. GeorgeW said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 5:12 pm

    @Dw: I think non-standard spelling is an orthographic signal for a non-standard accent/dialect. Most of us (at least AmE speakers) say /wuz/ for 'was.' But, when someone writes , we know the speaker is non-standard.

    Anyway, I would have spelled it like in kwawfee twawk.

  12. GeorgeW said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 5:17 pm

    Sorry, for some reason a couple of words (benign, polite, non-controversial, not political, not religious, not anti-religious) were deleted in the submit process in the previous post. But, it may make as much (or as little) sense as written.

  13. Chris said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 6:40 pm

    Does anyone else find strange the way she pronounces her last name (LoGiudice)? The antipenultimate stress (in place of what I, a native NYer, would say with penultimate: e.g. loh-dju-DI-chey) is jarring

  14. Bloix said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 6:42 pm

    "I find "passing" regrettable"

    But an actor, surely, is not trying to "pass." She's trying to embody her character.

  15. David L said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 6:43 pm

    I remember seeing an R. Crumb cartoon, in the Noo Yawker I think, in which he depicted his wife saying the word 'gorgeous' as 'gwudjus' or something similar. If I speak that in my mildly Americanized British accent it sounds about as close to a New York accent as I'm likely to produce without professional training.

  16. Dw said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 7:03 pm

    @Paul Mulshine:

    But to a Californian, "tock" and "tawk" would both suggest the same sound, because Californians tend to have the cot-caught merger.

    I am not aware if any native English speaker who would pronounce "tawk" differently from "talk".

    These cross-accent comparisons tend to be difficult without using phonetic symbols or terms.

  17. Jonathan Mayhew said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 7:38 pm

    Chris @6:40 p.m. I'm assuming the Italian stress pattern of LaGIUdiie has been maintained.

  18. Coby Lubliner said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 9:39 pm

    Chris: I also found Ms. LoGiudice's pronunciation of her surname striking, because it's actually very close to the Italian pronunciation (except for the word-final [ɛ] diphthongized to [ɛj]), unlike that of most Italian-Americans. It may due be to her upbringing in Howard Beach, "home to a large Italian population" according to Wikipedia.

  19. Karl Weber said,

    November 19, 2010 @ 10:23 pm

    I remember being shocked to discover in an Edith Wharton novel that in the nineteenth century the "boid" for "bird" pronunciation was characteristic of upper-class New Yorkers rather than the working-class Brooklynites associated with it in old Bugs Bunny cartoons.

  20. Mark F said,

    November 20, 2010 @ 12:19 am

    I don't think I've ever seen eye dialect used for an RP-speaking character in an American novel, or for a General American speaker in a non-US novel. That just reiterates the point that eye dialect is used to indicate non-standardness, but it'd be interesting to see what it would look like. How do you modify spelling to indicate a rhotic dialect in text meant to be read by a non-rhotic speaker? Would the American character order mahtzerella sticks at the Ahliv Garrden?

  21. Coby Lubliner said,

    November 20, 2010 @ 3:03 am

    Mark F: I don't think I've ever seen eye dialect used for an RP-speaking character in an American novel

    Actually, such spellings as "suh" for "sir" and "veddy" for "very" are quite common in American attempts to represent what Americans call simply "British" speech.

  22. Pflaumbaum said,

    November 20, 2010 @ 7:30 am

    @Mark F

    It's a good point. It's rarely remarked on that transliterating accents assumes an accent in the reader. I've often thought that about the novelist Irvine Welsh's transliteration of working-class Scottish accents. If it's supposed to give those speakers a voice, surely it does the opposite, by assuming the reader is English (or at least posh Scots)?

    If a working-class Glaswegian normally reads football as ['fʉʔbaʔ], doesn't writing it fitba imply that ['fʊtbɔːl] is the 'right' way to pronounce the word?

  23. Pflaumbaum said,

    November 20, 2010 @ 7:32 am

    Sorry that /a/ should be a /ɔ/ in my approximation ['fʉʔbɔʔ]

  24. Rodger C said,

    November 20, 2010 @ 1:01 pm

    @Mark F: Bostonian James Russell Lowell represented rhotic Marblehead dialect in "Skipper Ireson's Ride" with rr: 'Harrd hearrt."

    @Dw: I pronounce "talk" with an l-colored vowel.

  25. Geoffrey K. Pullum said,

    November 20, 2010 @ 2:40 pm

    Nobody has mentioned yet that the charlatan dialect-coach lady says [ɔ] is a high back vowel! It is not. It's very close to being a low back vowel. She doesn't know phonetics, and the terminology she uses ("flat"; "sing-songy") is the usual naive crap that people always offer when trying to talk about an accent that they don't know. It is amazing that an actor with a good ear would think she has to go to such a person for lessons in how to say "law and order" the way she has heard Upper East Side people say it. I was repelled by the whole clip.

  26. Jonathan Mayhew said,

    November 20, 2010 @ 3:16 pm

    Mark Liberman mentioned that in his original post, when he writes:

    "Contrary to what the voice coach says at about 2:24 of the video, [ɔ] (as in law the way that Lauren is heard saying it) is not a high back vowel — it's back but low-mid, or "open-mid" in the IPA's nomenclature. But quibbling aside, it's good to see such issues getting some coverage."

  27. Harold said,

    November 20, 2010 @ 7:20 pm

    GiUdice is the correct way to pronounce the word in Italian.

    Also, I think pre-world war 2 the educated upper classes didn't pronounce their final r's. This seems to have come in with television newscasters in the 1950s.

    This young lady looks 100 per cent Irish to me, but whatever her background, she is very beautiful. The star and not the soubrette type. Good luck to her — but I hope she will be able to turn her old accent on when she wants to.

  28. AJD said,

    November 21, 2010 @ 2:00 am

    …Also, in the strong form of the New York accent, /ɔ/ is a high back vowel; that's presumably how Lauren is being trained not to say it.

  29. Rodger C said,

    November 22, 2010 @ 10:36 am

    "Bostonian James Russell Lowell"–I should have said John Greenleaf Whittier. I can never keep the Schoolroom Poets distinct nowadays.

    Body of turkey, head of owl,
    Wings a-droop like a rained-on fowl,
    Feathered and ruffled in every part,
    Skipper Ireson stood in the cart.
    Scores of women, old and young,
    Strong of muscle, and glib of tongue,
    Pushed and pulled up the rocky lane,
    Shouting and singing the shrill refrain
    "Here's Flud Oirson, for his horrd horrt,
    Torr'd an' futherr'd an' corr'd in a corrt
    By the women o' Morble'ead!"

  30. Ken Brown said,

    November 22, 2010 @ 6:18 pm

    @Mark F, us non-rhotics indicate Rfull accents, or mock them, by writing things like "ooh arrrr, Pyrrrates".

  31. Mel Nicholson said,

    November 25, 2010 @ 11:40 am


    You need to listen to the actress more carefully. When she says that "You don't want to leave them, but you're not like them anymore." she tell us that she isn't just trying to pass, but to metamorphose. The interactions between speech and identity go deep.

  32. william-michael costello said,

    January 31, 2013 @ 9:27 am

    When I was in the 7th. grade I asked my motha what the Boston accent is. She answead, "it is the propah way to speak English." So if you loose your Kakis in othah pahts of the country then you have lost youa trouses, but if you loose them in Boston, then you cahn't staht youa cah. I'm still speaking propah.

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