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. Several other common names exist for the accent, associating it with more specific locations in the New York City area, such as a Bronx accent, Brooklyn accent, Long Island accent, or North Jersey accent; however, no research has demonstrated significant linguistic differences between these locations.
The following is an overview of the phonological structures and variations within the accent.
|Pure vowels (Monophthongs)|
|English diaphoneme||New York City realization||Example words|
|/æ/||[æ] listen||act, pal, trap|
|[ɛə~eə~ɪə] listen||bath, mad, pass|
|/ɑː/||[ɑ~ɑ̈~ɒ(ə)] listen||blah, father|
|/ɒ/||[ɑ~ɑ̈] listen||bother, lot, wasp|
|[ɔə~oə~ʊə]||dog, loss, cloth|
|/ɔː/||all, bought, taught, saw|
|/ɛ/||[ɛ]||dress, met, bread|
|/ə/||[ə]||about, syrup, arena|
|/ɪ/||[ɪ~ɪ̈]||hit, skim, tip|
|/iː/||[i~ɪi]||beam, chic, fleet|
|/ʊ/||[ʊ]||book, put, should|
|/uː/||[u] or [ʊu~ɤʊ~ɤu]||food, glue, new|
|/aɪ/||[ɑɪ~ɒɪ~äɪ] listen||ride, shine, try|
|[äɪ] listen||bright, dice, pike|
|/aʊ/||[a̟ʊ~æʊ]||now, ouch, scout|
|/eɪ/||[eɪ~ɛɪ] listen||lake, paid, rein|
|/ɔɪ/||[ɔɪ~oɪ] listen||boy, choice, moist|
|/oʊ/||[ɔʊ~ʌʊ]||goat, oh, show|
|Vowels followed by /r/|
(rhotic: [ɒɹ~ɑɹ]; older: [ɑ̈ə])
|barn, car, park|
|/ɪər/||[ɪə~iə] listen (rhotic: [ɪɹ~iɹ])||fear, peer, tier|
|/ɛər/||[ɛə~eə] (rhotic: [ɛɹ~eɹ])||bare, bear, there|
|/ɜːr/||[ɝ] listen (older: [əɪ])||burn, first, herd|
|[ɝ] or [ʌ(ː)~ʌə]||her, were, stir|
|/ər/||[ə] (rhotic: [ɚ])||doctor, martyr, pervade|
|/ɔːr/||[ɔə~oɐ] (rhotic: [ɔɹ~oɹ])||hoarse, horse, poor |
score, tour, war
|/jʊər/||[juə~juɐ] (rhotic: [juɹ])||cure, Europe, pure|
|New York City,
|Great Lakes |
|fan, lamb, stand||[ɛə][A][B]||[ɛə]||[ɛə~ɛjə]||[ɛə]||[ɛə]|
|Prevocalic /ɡ/||dragon, magazine||[æ]|
/b, d, ʃ/
|grab, flash, sad||[ɛə][A]||[æ][D]||[ɛə]|
/f, θ, s/
|ask, bath, half,
|Otherwise||as, back, happy,
some Southern US,
some New England
|Only borrow, sorrow, sorry, (to)morrow||//||//||// or //||//|
|Forest, Florida, historic, moral, porridge, etc.||//|
|Forum, memorial, oral, storage, story, etc.||//||//|
While the following consonantal features are central to the common stereotype of a "New York City accent", they are not entirely ubiquitous in New York City. By contrast, the vocalic (vowel) variations in pronunciation as described above are far more typical of New York City–area speakers than the consonantal features listed below, which carry a much greater stigma than do the dialect's vocalic variations:
Despite common references to a "Bronx accent", "Brooklyn accent", "Long Island accent", etc., which reflect a popular belief that different boroughs or neighborhoods of the New York metropolitan area have different accents, linguistic research fails to reveal any features that vary internally within the dialect due to specific geographic differences. Impressions that the dialect varies geographically are likely a byproduct of class or ethnic variation, and even some of these assumptions are losing credibility in light of accent convergences among the current younger generations of various ethnic backgrounds. Speakers from Queens born in the 1990s and later are showing a cot–caught merger more than in other boroughs, though this too is likely class- or ethnic-based (or perhaps even part of a larger trend spanning the whole city) rather than location-based. The increasing extent of the cot–caught merger among these Queens natives has also appeared to be correlated with their majority foreign parentage. A lowering of New York City's traditionally raised caught vowel is similarly taking place among younger residents of Manhattan's Lower East Side. This is seen most intensely among Western European (and Jewish) New Yorkers, fairly intensely among Latino and Asian New Yorkers, but not among African American New Yorkers. Therefore, this reverses a trend documented amongst Western European Lower East Siders in the 20th century.
See also: New Jersey English
Though geographic differences are not a primary factor for the internal variation of features within the dialect, the prevalence of the dialect's features as a whole can vary within the metropolitan area based on distance from the city proper, most notably in northeastern New Jersey plus Middlesex and Monmouth Counties. East of the Passaic and Hackensack Rivers (closest to the city proper) and in Newark, the short-a split system is identical to that used in the city itself. West of the Hackensack but east of the Passaic, the New York City system's function word constraint is lost before nasal codas, and the open syllable constraint begins to vary in usage. West of both rivers (farthest from the city proper), a completely different short-a system is found. Furthermore, New York City's closest New Jersey neighbors, like Newark and Jersey City, may be non-rhotic like the city itself. Outside of these cities, however, the New York metropolitan speech of New Jersey is nowadays fully rhotic, so the phrase "over there" might be pronounced "ovah deah" [ɔʊvə ˈd̪ɛə] by a native of Newark but "over dare" [ɔʊvɚ ˈd̪ɛɚ] by a native of Elizabeth.
The classic New York City dialect is centered on middle- and working-class European Americans, and this ethnic cluster now accounts for less than half of the city's population, within which there are degrees of ethnic variation. The variations of New York City English are a result of the waves of immigrants that have settled in the city, from the earliest settlement by the Dutch and English, followed in the 19th century by the Irish and Western Europeans (typically of French, German, and Scandinavian descent). Over time these collective influences combined to give New York City its distinctive accent.
Up until the immigration acts of 1921 and 1924 that restricted Asian as well as 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. Ongoing sociolinguistic research 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 /ɔ/ (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-originating features being the most stigmatized. Still, Labov argues that these differences are relatively minor, more of degree than kind. All noted Euro-American groups share the relevant features.
One area revealing robustly unique patterns is New York City English among Orthodox Jews, overlapping with Yeshiva English, which can also exist outside of the New York City metropolitan area. Such patterns 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!), and the general replacement of /ŋ/ with /ŋɡ/. There is also substantial use of Yiddish and particularly Hebrew words.
African American New Yorkers typically speak a New York variant of African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) that shares the New York accent's raised /ɔ/ 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. Euro-American New Yorkers alone, particularly Anglo-Americans, have been traditionally documented as using a phonetic split of /aɪ/ as follows: [äɪ] before voiceless consonants but [ɑːɪ] elsewhere. Asian American New Yorkers are not shown by studies to have any phonetic features that are overwhelmingly distinct.
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