June 04, 2004

Oy and Uhy

Amritas has responded to my previous post. For those of you with Real Players, you can listen to Rabbi Yochanan the Shoemaker's Melody, played by my friend Yehoshua Rochman, while you read this post. It’s a traditional Hasidic nigun (melody) of the kind you might have once heard from Ukrainian Yiddish speakers.

Amritas says:

varfn to voyfn reminds me a bit of bird to boid in Brooklynese, though the start and end points are not quite the same. (Brooklyn oi is said to be more like 'uh-ee'; if so, then the 'oi' I've heard on TV is a spelling pronunciation.)

I've heard both oy and uhy (@y) in Yiddish. But I don’t think that it had an influence on Brooklyn English. According to Noel Pangilinen, that is a result of the Irish influence:

New Yorkers have the Irish to thank for their now famous "toity-toid ohn toid". [33rd (street) and 3rd (avenue) – DB] A Hofstra University professor, Francis Griffith, attributes New Yorkese speakers' habit of interchanging the diphthong "oi" with "er" to Gaelic language.
It also agrees with my gut instinct (for what that’s worth) that Yiddish speakers would pronounce “er” something like “uhr” (or “@r”, as Amritas would say) where the “r” is not quite a uvular trill.

Speaking of, er, “er”…

I was raised in Boston, my parents were from in New York, and I spent 4 years in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania, so I've had a fair amount of contact with North-East US dialects. My impression is that the major differences are sociological rather than geographical. My parents and I speak what I might call an middle-class-North-East English, rather than a specifically Bostonian or New York English. When I hear English speakers from Montreal, for example, they sound "normal" to me. But Torontonians sound to me like Mid-Westerners.

However, there is definitely a Brooklyn accent that is different from a New York accent. For example, most New Yorkers pronounce "car" as "caw" (actually more like "c@w") while Brooklyners say "caa". (Bostonians [not me] say "cae", kind of like "cat" without the "t".)

I was disappointed with the description of the Philadelphia accent that I found in The Mid-Atlantic Dialects. The most notable and universal features (at least to me) are: “er” is pronounced R (syllabic “er”, like the “er” in better) in all positions (not just at the end of words) for example, America is pronounced AmRica; and o is pronounced like e + u (this is so pronounced that it almost sounds like two syllables to me).

The Philadelphia accented word that I thought was the funniest is pronounced RrR. Can you guess what word this is?

UPDATE: If any of you can tell me how to keep a blank window from opening up when I click on the Real Media file, I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know. (And don’t tell me to remove the <BASE> markup – I don’t want to.)

RrR is Error.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at June 4, 2004 03:15 AM
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