Is it correct to speak of New York dialect, or should I use a different term when referring to the particular pronunciation used in New York?

  • @Jonik: Why didn't you write that as an answer? – kiamlaluno Aug 24 '10 at 23:14
  • Because I first meant it as cheap quip w/ Wikipedia link and didn't consider it worthy of that. (Only later I edited in the 2nd sentence about NY accent.) But it's an answer now; let's see how it'll do. :-P – Jonik Aug 24 '10 at 23:31

In discussing English, we don't usually make a big distinction between dialects and accents. For day to day discussions, people will probably understand and appreciate "New York accent", and if you're talking to linguists, "New York dialect" or "New York English" will probably be better. But there's no very firm distinction between the two.

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    As the focus is on "pronunciation", I think 'New York accent' is better even if we are talking to linguists. A change of dialect normally not only includes pronunciation differences, but also differences in vocabulary, spelling, and sometimes even grammar! – Manjima Aug 25 '10 at 5:04
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    Well, there are some lexical and grammatical differences between New York and other dialects. Take "I'm waiting on line at the store" for example. – JoFrhwld Aug 25 '10 at 13:14

Wikipedia, for example, goes on about the New York dialect for pages, so I don't see why it wouldn't be "correct". :-) Then again, if you particularly want to point to the pronunciation, then maybe New York accent might be a slightly preferable term.


Do you mean New York City? If so, I think it'd be more correct to speak of accents (Brooklyn accent, etc.). Also note that Long Islanders also have a distinct accent that isn't normally associated with the city (e.g., "kwafee" for coffee, "drua" for "drawer").

  • There actually isn't very much evidence for by borough by borough differences in NYC. In The Social Stratification of English in New York City, Bill Labov hypothesizes that what people attribute to being borough differences are just an easier way to talk about class differences. – JoFrhwld Aug 24 '10 at 21:14
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    Here's a quote from from the New Yorker to that effect: "'The fact is—but don’t write this, because it will enrage people—Brooklynese is exactly the same whether it’s spoken in the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island or in Brooklyn. Or the Lower East Side.' The city’s dialect, he said, is much more indicative of one’s social status than of one’s neighborhood." newyorker.com/archive/2005/11/14/051114ta_talk_seabrook – JoFrhwld Aug 24 '10 at 21:19
  • It's worth noting that such a speech pattern is typically referred to as a "Brooklyn accent". – mipadi Aug 24 '10 at 21:36

There used to be distinct New York neighborhood accents (you can hear them in old movies), but my guess is they've been mostly homogenized. Here are some examples of stereotypical accents:

  • Bronx: Groucho Marx. Harpo also.
  • Brooklyn: Three Stooges, e.g., "woik" for "work".
  • Midtown/Upper West Side: Humphrey Bogart (is that the generic New York accent?)
  • Garment District: hard "G", as in "Long G-eye-land"

The weird diphthong Mipadi identified as from Long Island seems to stretch from there down to Philadelphia. In Philly they say "fwawth" for "fourth" and "twawk" for "talk".

  • See my comments to mipadi. There has never been good evidence for any neighborhood by neighborhood differences as distinct from social class differences. However, you're right as far as the vowel sound in "talk" goes. That feature extends as far south as Baltimore, but not as extreme as in NYC. – JoFrhwld Aug 24 '10 at 22:21
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    Do you have a link or some other reference to Harpo Marx talking? – delete Aug 25 '10 at 1:45
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    @JoFrhwld - if you substitute "ethnicity" for "social class difference", I might agree with that. New York, for most of its history, was a blend of many immigrant populations, most of whom started out as working class. Lots of Irish started in Brooklyn, which probably explains "woik", but lots of Irish also ended up on the Lower East Side, where they still say "woik". However, I doubt you'd have heard "woik" from working class people in the Garment District or Harlem, where there were never many Irish. – Taldaugion Aug 25 '10 at 7:16

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