Unlearning to Tawk Like a New Yorker





ANDREW RAMOS always believed it made him more charming, an endearing characteristic integral to his identity. But, finally, after too many people mocked him, he began seeing a therapist....

“I was diagnosed with a New York accent,” Mr. Ramos said....

The New York accent is a distinctive amalgam of Irish, German, Yiddish and Italian — now infused with black and Hispanic dialects and a Caribbean lilt — that was identified at least as far back as the early 19th century. In 1896, E. H. Babbitt wrote about “The Language of the Lower Classes in New York and Vicinity” whose voices O. Henry later captured in his short stories.

In 1928, when radio became a factor in a national political campaign for the first time, the president of CBS wrote unflatteringly that Gov. Alfred E. Smith of New York pronounced the word first as “foist.” A 1940 study by two New York University professors found that the New York accent was the most widely disliked style of speech in the United States. And in 1966, William Labov, a sociolinguist, identified what he called “linguistic self-hatred in New York.”...

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