America’s Loveliest Accents: New York

One thing I have to mention at this point: It’s okay to not like an accent. This is a matter of taste. You like what you like, and you dislike what you dislike. If you think an accent is ugly, or lovely, that’s completely your prerogative.

On the other hand, patterns of likes and dislikes can be telling. If all the accents you dislike are from cities, maybe you’ve got something against cities or the people who live in them.

New York City

This one is very personal for me. My family has lived in New York for over a hundred years. My grandfather talked about “turlet seats” and putting “earl” on his salad. I was born in New York City, and I live here now. Many of my close friends have New York accents. My son has one. I could write a book about this accent.

New York accents are used in movies and television as shorthand for thugs and con artists and Jewish Princesses. They’re used in cartoons for villains and comic relief (I’m lookin’ at you, Gilbert Gottfried). What’s worse, New Yorkers have internalized this hate, as William Labov documented extensively in his dissertation. Alan Chartock, in a pathetic display of this self-hate, regularly suggests that Andrew Cuomo will not win the presidency without taking “elocution lessons.”

My mom received a steady drip of criticism and mockery for her accent until one day she snapped and said to her boyfriend, “You know, I speak very good Bronx.” New Yorkers are smart, funny and creative. There are so many great New York voices, it’s hard to choose just one. Woody Allen, Isaac Asimov, Lenny Bruce, the Shangri-Las, Salt-n-Pepa, Paul Simon, Lou Reed and Alan Alda all come to mind. But for this post, I’m choosing Washington Heights’s own Lin-Manuel Miranda to represent the New York accent, teaching children about language on public television:

Previously: Scranton. Nextly: Pittsburgh.

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