America’s Loveliest Accents: New Orleans

There’s a stereotypical “Southern” accent you’ll hear in mid-twentieth century movies and television, that owes more to Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh’s artificial accents than to anything that ever came out of the mouth of any real-life Southerner. It may bear a passing resemblance to the accents of real Coastal Southern gentry like Fritz Hollings, but it’s been used to portray people from all regions and social classes of the South. In the last fifty or so years we’ve heard a new stereotype that’s at least based on real Southerners like Dolly Parton and Elvis Presley, but it’s been applied to rich and poor white characters from Dallas to Knoxville to New Orleans.

YouTube user Mehrvigne, from Chalmette, Louisiana, wants us to know that some people from the New Orleans area don’t talk anything like that. Katie Carmichael, who just finished her dissertation on Chalmette accents after Hurricane Katrina, pointed me to Mehvigne’s “accent tag” video on Twitter.

Mehrvigne has a “Yat” accent, which bears an uncanny resemblance to working-class New York and Boston accents, and is said to have evolved from similar patterns of European immigrants acquiring an /r/-dropping dialect.

The “Yat” dialect is just one of several New Orleans accents, and it’s one that I actually didn’t hear when I visited the city back in 2010. It exists alongside other accents spoken by white, black and Asian (NSFW) people in New Orleans. To get an idea of the diversity of the area, listen to these two teenage girls doing an accent tag together:

This is part fifteen of a series where I say nice things about all sixteen of the accents that Gawker’s Dayna Evans nominated for “America’s Ugliest Accent.” Previously: Charleston. Next, and last but not least: Baltimore.

One thought on “America’s Loveliest Accents: New Orleans

  1. David

    People may have stereotyped the New Orleans accent as being a straight-up Southern accent (or certainly the old-school, South Atlantic/Deep South variety (in that it’s non-rhotic and that Louisiana *is* part of the **Deep South**) or (particularly since the ’80’s movie “The Big Easy” [in no small part due to the primary character of same]) a Cajun accent, but so are the Yat accent and the New York City accent (aka “Brooklynese”) both stereotyped as being one and the same. The truth is, while the classic elements of the NYC accent exist in the Yat accent, the latter also contains elements of the classic Deep South accent (i.e. non-rhoticity such as the saw-sore merger and even doe-door merger; monophonization of long I sound). So the Yat accent of New Orleans can rightly be regarded as a variety of R-less Southern speech and Southern American English in general.

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