New York City English

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New York City English is a dialect of the English language that is spoken by many people in New York City and much of its surrounding metropolitan area. Pioneer variationist sociolinguist Bill Labov describes it as the most recognizable variety of American English.[1]

The English spoken in northern New Jersey and the English spoken in eastern Long Island and the Hudson Valley are distinct from, yet have much in common with, New York City English.[2] In contrast, in much of western New York State Inland Northern American English predominates.[2]

Macrosocial extensions[edit]

Geographic factors[edit]

New York City English is closely confined to the geographically small but densely populated New York City dialect region, which consists of the city's five Boroughs, Western Long Island although the border there is not clearly established,[3] the lower Hudson Valley, and several nearby cities in northeastern New Jersey, e.g., Weehawken, Hoboken, Jersey City, Bayonne, and Newark.[4] However, the terms “New York English” and “New York dialect” are, strictly speaking, misnomers. The classic New York dialect is centered on middle and working class European Americans, and this ethnic cluster now accounts for less than half of the city's population. Now, the most secure strongholds of the New York dialect are arguably the suburban areas of Nassau County, western Suffolk County, Westchester County, Rockland County, northern and southwestern Queens, southern Brooklyn, and Staten Island, although many strong New York dialect speakers remain in Queens, The Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. Finally, despite common references to "a Bronx accent", or "a Brooklyn accent", no published study has found any feature that varies internally beyond local names.[5] Impressions that the dialect varies geographically may be a byproduct of class and/or ethnic variation.

Ethnic factors[edit]

The variations of New York City English are a result of the layering of ethnic speech starting with the native Lenape tribe and the influence from the waves of immigrants that settled in the city, from the earliest settlement by the Dutch and English, followed in the 1800s by the Irish and western Europeans (typically of French, German, and Scandinavian descent). Over time these collective influences combined to give New York its distinctive accent.[6] Up until the earlier 20th century, many Eastern European Jewish and Italian immigrants, as well as some later immigrants, arrived and further affected the region's speech. Sociolinguistic research, which is ongoing, suggests some differentiation between these last groups' speech may exist. For example, William Labov found differences in the rate and degree of the tensing and raising of (oh) and (aeh) of Italian American versus Jewish American New Yorkers. Jewish Americans were more likely than other groups to use the closest variants of (oh) and Italian Americans were more likely than other groups to use the closest variants of (aeh).[7] In the NPR interview linked below, Labov talks about Irish origin features being the most stigmatized. Still, Labov argues that these differences are relatively minor, more of degree than kind. All European American groups share the relevant features.

One area that is likely to reveal robust patterns is usage among Orthodox Jews. Such features include fully released final stops and certain Yiddish contact features, such as topicalizations of direct objects (e.g., constructions such as Esther, she saw! or A dozen knishes, you bought!). There is also substantial use of Yiddish and particularly Hebrew words. It could be argued that such features are not characteristic of New York dialect because they exist among Orthodox Jews in other dialect regions. Still, in combination with other New York dialect features they are characteristic of a specific local ethno-religious community. There is no research, however, establishing these facts in the New York dialect literature.

Many African American New Yorkers speak African American Vernacular English (AAVE), though with some New York City English features.[8] Many Latinos speak another distinct ethnolect, New York Latino English, characterized by a varying mix of traditional New York dialect and AAVE features along with features of Spanish origin.[8][9]

Social class factors[edit]

Many professional-class New Yorkers from high socioeconomic backgrounds often speak with less conspicuous accents; in particular, many use rhotic pronunciations instead of the non-rhotic pronunciations, while maintaining some less stigmatized features such as the low back chain shift and the short-A split (see below).

Similarly, the children of professional migrants from other parts of the U.S. usually do not have many, if any, New York dialect features.[10] As these two populations come to dominate the southern half of Manhattan and neighboring parts of Brooklyn, the dialect is in retreat in some of the more gentrified parts of the city. Many New Yorkers from affluent socioeconomic backgrounds are barely linguistically recognizable as New Yorkers except in their pronunciation of the broad A in "water" and other Northeastern characteristics.[10] Nevertheless, many New Yorkers, particularly from the middle and working class, maintain a clear New York accent.[10]


The origins of New York City English are diverse, and the source of many features is probably not recoverable. Labov has pointed out that the short-A split is found in southern England as mentioned above. He also claims that the vocalization and subsequent loss of (R) was copied from the prestigious London pronunciation, and so it started among the upper classes in New York and later spread to other socioeconomic classes but now only applied to the socioeconomic scale. This non-rhotic (R-less) aristocratic pronunciation can be heard, for instance, in recordings of Franklin D. Roosevelt. After WWII, the R-ful pronunciation (rhotic) becomes the prestige norm, and what was once the upper class pronunciation became a vernacular one, with the loss of Britain’s imperial status, and because of the predominance of standard American dialect named General American.[11] Instead of London accent, the prestige New York sociolect is closely related to rhotic accents of other British English dialects, particularly Scottish English, Irish English, Mid Ulster English, and rhotic accents of England (particularly found in the West Country (south and west of a line from near Shrewsbury to around Portsmouth), the Corby area, most of Lancashire (north and west of the centre of Manchester), some parts of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire and in the areas that border Scotland). However, the common association of the New York accent with the working and middle class has, since the latter half of the 20th century, warranted many upper class New Yorkers to refrain from speaking with a New York accent.[10]

Other vernacular pronunciations, such as the dental (D)s and (T)s may come from contact with languages such as Italian and Yiddish. Grammatical structures, such as the lack of inversion in indirect questions, have the flavor of contact with an immigrant language. As stated above, many words common in New York are of immigrant roots.[12]

Beyond New York[edit]

As a result of social and commercial contact between the two cities, and the influx of immigrants from the same countries, the traditional dialect of New Orleans, Louisiana, known locally as Yat, bears distinctive similarities with the New York dialect, including palatalization of the /ɜr/ vowel, a similar split in the short-A system, and fortition of /θ/(See below for more information on these features). Albany, New York, and northern New Jersey, also display influence from the New York City dialect.[13]

Linguistic features[edit]


See the article International Phonetic Alphabet for explanations of the phonetic symbols used, as indicated between square brackets [ ]. These represent actual pronunciations. The symbols in curved parentheses () are variables, in this case historical word classes that have different realizations between and within dialects. This system was developed by William Labov. A link to a site with an example text read in various accents, including New York, can be found under external links.

New York dialect is predominantly characterized by the following sounds and speech patterns:



While the following consonantal features are central to the common stereotype of a "New York accent", they are not entirely ubiquitous in New York. By contrast, the vocalic (vowel) variations in pronunciation as described above are far more typical of New York area speakers than the consonantal features listed below, which carry a much greater stigma than do the dialect's vocalic variations:



There are numerous words used mainly in New York, mostly associated with immigrant languages. For instance, a "stoop" (from the Dutch word "stoep"), is the front steps of a building entrance. A curious split in usage, reflective of the city's racial differences, involves the word punk. In the Black and Latino communities, the word tends to be used as a synonym for weak, someone unwilling or unable to defend himself or perhaps loser. That usage appears to descend from the AAVE meaning of male receptive participant in anal sex,[25] a meaning which, in turn, may be largely lost among youth. Thus, a newspaper article that refers to, say, some arrested muggers as punks can have two different meanings to two different readers.

New Yorkers stand "on line", whereas most other American-English speakers stand "in line". Small convenience stores are called bodegas, from the Spanish term literally meaning "a liquor storehouse or a convenience store; corner store". See Regional vocabularies of American English.

Notable speakers[edit]

The following famous people or fictional characters are often heard in public as speaking with features typical of a New York accent. Most, but not all, are native New Yorkers. Their pronunciation and vocabulary can be useful guides to the subtleties of speaking New York.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Labov, William. 1966/1996. The Social Stratification of English in New York City 2nd Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p 18
  2. ^ a b (Labov et al. 2006)
  3. ^ Labov, William. 2010. Principles of Linguistic Change, V. 3: Cognitive and Cultural Factors. Cambridge/NY Cambridge University Press. Chapter 15, footnote 13. p.390 [1]
  4. ^ Labov, William (2007) "Transmission and Diffusion", Language June 2007 p. 17
  5. ^ Gordon, Matthew (2004) "New York, Philadelphia, and other northern cities" in Schneider, E. W., Kortmann, B. (2005), "A Handbook of Varieties of English: A Multi-Media Reference Tool", Mouton de Gruyter, ISBN 3-11-017532-0, p. 284
  6. ^ "challenge". Retrieved 2013-11-26. 
  7. ^ Labov, William (1973) Sociolinguistic Patterns U. of Pennsylvania Press ISBN 0-8122-1052-2
  8. ^ a b Fought, Carmen Language and Ethnicity Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press 2006, p. 19
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  11. ^ a b Labov (1966/2006)
  12. ^ Labov 1972
  13. ^ Labov, William (2007). "Transmission and Diffusion". Language 83 (2): 344–387. doi:10.1353/lan.2007.0082. 
  14. ^ a b Gordon, Matthew (2004) "New York, Philadelphia and other Northern Cities" in Kortmann, Bernd & Schneider, Edgar W. (Eds.) A Handbook of Varieties of English: Volume 1: Phonology Walter de Gruyter ISBN 3-11-017532-0 p. 286
  15. ^ a b Gordon, Matthew (2004) "New York, Philadelphia and other Northern Cities" in Kortmann, Bernd & Schneider, Edgar W. (Eds.) A Handbook of Varieties of English: Volume 1: Phonology Walter de Gruyter ISBN 3-11-017532-0 p. 288
  16. ^ Gordon, Matthew (2004) "New York, Philadelphia and other Northern Cities" in Kortmann, Bernd & Schneider, Edgar W. (Eds.) A Handbook of Varieties of English: Volume 1: Phonology Walter de Gruyter ISBN 3-11-017532-0 pp. 292, 285 , 287
  17. ^ Labov et al., p. 234
  18. ^ Gordon, Matthew (2004) "New York, Philadelphia and other Northern Cities" in Kortmann, Bernd & Schneider, Edgar W. (Eds.) A Handbook of Varieties of English: Volume 1: Phonology Walter de Gruyter ISBN 3-11-017532-0 pp. 287, 285
  19. ^ a b Gordon, Matthew (2004) "New York, Philadelphia and other Northern Cities" in Kortmann, Bernd & Schneider, Edgar W. (Eds.) A Handbook of Varieties of English: Volume 1: Phonology Walter de Gruyter ISBN 3-11-017532-0 pp. 285, 288
  20. ^ Gordon, Matthew (2004) "New York, Philadelphia and other Northern Cities" in Kortmann, Bernd & Schneider, Edgar W. (Eds.) A Handbook of Varieties of English: Volume 1: Phonology Walter de Gruyter ISBN 3-11-017532-0 pp. 286-287
  21. ^ Gordon, Matthew (2004) "New York, Philadelphia and other Northern Cities" in Kortmann, Bernd & Schneider, Edgar W. (Eds.) A Handbook of Varieties of English: Volume 1: Phonology Walter de Gruyter ISBN 3-11-017532-00 p. 289
  22. ^ Gordon, Matthew (2004) "New York, Philadelphia and other Northern Cities" in Kortmann, Bernd & Schneider, Edgar W. (Eds.) A Handbook of Varieties of English: Volume 1: Phonology Walter de Gruyter ISBN 3-11-017532-0 pp. 288-289
  23. ^ a b Gordon, Matthew (2004) "New York, Philadelphia and other Northern Cities" in Kortmann, Bernd & Schneider, Edgar W. (Eds.) A Handbook of Varieties of English: Volume 1: Phonology Walter de Gruyter ISBN 3-11-017532-0 p. 289
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