Throughout Philadelphia and surrounding suburbs, there is a distinct accent that seeps through the teeth of natives.
Although there is significance in the origins of the immigrants that settled in the region and established the unique vernacular, it is one of the most complained about dialects in the Northeast.
Although some say it’s easier to understand than a New York accent, linguists have examined their similarities and found many parallels – although they are two very separate dialects. It is in many regards the same as the accents of the Delaware and Baltimore areas, making up what experts call the Mid-Atlantic region.
To the ear of the outsider, unaccustomed
to the speech, the Philadelphia accent is not only grating on the ears, but generally unstable – even uneducated. They haven’t caught onto the fact that the “Iggles” are a Sunday football tradition, “wooder” is what you drink when you’re thirsty after you eat a “beg’ll,” and “Fill-Uff-Ya” is what they call their beloved city where all this madness happens.
They don’t understand, and they don’t want to. They contend that one day it might be corrected, saying that it’s no different
than a few crooked teeth to be straightened
or bad hair cuts to be trimmed. But, not only is it rooted deeper than surface value, it is a part of the culture that many say shouldn’t be fixed.
As a matter of fact, Philadelphia speech is one of the most studied dialects in the country thanks to William Labov, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who is also one of America’s most constructive sociolinguists in history.
There have been many studies on the grammatical significance of the speech in the Mid-Atlantic region. Among Labov’s many conclusions, he believes that the Philadelphia accent is one of the most complex vernaculars in the United States. He describes it as a language of negotiation.
“Just by sounding like somebody with ‘a strong Philadelphia accent,’ you announce your familiarity,” Labov said.
From the politics of the city to the score of last week’s game, two people that discuss their city in the same tongue allows for a more intimate plane for the natural Philadelphia accent to prevail. Like the cheesesteak, Philly is known for its speech. It is clear that language is constantly changing, from our jargon to the way we pronounce words.
Labov argues that surrounded by transforming language, the Philadelphia speech remains just as advanced, and is growing in its impact on other English-speaking regions. As the city of neighborhoods, Philadelphia is broken into different sections that are each distinct in population and culture. From the sophistication of Center City, the homeliness of South Philly and the poverty
of North Philly, each neighborhood has a personality of its own.
In the cycle of influence, language depends
on many factors – especially in a big city, where different cultures are often intertwined.
Social and economic status, general education level and race all affect language.
Philly is no exception, and results in the distinguished South Philly accent or North Philly drawl. Of course, these accents will be heard all over the city, but can be claimed by specific regions. South Philly, which was originally settled by Italian immigrants and is distinctly “r-less.”
Perhaps you’ve been somewhere and heard the word “bastid” used casually. This is the quintessential example of the South Philadelphia accent.
This lack of sound comes from the second
generation Italians who deliberately retaliated against their parents, who exaggerated the pronunciation of ‘r.’ As South Philly is still predominately Italian, the tradition continues, making that section of the city notorious for its accent. As race plays a major role in defining speech, Philadelphia’s dominant African American culture affects the language as well.
Even though black vernacular isn’t exclusively Philly and is a distinct way of speaking that’s heard around the country, there are aspects of it can only be heard in this area.
More so phrases than pronunciation, there are words used among African Americans
that are specific for this region. A man calls his younger friend a ‘young bull’ or a girl his “jawn.”
Something that is obnoxious, like a teacher
giving the hardest exam of the semester is ‘drawlin,’ and ‘ya mean’ ends every sentence.
Philadelphia isn’t just a city that lies between the shadows of New York City and Washington, D.C. it’s a place where the language reflects the culture and creates its own discourse.
It’s that Philly speech – and outsiders may never understand.
Jennifer Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.