03 Apr 2013

Philadelphia Reported Losing Its Philly Accent


William Penn’s statue stands atop Philadelphia’s City Hall

I grew up about 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia and occasionally visited the big city. I always thought that Philadelphia had an unusually unattractive local accent, one that could rival Brooklyn’s or Long Island’s in stigmatizing-as-lower-class potential. I certainly never thought it sounded Southern.

But the Atlantic has an article in which a U of P linguistics professor says that Philadelphians are losing the local accent and the cause is the triumph of the influence of Northern speech over Southern.

Sometime around the 1960s and ’70s, people in Philadelphia began slowly, subtly to change how they speak. The sound of their vowels started a gradual shift consciously imperceptible to the very people who were driving it. A’s evolved to bump into E’s. The sound of an O lost some of its singsong twang. After decades of speaking with what was in effect a southern dialect, Philadelphians were becoming – linguistically, that is – more northern.

“There’s one big question: How is it possible that Philadelphians all over the city are doing the same thing?” asks Bill Labov, a professor in the department of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. “What is it that makes Philadelphia operate as a whole, making it different from the neighboring cities?”

Read the whole thing.


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