Date: Mon, 19 Jan 1998 01:42:31 EST


Subject: New York vowels

This is a new discovery in New York vowels? Are the people in this

article ADS members??

This is from today's New York Post, 19 January 1998, pg. 36, col. 1:

(Photo caption)

There's nothing wrong with New York's accent, say linguists Marie Huffman

(right) and Elyse Tomberino, Huffman's assistant.

A pronounced

benefit for us

Metro Gnome

By Gersh Kuntzman

NOW there's even more scientific evidence that Lawn Guylanders and Noo

Yawkas talk better than the rest of the country.

We have more vowels!

A linguistics professor at SUNY Stony Brook (yes, it's on the island, but

let's cut her some slack) has discovered that we add an extra vowel sound into

simple one-syllable words like "fad" or "bad."

"New Yorkers have all these extra vowels," discovered professor Marie


"You have a lot to be proud of."

Tell that to H. L. Mencken. He once described New Yorkese as "vulgar."

He obviously never heard Midwesterners pronounce "merry," "Mary" and "marry"

as the same word.

Linguists have long marveled at how New Yorkers add extra sounds--called

back vowels--into words like "talk" or "dog," which we pronounce "tawahk" and


In the so-called Standard American English, those words are pronounced

with a single vowel sound, "ah" (as in "tahk") and "aw" (as in "dawg").

Linguists think New Yorkers add extra sounds because we talk so damn fast

that our tongues are flying all over our mouths.

We start forming the second sound before we're even done with the first

(sort of linguistic bus-bunching).

But Huffman's great discovery--which againconfirms our linguistic

superiority--was that we also add something call (sic) _frontal_ vowels.

That the reason we hail a "cahuhb" while our fellow Americans hop in a

cab. Or we cry and get "sahuhd" while the rest of the country just gets


Try it out for yourself: Say "pat" and "pad" or "fat" and "fad." The

rest of the country pronounces the vowels in each pair the same way. New

Yorkers add that extra frontal vowel in the second word of each pair.

"It's quite exotic and beautiful," marveled Huffman, who previously

studied Japanese vowels. "Unlike New Yorkers, they have so few vowels," she

said sahuhdly.

Huffman, 37, presented her findings--"Spectral Change in the Vowel

Formant Space of Long Island Vowels"--to the Acoustical Society of America

last month in San Diego.

Shockwaves quickly hit the New York linguistic community.

"She's right on target," said George Jochnowitz, a linguistic professor

at the College of Staten Island.

"The same thing occurs because we tend to drop the letter 'r' from words

like 'landlord' so that it becomes 'landlahud.' There's that back-vowel schwa


Whatever you call it, it's cause for celebration. And worry.

Unless proper respect is paid to our uniquely colorful language, for

example, there's a risk that the next generation of voice-recognition machines

may not be able to understand New Yorkers.

Huffman has seen that from the other side. In fact, she only started her

research because her Long Island students were troubled by the "standard

English" pronunciations in their textbook, a phonetics bible published in

vowel-less middle America.

"It's the most widely used textbook and they couldn't relate to it,"

Huffman said. (We gotta ask her about this--ed.)

In a world of deteriorating values, declining standards and decaying

integrity, we clearly need to take a stand to defend our extra vowels.

So get out there and start tawahking.