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Yat is a unique collection of dialects of English spoken in New Orleans, Louisiana. The term also refers to those people who speak with a Yat accent. The name comes from the common use amongst said people of the greeting, "Where y'at?" (Where you at?), which is a way of asking, "How are you?" The Yat dialect has its influences from Louisiana Creole French and Southern American English, particularly Older Southern American English. While the term Yat is usually reserved specifically for the strongest varieties of the New Orleans dialect within the city, the term often refers specifically to speakers of Yat, outside of the city proper, and around the rest of Louisiana.

Contents

History

The origins of the accent are described in A. J. Liebling's book, The Earl of Louisiana, in a passage that was used as a foreword to John Kennedy Toole's well-known posthumous novel about New Orleans, A Confederacy of Dunces:[1]

There is a New Orleans city accent . . . associated with downtown New Orleans, particularly with the German and Irish Third Ward, that is hard to distinguish from the accent of Hoboken, Jersey City, and Astoria, Long Island, where the Al Smith inflection, extinct in Manhattan, has taken refuge. The reason, as you might expect, is that the same stocks that brought the accent to Manhattan imposed it on New Orleans.[2]

The quote above is a little dated, because large parts of the Third Ward of New Orleans are no longer German and Irish, as with most of the city of New Orleans.

Historically, the city of New Orleans was home to people of French and Spanish heritage, as well as those of African heritage, which led to the creation of the Louisiana Creole language. This city came under U.S. rule in the Louisiana Purchase, and over the course of the 19th century, the city transitioned from speaking French to becoming a non-rhotic English speaking society. Similarly, much of the south has historically spoken non-rhotic English. The city's geographic isolation has helped lead to the creation of a new local dialect.

A misconception in other parts of the US has it that the local dialect of New Orleans is Cajun. The city's cultural and linguistic traditions are distinct from that of the predominantly rural Acadiana, an area spanning across South Louisiana. While there has been an influx of Cajuns into the city since the oil boom of the later 20th century and while there are some similarities due to shared roots, Cajun culture has had relatively little influence upon Creole and thus Yat culture. The confusion of Cajun culture with the Creole culture is largely due to the confusion of these French cultures by the tourism and entertainment industries; sometimes deliberately as "Cajun" was discovered to be a potentially lucrative marketing term.

A Yat accent is considered an identity marker of a person born and raised in the greater New Orleans area. Speakers with a New Orleans accent often find a sense of pride in having a local accent. This dialect is closely associated with the white population of the New Orleans metropolitan area. However, due to most of the African-American population living there prior to 1803 due the colonial French era, black New Orleanians do share more lingual characteristics with the white population than most other places in the southern United States. This distinctive accent is dying out generation by generation in the city. Due to many people leaving the greater New Orleans area because of Hurricane Katrina, the accent could be dying out at a more rapid rate.

Local Variance

The Yat dialect is the most pronounced version of the New Orleans Accent. Natives often speak with varying degrees of the Brooklyn-esque accent, ranging from a slight intonation to what is considered full Yat. As with all dialects, there is variance by local speakers due to geographic and social factors. This results in many different levels of Yat throughout the area, marking distinct differences between higher-income people and lower-income people. Yat tends to differ in strength and intonation from neighborhood to neighborhood. The type, strength, and lexicon of the accent vary from section to section of the New Orleans Metropolitan Area. Longtime residents can often tell what area the other residents are from by their accent.

Speakers of this dialect originated in the Ninth Ward, as well as the Irish Channel and Mid-City. Slighter intonations of the dialect can be heard in some parts of the city, such as Lakeview, the Garden District, and some parts of Gentilly, and also in the suburbs of Metairie and Kenner. The dialect is present to some degree in all seven parishes that make up the New Orleans metropolitan area, from St. Tammany to Plaquemines. As with many sociolinguistic artifacts, the dialect is usually more distinct among older members of the population.

Linguistic features

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Pronunciation

There are also numerous phonological differences between words pronounced in the dialect and their standard equivalents. This most often occurs in the form a stress-shift towards the front of a word (i.e. 'insurance', 'ambulance' as ['inʃuɻəns], ['æmbjə'læns]), or in the form of a change in vowel quality. Some of the most distinct features are:

  • the rounding and lowering in some cases of /a/ and /ɔ/ to [ɔʷ] (i.e., 'God,' 'on,' 'talk', become [gɔʷd], [ɔʷn], [tɔʷk])
  • the loss of rhoticization on syllables ending in /ɻ/ (i.e. 'heart,' fire' become [hɔʷt], ['fajə])
  • the full rhoticization of a syllable-internal /ɔj/ (i.e. 'toilet,' becomes ['tɝlɪt]). This feature is more typical in men than in women.
  • the loss of frication in the interdental fricatives /θ/ and /ð/ (i.e. 'the,' 'there,' 'strength' become [də], ['dæə], [ʃtɻejnt])
  • the substitution of /ɪn/ or /ən/ (spelled -in, -en) for /ɪŋ/ (spelled -ing)
  • the split of the historic short-a class into tense [eə] and lax [æ] versions
  • the coil-curl merger of the phonemes /ɔɪ/ and /ɝ/, creating the diphthong [ɜɪ], before a consonant, in words such as boil, oil, and spoil, although this feature has mostly receded, except St. Bernard Parish

And then there are words which can be pronounced differently, yet according to no particular pattern: , 'sink' [zink], 'room' [ɻʊm], 'mayonnaise' ['mejnæz], 'museum' [mju'zæm], 'ask' [æks], just to name a few examples.

New Orleans is pronounced [nə'wɔʷlɪnz], [nə'wɔʷlijənz] or with the /ɻ/ still intact. The 'Nawlins' [nɔlɪnz] of the tourist industry and the common [nuwɔɻ'linz] are not to be heard among natives. Louisiana is pronounced as the standard [lu'wiziænə] or a slightly reduced [lə'wiziænə], but never as ['luziænə].

Lexicon

  • Algerine or Algereen - a person from Algiers, New Orleans (Still common in Algiers, but now less common in other sections of the city except with older speakers)
  • alligator pear - avocado
  • All right - A greeting. The appropriate response is "All right!" or another greeting.
  • Backatown - from "back of town", the section of the city of New Orleans located away from the River (formerly known as the "front of town" now rare), roughly from Claiborne Avenue to the Lake. (In the early 20th century, this often included anything back from Rampart Street.)
  • banquette - the sidewalk
  • Beebla A lazy way of saying "be able to".
  • beignet - (IPA:['bɛnjej]) a type of French doughnut, it is fried and has a lot in common with the sopapilla. Typically served with coffee or café-au-lait, they can be found at Café du Monde and other cafés throughout the city.
  • brake tag - an inspection sticker on your car
  • bobo - a wound or bruise
  • boo - A term of endearment, said to be derived from "beaux". Familiar to New Orleanians for generations, in recent years it has spread to some other parts of the States, and particularly from White communities to African-American communities
  • by [location] - to be at or in someplace; a replacement for "at" or "to" when referring to a destination or location.
  • cap - "sir"; a form of address between men who are usually unacquainted; from "captain"
  • Chalmatian - someone from Chalmette in St. Bernard Parish. Sometimes used humorously.
  • charmer - a female Yat
  • chief - a term of address used among men, indicating some respect
  • cold drink - any soft drink
  • Crab fat yellow - Something of a dark yellow color.
  • Crack the glass - To lower the window of an automobile.
  • Creole - this has come to be less of a specifically ethnic or linguistic term, but now is more of a general term applied to an item of New Orleans culture or cooking, such as creole tomatoes or creole seasoning
  • dawlin - a term used by women as a form of address, or by men towards women. Differs from the Deep South 'dahlin' in that the vowel is very rounded.
  • doubloon - a coin thrown out by Mardi Gras krewes
  • down da road - typically used in St. Bernard Parish, the term is used as travel direction for someone traveling to lower St. Bernard Parish on St. Bernard Highway (Louisiana Highway 46); this is also a popular slang for residents of Plaquemines Parish when traveling south on Louisiana Highway 23 or as a location "down da road" (the "down" and related "up" are in relation to the natural flow of the nearby Mississippi River; up meaning against the flow while down meaning with the flow)
  • dressed - to have condiments on a Po-boy, burger, or any other sandwich; typically lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise, and sometimes pickles
  • esplanade - (IPA:['ɛsplənejd]) a walkway; also, the name of a major avenue (Esplanade Avenue)
  • faubourg - (IPA:['fabɔʷg]) a suburb or neighborhood, used in context of a particular area such as Faubourg Bouligny (This is no longer used as a common noun, but refers to neighborhoods, such as the Faubourg Marigny)
  • flying horses - a merry-go-round, Carousel horses, or specifically the merry-go-round in City Park New Orleans
  • fa sho or f'sure- for sure, a statement of agreement
  • fa true or f'true- for true, a statement of truth
  • fo - used instead of the prepositions at or by when referring to time, likely a shortening of "before"
  • Frontatown - the section of New Orleans from Claiborne Avenue to the river (rare with recent generations)
  • ginny woman -what you call any neighborhood man who gossips and gets involved in women's business
  • go cup or ice berg - a paper or plastic cup for consuming alcohol, soft drinks, or other beverages on the go, usually in public
  • gout - French for "taste", usually in the context of coffee
  • grip - a small overnight bag, schoolbag, or suitcase
  • gris-gris - a Voodoo spell, either malicious or for protection (now rare other than in tourism pamphlets and some people who actually practice certain types of voodoo)
  • heart - identical in meaning and usage to dawlin', and also pronounced with a severely rounded vowel
  • hickey - a knot or bump on one's head
  • house coat 'n' curlas - many middle to lower class yat women wear a robe and have their hair in curlers while out shopping, especially for groceries
  • huck-a-bucks or huckle-bucks or cold cups - Frozen Kool-Aid in a Dixie cup
  • indicator - a turning signal on a car, also called a 'blinker'
  • inkpen - a ball-point or any type of pen
  • I heard dat - agreement or affirmation, see yeah, you right
  • K&B Purple - the distinctive shade of purple used by the defunct New Orleans-based drug store, K&B
  • lagniappe - (IPA:['lænjæp]) a little something extra
  • make dodo - sleep, or go to sleep; from the Cajun French "fais do do"
  • make the block - to go around the block
  • make groceries or makin' groceries - to go grocery shopping; this phrase probably originated from the French expression for grocery shopping, "faire le marché"
  • Mardi Gras - a city wide pre-Lenten celebration, literally "Fat Tuesday"
  • marraine - (IPA: [mə'ræn]) one's godmother (see also "nannain")
  • maw-maw - one's grandmother
  • mirliton - a chayote (see also "alligator pear")
  • mosquito hawk - a dragonfly
  • muffuletta - (IPA: [mʊfə'laɾə]) a famous Italian New Orleans sandwich, invented at Central Grocery
  • nannain - (IPA: [nə'næ~]) one's godmother, same a marraine (see also "marraine")
  • neutral ground - a street median
  • naturally nawlins - a phrase coined by WWL-TV personality Frank Davis (a king of the Yats). It means a word, an experience, or something that represents a concept that is uniquely from the New Orleans culture, which embodies the concept of joie de vivre (the joy of life). For instance, having friends and family over on Easter Sunday to suck heads and squeeze tails while drinking Dixie Beer is "naturally Nawlins".
  • over by [location] - to be at or in someplace; a replacement for "at" or "to" when referring to a destination or location, as in "run me over by the store" or "I'm going over by my momma and thems house"
  • parain - (IPA: [pa'ræ:]) one's Godfather
  • parish - a state administrative district equivalent to a County (United States) in the rest of the United States; da parish usually refers specifically to St. Bernard Parish. Formerly in Uptown, "da parish" referred to Jefferson Parish.
  • parlor - the living room
  • parraine or parran - (IPA:[pə'ræn]) one's godfather (see also "parain")
  • passion mark - a hickey
  • po-boy - (IPA:['pɔʷbɔj], ['poʷbɔj]) a New Orleans submarine sandwich, made on French bread in many varieties; some of the most popular are hot roast beef and fried shrimp
  • praline - (IPA:['prɔʷlin], ['pralin], never ['prejlin]) a New Orleans confection made with pecans, sugar syrup, and cream
  • regular coffee - coffee with sugar and milk; not black coffee
  • Schwegmann's bag or Schwegmann bag - a unit of measurement; refers to the large brown paper bags in which defunct local New Orleans grocery chain Schwegmann Brothers Giant Supermarkets packed groceries
  • shoot d'shoot- A slide at a playground
  • silver dime - A dime
  • snowball - a frozen treat similar to a sno-cone, but made of 'shaved ice' and not crushed ice. A snowball stand will have 30 or more flavors, not counting 'cream' flavors (contains evaporated or condensed milk mixed in).
  • to pass a good time - to have a good time or to have fun.
  • to pass by - to stop and visit someplace, such as a person's house
  • shotgun house - a style of architecture found all over the city. In the French style of planning, plots of land along a river are long and thin, so the houses also came to be long and thin. A shotgun house typically has a living room followed by a bedroom followed by a kitchen followed by another bedroom, with the doorways all in a row – so named because one could fire a shotgun through the front door and the round would exit the back door unhindered.
  • to stay - to live, to reside. "Where ya stay?" is a common expression meaning "Where do you live/reside?".
  • suck the head, squeeze the tail - a phrase that describes the local technique for eating crawfish
  • throw cup - reusable plastic cup such as those as thrown from Carnival floats. See "go cup" above.
  • throw me somethin', mista! or tro me somethin', mista! - the traditional phrase yelled out to passing floats during Mardi Gras
  • Where y'at? - the traditional New Orleans greeting; equivalent to "what's up?" or "how are you?" The only appropriate response unless something is wrong is "All right." or "aright"
  • Up da road - typically used in St. Bernard Parish, the term is used as travel direction for someone traveling to upper St. Bernard Parish on St. Bernard Highway (US Highway 46); also used in Plaquemines Parish when traveling north on Louisiana Highway 23 or referring to the northern end of Plaquemines Parish
  • Who dat?- Who is that?
  • Wutsapnin or 's'happenin' - another New Orleans greeting derived from "What is happening?"
  • y'all - second person plural, one of the few common linguistic traits shared with the rest of the US Deep South
  • ya'mom'n'em - "your mom and them" meaning your family
  • yeah, you right - New Orleans equivalent to "yes, I see your point;" often used as a more emphatic way of showing agreement

New Orleans accent in popular conception

The characters "Vic & Nat'ly" by local cartoonist Bunny Matthews are stereotypical Yats.

The distinct New Orleans dialect has been depicted in many ways throughout the city and America.

The main character of the cartoon strip Krazy Kat spoke in a slightly exaggerated phonetically-rendered version of early-20th century Yat; friends of the New Orleans-born cartoonist George Herriman recalled that he spoke with many of the same distinctive pronunciations.

Benny Grunch and the Bunch recorded an album known as the 12 Yats of Christmas, which is one of the truest expressions of Yat language and culture. The songs explain much of the local customs and traditions of New Orleans and the surrounding areas, but perhaps raise as many questions as they answer for outsiders, due to the fact that the lyrics are mostly in Yat. The local CBS affiliate, WWL-TV Channel 4 usually broadcasts videos of the songs during the Christmas holidays during their evening newscasts and via the station's website.

Actual New Orleans accents were long seldom heard nationally (New Orleanians who attained national prominence in the media often made an effort to tone down or eliminate the most distinctive local pronunciations). After the displacement of New Orleans resident due to Hurricane Katrina, much of America was introduced to the New Orleans accent due to the constant news coverage.

Ronnie Virgets, a New Orleans writer, commentator, and journalist, employs New Orleans dialects and accents in his written and spoken works, including the locally produced public radio program, Crescent City. WWNO, the local public radio station, broadcasts the program and provides access to past Crescent City programs on its website.

A Midwest Cajun restaurant chain based in Indianapolis, Indiana carries the name Yats. Also, cell phone company Boost Mobile used the phrase "Where Y'At?" in early advertising campaigns.

Notes

  1. ^ Toole, John Kennedy (1980). A Confederacy of Dunces. Baton Rouge: LSU.
  2. ^ Liebling, A. J. (1970). The Earl of Louisiana. Baton Rouge: LSU.

References

External links


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