South Philly is a “hotbed” of linguistic activity

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Grab a whiz’ wit and wash it down with some wooter: We’re analyzing the Philly accent over here.

Well, more accurately, two linguists from the University of Pennsylvania are, via an academic study 100 years in the making.

Bill Labov apparently got the idea for the study while teaching at Penn in the ’70s, and gradually noticed a shift in the way Philly folk form their words.

Labov, and research partner Josef Fruehwald, write that in previous decades, Philadelphians borrowed certain verbal quirks from the southern states (hear some audio snippets at the study’s write-up in The Atlantic Cities for examples) but that younger generations gradually shifted away from that type of speech.

“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.”

The group write that northern dialects in large urban centers, like Philly, are only getting stronger, especially in neighborhoods such as our very own South Philadelphia, where people live in close proximity and meld their speech patterns together.

So what does a “modern Philadelphian” sound like? Popular opinion is that Hollywood makes us sound like New Yorkers or Bostonians, with the possible exception of Rydal-raised Bradley Cooper.

What do you think?

*Disclaimer: This post was written by someone who grew up with New Yorker parents in the vowel-droppin’ Coal Country of Northeast Pennsylvania.

– Vinny Vella 


One thought on “South Philly is a “hotbed” of linguistic activity

  • April 23, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    I blame hip-hop and the Rocky movies for making it “cool” to talk like a Neanderthal. The older generation had a naturally-occurring accent. The younger generation just sounds retarded on purpose.

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