Taking the New Yawk out of my New York

Natalie Bergen, notes by natalie

Notes by Natalie

“Hey! How you doin?”

Most of us associate this popular phrase with the character Joey Tribbiani from Friends. As you know, the show took place in none other than New York City. While the main characters didn’t really exhibit New York’s stereotypical accent, every now and then we’d hear Joey say hello to a woman (“How you doin?”) and instantly be reminded that we were in the Big Apple.

Joey wasn’t the first and he definitely won’t be the last character known for having New Yawk-ness:

  • Fran Drescher showed off her unique take on the dialect in every episode of The Nanny.
  • Many of Robert De Niro‘s roles highlight his city sound.
  • Marisa Tomei and Joe Pesci, my personal favorites, brought out the New Yawker in all of us in My Cousin Vinny.

So, why am I talking about good ol’ New Yawk? Well, I recently started working with an on-camera and voiceover coach. My first session with her was this past Tuesday in Manhattan. I was all excited, notebook and pen in hand, ready to take some notes and gain lots of new advice and techniques. Turns out, one of my very first assignments is to, and I quote, “dial back the accent.” What?! What accent? Yes, I’ve lived in New York my whole life, but I grew up in the suburbs. Yes, my family is from Brooklyn and Staten Island, but I don’t see them everyday. I couldn’t believe it!

Apparently, my first few words with her indicated a slight accent. She asked me where I was from and I said, “I’m from Orange County.” (New York has an OC, too.) But I didn’t say “OR-ange.” I pronounced it like this: “AR-inge.”

Strike one, Natalie.

I guess I didn’t even realize that pronouncing it like this means I have an “accent.” It’s just how it came out. The truth is, my ears are usually pretty good at picking up on the accents around me which, in turn, may cause my speech to start mirroring what I’m hearing. (I mean, to a degree. I didn’t go to London and start speaking with a British accent. Ok, that’s not entirely true. My friends and I did try it for a day in an attempt to be cool but, I assure you, we did not sound authentic at awl.) There were many times in California when people couldn’t believe I was from New York because they didn’t detect an “accent.” On the flip-side, there were a few instances when my ears took a day off and I said a word like coffee or August like caw-fee and Aw-gist. Then, I became a dead-ringer for a New Yaw-ker. Luckily, on the west coast, some people (er, boys) think it’s cute.

But to the people casting the next Tropicana commercial – it’s not so cute. People do not drink fresh-squeezed “FLAH-rida AR-inge” juice. They drink fresh-squeezed “FLOOR-ida OR-ange” juice. (And, yes, this has been one of the phrases I’ve been practicing this week – in addition to not watching Mob Wives.) I’ve been doing my best to speak as un-New Yawk-ish as possible. I got my hair done yesterday and as I was explaining the story to my stylist, I noticed that there really wasn’t a trace of the accent in my voice. She agreed. I think it’s possible that once my voice coach pointed out my “slight accent,” it caused a more noticeable one to show it’s face and for some reason I couldn’t shut it off. I see her again on Monday…I’ll let you know how it goes!

In the meantime, I found a cool quiz on NYtimes.com while I was reading up on this topic. It’s called How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk and aims to answer this question: What does the way you speak say about where you’re from? It was pretty interesting and only 25 short questions. As you can see from my results, I should probably keep practicing. Floor-ida or-ange juice, Floor-ida or-ange juice….

NYtimes.com Dialect Quiz

Let me know what your map says about you!

Photo Credits:
Taxicab (edited by me), Map

14 comments

  1. Absolutely love this post, Natalie! Halfway through reading this I actually remembered coming across that dialect map yesterday and I was gonna send it to you. haha. It’s funny here in Toronto a lot of people pick up on my accent. Most know I’m from Jamaica. But I’ve also gotten Barbados, Trinidad, Bermuda, and London! I don’t think I speak with a proper British accent at alllll. Good luck with your lessons.:) P.S. My Cousin Vinny is one of my all-time favourite movies!

  2. This is so funny! My boyfriend made me take this quiz a couple weeks ago to make fun of me. Guess what? This Spaniard talks like people in St. Louis apparently! haha I couldn’t believe it…

  3. That was a fun read Natalie. I hope you get those vowles sorted out soon!

    Something that helped me when I learned dialects for theatre classes was learning IPA (international phonetic alphabet). It is shapes that signify specific sounds. That’s how I learned British, cockney, Irish, southern, and Brooklyn accents pretty quickly. It’s a lot of fun! Check out “Stage Dialects” by Jerry Blunt. Great book and handy tool for actors! (It’s always fun putting dialects on yor resume 🙂

    1. Thanks for the information, Marla! Love that you can do so many accents, sounds fun! I’m actually familiar with IPA; I took a linguistics course when I was in graduate school. It was actually one of my favorite classes – very interesting stuff!

  4. this is so funny! I too am from NY but never really thought I such a thick accent. I hear it come out occasionally but just assumed that I sounded the same as everyone else. I used to work in a school in another state and I had 6 year old’s pointing it out! LOL

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