For most people, the New Yawk accent is something you just know when you hear it.
But a group of CUNY researchers is setting out to catalog just what makes the dialect so distinctively New York – and how it may be changing.
Five linguists are nearing the end of a three-year project to create the first ever “Corpus of New York City English” – an online database composed of hundreds of audio interviews documenting the city accent in all its variations.
“All accents and dialects everywhere are always changing and shifting. We’re not assuming that it’s disappearing, just changing,” said Cecelia Cutler, a professor at City University of New York’s Lehman College and a lead researcher on the project.
The first challenge was gathering data.
They turned to CUNY undergraduates — most of whom grew up in the city — for help. The study leaders created a questionnaire and sent students out to record interviews with family and friends in far-flung corners of the five boroughs.
Several linguistic patterns jumped out from the resulting conversations. Across all areas and social and ethnic groups, New Yorkers with strong accents dropped their Rs, creating the famous New Yawk sound and have a more nasally pronunciation of the “a” in words like “bag” and “ask.” They also put a trademark spin on the first vowel in words like coffee, making it cawfee.