“What did you just say?”
You may assume that living my whole life in Pennsylvania would mean my accent would be, simply, “Pennsylvanian.” Ah how sweet you are, Young Grasshopper.
The regional flavors of vowels and words of Pennsylvania are quite distinct. I’ve lived in three corners of this rectangular state (Not Erie), and my vocabulary and my A and O sounds sometimes reflect this. Usually I adopt the accent of the area in which I live and no-one knows the difference. (I’m pretty good at hiding my mish-mash past, but there are some exceptions. I can’t, and probably won’t ever, naturally pronounce “water” like “wooder” as Philadelphians do. I can turn it on when I’m at the Wawa but my family doesn’t hear me say it at home).
I must be tired, though, because my blending in has been fading out. Twice in the last week 2 friends have noted the odd way I’ve pronounced a word or two. I’ve gone years without slipping!
I don’t know if it was the trip back to Pittsburgh a little bit ago, but my vowel sounds are way off lately. One friend asked if I was from Minnesota and another, knowing I was from the Scranton-ish (Poconos) area, noted the “coal-cracker” accent in my speech. I don’t know what’s happening. But now’s a good time to give you all a rundown on the accents that show up in my speech.
Scranton area/Northeastern PA
Sometimes you can hear the Northeast PA accent in the American version of The Office, but they didn’t capture it that well. The latter half of this old film of “Heynabonics” gets into some of the serious quirkiness of the Scranton accent. (Side note: The Jeet yet, no Jew? is also Pittsburghese but not Philadelphian. The rest of the video is strict Scranton). I definitely got the piss taken out of me when I showed up to the University of Pittsburgh and said something was “Mayan.”
Philadelphia area/Delaware County (suburb of Philly)
The Philadelphia accent is often mocked on Saturday Night Live (as NYC is OBSESSED with Philly). The best and funniest example of this was James McAvoy’s Charmin focus group skit. James McAvoy is BRITISH but his Philly accent is as good as Tina Fey’s, and she grew up about a mile from my house. I don’t know if they said the word “jawn” in that skit, but the CREED movie dropped it and added an explainer!
Pittsburgh area/Western PA
Strange thing – I played the McAvoy skit for my PGH-born-and-bred friends, and they said they heard the “Yinzer” twang. [“Yinz” is the word for the plural “you” in the Pittsburgh area. A “yinzer” is a Pittsburgh area resident with their distinct accent.] Watch this classic video from greganddonny on YouTube for a great example of not only the Yinzer accent but an explainer of one of their own very distinct words.
Anyway. I don’t know what the heck is going on with my accent lately. It’s all over the place. Thankfully it’s bouncing between a mere 3 PA places. Only 3. That’s not bad. Even SLATE noticed that Pennsylvania is awash in a gazillion different accents. I will tell you this, though: Pennsylvanians have sharp-ass ears. One vowel outta place and they are gonna call yas/yous guys/yinz out on it. Pretty crazy, heyna?