Tuesday, October 7, 2014

New Orleans in the brackets of Gawker's "America's Ugliest Accent" tournament

Posted By on Tue, Oct 7, 2014 at 4:26 PM

I was on a flight to New Orleans yesterday after a week away, and in the boarding area of the airport it occurred to me that I hadn't heard a New Orleans accent for a week. What that New Orleans accent is is hard to say, exactly; there are so many "New Orleans" accents that the famous Rick Aschmann map of "North American English Dialects" has to have its own special inset for New Orleans:

click to enlarge screen_shot_2014-10-07_at_2.56.02_pm.png

That's quite an achievement, considering that the entire country west of the Rocky Mountains is divided into only two sections. According to Aschmann's map, we have that many accents between Broadmoor and Carrollton. Somewhere along there, according to Aschmann, "pin" and "pen" begin to rhyme.

That map came to mind because Gawker is now running a bracket-ish contest to determine "America's Ugliest Accent," and New Orleans is one of the 16 accents in contention (first knockout round against Scranton, Pennsylvania):

click to enlarge screen_shot_2014-10-07_at_2.55.26_pm.png


The first thing I noticed was that the entire West Coast is represented only by Los Angeles (another, much larger place with a huge variety of accents, but I suspect Gawker is talking about this particular accent). Everyone from Santa Barbara, California to Seattle has, I suppose, one accent: Local Newscaster. Certainly there's nothing there as unique as the accent of a Ronnie Virgets or the fictional Mrs. Reilly of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, who spoke, we are told, in "that accent that occurs south of New Jersey only in New Orleans, that Hoboken near the Gulf of Mexico." 

But in recent years (certainly after Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods) I have heard fewer of the classic Yat or Seventh Ward accents. Call them ugly if you want, but I would hate to hear them disappear. Anyone can talk like Sacramento, but few cities can offer up this*:


* From the documentary Yeah You Rite! by Louis Alvarez and Andrew Kolke, prodced sometime in the mid-1980s

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