Dave Wilton writes:

A great video on the changing dialects of New Jersey, or at least great in terms of how journalists usually cover linguistic issues. As a native New Jerseyan, this one struck home for me. And bonus points for mention of the Woodstown rodeo. (People generally don’t associate rodeos with New Jersey, but the state has one.)

Any New Jerseyans out there to give further feedback?


  1. rootlesscosmo says

    What caught my attention was that Dale Coye and William Labov are both referred to as “Daniel.”

  2. I grew up in McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey and enjoyed this video because people tend to think everyone from the state speaks with a “Joyzee” accent.
    I remember in junior high, though, being able to tell if someone is from Northern Jersey and Southern Jersey (which, in light of studies, is Central Jersey, I guess). But I never heard about the Southern Jersey accent in the video where they talk like Southerners(?)…

  3. As a native South Jerseyan, it sounded spot-on to me. There is definitely a Southern twanginess to be found down here, especially in Salem and Cumberland (I’m in Glouceter). I have a bit of it myself, actually. I was told once that a lot of people from Tennessee came to places like Millville and Bridgeton in the late 1800s, and that might have something to do with it.
    Surprised they didn’t bust out the “wuder” (water) test, which is usually said to be characteristic of South Jersey. My sister definitely says “wuder,” but I say “wawter.” But then I have a few idiolectical idiosyncrasies that I don’t know where I picked.

  4. When we moved from Rochester NY to (near NYC) NJ in 1961, my sister and our new neighbor did not at first understand that they had the same name, “Carol”; the vowels were that different.

  5. Can anyone place the accent of NJ’s former governor Tom Kean? I know some members of his family, and they don’t talk like that (they can’t account for it, either).

  6. Here’s a better clip.

  7. Mocked for his Perfect Together ads, right?
    His semi-official biography claims that it comes from a particular Latin master and says it’s “British-tinged.” I suppose that’s possible, but so is the more general upper-class non-rhotic that used to be a lot more common.

  8. J.W. Brewer says

    That rodeo is great. My family used to drive over the bridge from northern Del. to go there when my brother and I were kids. “Wuder” was also extant as a local non-prestige variant of water in northern Del. It was what you warshed with, especially if you were the sort of kid who prounced “route” as “rout” rather than “root.” (I think you now have 3 of 4 shibboleths my 8th grade English teacher was particularly concerned with.)

  9. Ok, I’ve listed his (I think) unusual pronunciations that I took from my second link. Some of them are probably just “upper-class” (his sister, who I slightly know, talks that way) and non-rhotic, but others seem to be idiosyncratically cut-and-pasted from some other dialects (definitely not British): “wook” and “feerst”, for instance. Could they be from somewhere in New Jersey?
    Cungriss (Congress)
    Wushingtn (Washington)
    wook (work)
    pahties (parties)
    hahd (hard)
    recanize (recognize)
    gawn (gone)
    Toosdee (tuesday)
    Theehrsdee (thursday)
    dud’n wook (doesn’t work)
    nut (not)
    seerhv (serve)
    feerhst (first)
    goawn (going)

  10. The more diverse map seemed accurate to me. I’m from Cape May, the southern tip of Jersey, and I don’t have an accent anywhere near the Cumberland accent in the video. I also don’t sound anything like people from North Jersey so there’s a definite divide in at least both those directions. I can recall a guy who came to my workplace to help out one day and he asked me to grab my “draw” and I literally had to ask him what the hell he was saying three times. Turns out he wanted me to grab my “drawer” (which I would pronounce sorta like “droor”).
    Interestingly, when I moved to California, I had multiple people ask me if I was from the south. Maybe there is a bit of that in my accent (my grandparents are all from the south), but it’s very subtle. Californians also seem confused when I say “root” for “route”. I don’t recall if there’s a divide in Jersey itself on that one though.

  11. Oh, forgot to point out that the “draw” guy was from Monmouth county.

  12. Marc Leavitt says

    I am from central New Jersey. In my research, most linguistic sources split the state between the New York accent/dialect and the Philadelphia; they couldn’t be more wrong. Despite its small size, or perhaps because of it, and especially its long tradition of municipal home rule and initially small town makeup, the state is riddled with micro-dialects. For instance, in my hometown of New Brunswick, we have a Buccleugh Park. The Scottish name is properly pronounced BUCKLOO. In New Brnuswick it’s pronounced BUGLE-OH. Jersey City and neighboring Bayonne have a distinctive dialect which is similar, but NOT the same as a Brooklyn/Staten Island accent. South Jersey definitely has an accent reminiscent of a more southerly location, and so it goes.

  13. Rodger C says

    Wandering off a bit perhaps, but are the places where “route” contains a tense monophthong the same as the places where “root” has a lax vowel?

  14. Rodger C.: No (I’m from Essex County). For me route and root are homophones with the GOOSE vowel, except when I am talking about computer routes, routing, and routers, in which case I use /raut/.

  15. Californians also seem confused when I say “root” for “route”.
    Just ask them where they get their kicks.

  16. gawn – a very woody word, that.

  17. J. W. Brewer says

    My recollection of Northern Del. non-prestige substrate pronunciation from my teen years three decades back may be HIGHLY UNRELIABLE, but while prestige usage was the same as John Cowan reports (although I don’t know if anyone had occasion to use different pronunciation in a computer context – we were loading software from cassette tapes onto TRS-80’s back then), if you told me that some kid who had pronounced “route” with the MOUTH vowel rather than the GOOSE vowel had also pronounced “root” with the FOOT vowel rather than the GOOSE vowel, it would seem plausible.

  18. J. W. Brewer says

    And now I’m remembering a math teacher from when I was in 11th grade who pronounced “err” and the first syllable of “error” with the NURSE vowel rather than the SQUARE vowel, which confused pretty much everyone in the class (a special countywide advanced class, so the kids were not necessarily representative of the whole local range of dialect).

  19. I pronounce “err” with the NURSE vowel and the first syllable of “error” with the SQUARE vowel.

  20. As an AuE speaker the ONLY sound coming out of my mouth when I pronounce “err” is the NURSE vowel. Actually that’s not quite correct. If I was saying “to err is human” very slowly and carefully that would be the case (glottal stop between “err” and “is”) but speaking quickly the “r” would sneak in between. I pronounce “error” with the short “e”, as in “bed”. “Error” takes marginally less time for me to say than “airer”.

  21. My father (from the Chicago area) pronounced err with the NURSE vowel, but most other people I knew pronounced it with the SQUARE vowel (or in some cases I suppose the BED vowel). As a result, of course, it is one of those words that I feel I’m saying wrong no matter how I say it.
    Some baseball broadcasters pronounce “error” in a way that sounds just like “air” to me. They probably pronounce “mirror” like “mere”, too, but that doesn’t come up so much in baseball.

  22. Nice to see my article mentioned in this space, and thanks for recognizing the video guy got my name wrong. If you haven’t read the article, you’ll see water, drawer/draw mentioned and lots of other things besides. It’s always interesting to me how everyone thinks they’re an expert when it comes to language, like the guy in the video who thinks North Jersey is not like Long Island. Maybe that’s true, but his example wasn’t great. There are plenty of people in North Jersey who use the more extreme diphthong in coffee, even if he doesn’t. Err SHOULD be pronounced with the vowel of NURSE (on historic principles), but the pronunciation of ERROR has pirated it, so hardly anyone pronounces it that way.

Speak Your Mind