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A Common Misconception about the New Orleans Accent

Jane Sedgebeer, right, tells stories about her youth in the New Orleans Ninth Ward to Young Explorers Grantee Caroline Gerdes, left, in Sedgebeer's New Orleans home. Photo by Robert Giglio

 

I am a couple of weeks into my exploration and I have already captured the stories of several people who have called the New Orleans Ninth Ward home. And, after hearing their voices, I feel compelled to debunk an old New Orleans’ stereotype.

People from New Orleans do not speak with a Southern drawl.

The common dialect in the Ninth Ward and other New Orleans neighborhoods is actually akin to that found in a New York borough.  In New Orleans, we call this a Yat accent, derived from the phrase “Where ya’at?” (If you follow the New Orleans Saints, this may sound familiar, considering the popular cheer, “Who Dat? Who Dat? Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?”)

A few of my subjects mentioned the “Nint’ Ward accent” as a key ingredient to being from the neighborhood.   Former resident Jane Sedgebeer said people outside Louisiana often guess she is from the Big Apple and not the Big Easy.

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Those of you who clicked on her sound bite did not hear a country twang or Cajun French like popular New Orleans films and TV shows would suggest, but something that sounds a little Bronx-esque.

So, why is it that two cities 1300 miles apart have such similar sounds? New Orleans and New York were both large port cities in the mid to end 1800s, with settlers emigrating from the same countries: France, Italy, Germany, Ireland, to name a few. This gumbo of immigrants in both cities created the like dialects.

The Southern tongue does, however, exist in Louisiana. And, so does Cajun. And, even no dialect at all.  Generally speaking, these dialects are divided into different regions throughout the state. Louisianans take pride in their respective regions because there are several identities, traditions and voices specific to the certain areas of the state.

This diversity was the inspiration behind my project studying the contribution of Ninth Ward immigrant culture to New Orleans.

I promise to keep y’all updated about the rest of my adventures and Louisiana musings. And, if you have any questions about “the boot” feel free to email me at yourstorynola@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. Juan Rivera
    Laredo, TX
    April 8, 7:59 pm

    To me the YAT accent sounds like a New Yorker who has lived in the South so long that he picked up a very slight southern draw.

  2. Lindsay
    New York
    January 28, 7:30 am

    I On the contrary. I can definitely hear a southern pull in the accent. Though it may not be as thick as tennessee or the carolinas etc. I think there is a HUGE difference between that accent and a new yorkers. I heard it immediately.

  3. Mr. Hat
    United States
    January 8, 2013, 1:10 am

    That “old New Orleans stereotype” has been debunked many times before, perhaps most famously by A.J. Liebling in his book “The Earl of Louisiana.” Yes, it is true that you will hear Brooklynized Diphthongs in the 9th Ward and other areas, including “da Parish” (St. Bernard, that is), but other neighborhoods sound more Southern.

  4. David
    December 12, 2012, 10:56 pm

    Oh–by the way, Caroline, the sound bite linked to this article confirms both what you stated therein (in the article, not the sound bite) (the accent of most New Orleanians resembles a New York City accent) and what I stated in my earlier comment (the former of the two accents also has a Southern drawl to it [and the older, no-R-at-the-end, South Atlantic/Deep South drawl, in particular]).

  5. David
    December 12, 2012, 10:43 pm

    The third sentence/second paragraph is a stereotype *itself* (contrary to that aforementioned sentence, New Orleans *does* speak with a Southern drawl, just not a straight-up Southern drawl). Granted, the elements of “Brooklynese” (as the New York City accent is often nicknamed) are there, but even with those, there is still a Southern drawl to the New Orleans accent. Put another way, New Orleanians *do* **SO** speak with a Southern drawl; it’s just mixed in with a New York accent (for reasons mentioned in the above article) and that French/African/Haitian (? [Haitian, that is?])/(older) Deep South hybrid accent, Louisiana French Creole (due to New Orleans’–and Louisiana’s–French roots).

  6. [...] in the French Quarter, there were Second Lines to When the Saints Go Marching In, people shouting Who Dat and many costumes playing on the highly anticipated win.  I have a photo somewhere with a man [...]

  7. Teresa Russell
    Key West, Florida
    June 26, 2012, 3:16 pm

    I just read your comments likening NOLA accent to New York. Well, you should hear the Conch accent. It too, has a similarity, to my ear, to a New York Accent. And since Key West was a port of call from NY to NOLA, it stands to reason they sound alike.