Means Doesn’t Rhyme with New Orleans Transcript

Megan Figueroa 

Hi, and welcome to the Vocal Fries Podcast, the podcast about linguistic discrimination.

Carrie Gillon  

I’m Carrie Gillon.

Megan Figueroa  

And I’m Megan Figueroa, and we got people out there being racist again, Carrie. [both laugh]

Carrie Gillon  

I’m so shocked. So, so shocked. 

Megan Figueroa  

Trump was racist again. When he was… What was it? Like a press conference with a border patrol– a Latino Border Patrol agent?

Carrie Gillon  

He delivered a speech in tribute to to officers of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol. Sorry, Border Protection.

Megan Figueroa  

Right. Anyway, when he was about to introduce him, Trump says that he speaks perfect English. Is that right? Is that the correct quote?

Carrie Gillon  

That is the correct quote.

Megan Figueroa  

We both know that there is just so much more that’s wrong with that besides the linguistic bit. Systemic issues and stuff and like ICE and all this, but we talk about linguistic discrimination, this is one of those things that’s like equivalent to saying like if you say that when someone has a foreign accent and you say, Oh, wow, you’re really articulate or you know, all these things, but you’re acting surprised that they can actually quote unquote speak well. 

Carrie Gillon  

Yeah, you’re being a bit of a dick. 

Megan Figueroa  

Right. So… 

Carrie Gillon  

Well, yeah. And you’re also being kind of– you’re being essentialist because you think that only certain people should be able to have the skills to speak English but like…

Megan Figueroa  

Right.

Carrie Gillon  

Whatever language you speak has nothing to do with anything other than where you grew up, or who your parents are. Or something like that. Like you take a baby from one end of the country– one end of the world and stick them in another part of the world. They’re just going to grow up the language that they speak there, not where they came from.

Megan Figueroa  

Right. 

Carrie Gillon  

It’s just– It’s bizarre. People still have these really weird racial ideas about how language works.

Megan Figueroa  

I don’t know anything about this border patrol agent, except that he’s Latino. He might not even speak Spanish right? 

Carrie Gillon  

It’s possible Yeah, I have no idea. 

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah, but yeah, so just because you’re Latino doesn’t mean you speak Spanish. So you’re…

Carrie Gillon  

But even if you did, speaking Spanish has nothing to do with your ability to speak English. You can be bilingual

Megan Figueroa  

Right. It’s- it’s racializing the Spanish language too. 

Carrie Gillon  

Yes. 

Megan Figueroa  

So… that was a real dick move. And of course, no one’s surprised that he would say something racist and xenophobic. And…

Carrie Gillon  

No, it was– I’m sure it was on purpose too it’s like, hey look.

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah, yeah.

Carrie Gillon  

I like some Latinos. Look at this guy. And also, I’m still gonna be racist while I say I like him so that the white supremacist know that I’m still a white supremacist,

Megan Figueroa  

Right. Yep. Yeah, he’s one of the good Latinos just look at him. He’s in a border patrol agent uniform. 

Carrie Gillon  

And yet still…

Megan Figueroa  

Right, right. And still bring him down a couple pegs.

Carrie Gillon  

Fun times. And then, there was another article a couple days ago that was relevant to us. 

Megan Figueroa  

Yes, always. I like to think because I’m full of myself.

Carrie Gillon  

Well, when it’s specifically about women’s voices, then obviously.

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah, it’s true. It’s a mashable.com article from the 22nd of August and it’s called Stop Telling Women How They Should Talk. It’s as if, you know, we’ve probably said the exact same thing before.

Carrie Gillon  

I am 100% certain we said it at least one time.

Megan Figueroa  

And it was by Rachel Thompson. They actually interview linguist Lisa Davidson, so that’s good. Yeah, so it’s basically what we talked about in our very first episode, and they even talk about like, we talked about the Lexicon Valley episode where they talk about it and they talk about that. They don’t call out the people like we do. But it’s ok.

Carrie Gillon  

I guess she didn’t have the skills probably.

Megan Figueroa  

True, true. The very last line is what really needs to change isn’t women’s voices, but how we think about women and their voices. 

Carrie Gillon  

Exactly. 

Megan Figueroa  

Exactly. So that’s definitely the moral of every episode. 

Carrie Gillon  

Yes. 

Megan Figueroa  

And just switch it out for women’s when it’s you know, 

Carrie Gillon  

Right.

Megan Figueroa  

I mean.

Carrie Gillon  

The relevant group, depending on what we’re talking about, but yeah.

Megan Figueroa  

Exactly. And then the- the culmination of all that is… everyone, right? What really needs to change isn’t everyone’s voices but how we think about everyone and their voices.

Carrie Gillon  

Although, I would say I think women are picked on their voices more. So other- other people are picked on for other things like oh, you don’t– you have bad grammar or your vocabulary is poor or whatever, you know, it’s not usually about how your voice sounds like that seems to be pretty women central. And gay men. Probably.

Megan Figueroa  

Yes. But there’s a connection there.

Carrie Gillon  

There’s definitely a connection.

Megan Figueroa  

And one day we will talk about it with someone who has more authority on the subject. 

Carrie Gillon  

Yes. Yes, we will get there. The way people speak can be judged in many different ways, but it seems like voices is mainly about femininity.

Megan Figueroa  

Yes, femininity. That’s it

Carrie Gillon  

So many times. 

Megan Figueroa  

Oh. Heavy, heavy sigh. I know, it’s like a constant struggle.

Carrie Gillon  

We’re going to be fighting this forever. As we said a few episodes ago. This is– It’s forever. Uphill battle.

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah, but this is a hill I’m willing to die on. Sisyphean battle. [both laugh]

Carrie Gillon  

I just got to remember, I’ve gonna think like advertisers just constantly got to say the same thing over and over again, and eventually people will come around. 

Megan Figueroa  

Speaking of… Patreon, y’all.

Carrie Gillon  

Sort of.

Megan Figueroa  

Well, we keep reminding people that we have it. 

Carrie Gillon  

We’re advertising ourselves. Yes. Yes. 

Megan Figueroa  

Yes, we’re advertising ourselves.

Carrie Gillon  

Yeah, so you can find us at patreon.com/vocalfriespod. Basically everything we do online is vocal fries pod. 

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah.

Carrie Gillon  

So if you’re like, hmm? I wonder if they’re using such and such a social media platform. Look for vocal fries pod.

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah. Because the Twitter the vocal fries was taken long, long ago.

Carrie Gillon  

Yeah, it’s fine. 

Megan Figueroa  

And here we are. But if you like what we’re doing….

Carrie Gillon  

You can support us. 

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah, we’re we’re indie podcasts. Trying to make the world a better place.

Carrie Gillon  

One episode where we yell at you to not be an asshole at a time.

Megan Figueroa  

Yep, exactly. Speaking of, today’s episode, we get to talk about New Orleans. 

Carrie Gillon  

Yeah. 

Megan Figueroa  

So. That’s fun.

Carrie Gillon  

It’s a great city and we were supposed to be there a couple weekends ago. But that all fell through, so… We still ended up interviewing the person that we were going to interview at the live show. Lisa Sprouse. So yeah, it’s- it’s fun. We get to learn some new things about New Orleans English. So today we have a guest to talk about something we have never addressed. We’re actually going to talk about at least somewhat we’re going to talk about class for the first time. I’m really excited.

Megan Figueroa  

We hint at it. We hint, we go near it. And then we’re like, whoop, we don’t know about it.

Carrie Gillon  

So today we have Lisa Sprowls, who is a PhD candidate at Tulane, and her focus is on socio-linguistics and socio-phonetics of American dialects. In particular, Montana, Pittsburgh, and New Orleans. And today we’re going to focus on New Orleans. So welcome, Lisa.

Lisa Sprowls  

Thank you. 

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah, I’m so happy. I’m again about to learn everything. Because I know nothing.

Carrie Gillon  

Yeah, this is definitely an area that I know almost nothing about? Like almost, so it’ll be fun. 

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah.

Carrie Gillon  

Yeah. So where should we begin, should we talk about… let’s talk about what- what dialects exist in New Orleans.

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah.

Carrie Gillon  

Like, broadly speaking, there are probably lots but…

Lisa Sprowls  

So broadly speaking with the dialects, it honestly depends on what year the research was done and who did the research.

Megan Figueroa  

Ah.

Carrie Gillon  

Right.

Lisa Sprowls  

So the general accepted right now is that if we’re speaking narrowly there are three, which would be a New Orlean specific type of African American English, the working class white English, which is called Yat and then the upper class white English, which I refer to as Garden District English. That’s the area of the city it’s most closely related to. If we branch out, a lot of other people argue that there’s five. The three that I mentioned, then also a type of just Standard American English, which seems to be taking over some of the local dialects in the city. And there’s also a discussion of whether or not there is a Creole English in New Orleans, which would be the Creole African American population in areas of the city like the Seventh Ward? That population is notoriously difficult to research. So there’s not– there’s honestly not too much work on any of the dialects except for Yat which is very well established. 

Carrie Gillon  

So let’s- let’s begin with Yat then, since that’s the best studied. So what is the Yat dialect? What features does it have? Who speaks it? etc.

Lisa Sprowls  

So Yat which comes from a greeting in New Orleans, “Where yat?”

Carrie Gillon  

Ah! 

Megan Figueroa  

Woah. 

Carrie Gillon  

Wo-ah.

Megan Figueroa  

You blew my mind. 

Carrie Gillon  

That’s awesome.

Lisa Sprowls  

Yeah. So it doesn’t, it doesn’t actually refer to where are you? Where are you at, like, space wise? It’s actually unclear where that came from. There’s a bunch of different theories. One that always shows up is that it’s from musicians who would pass each other and say where you at? As in where are you playing tonight? Which then turned into where yat? Would you like to guess what an appropriate response to where yat is? 

Carrie Gillon  

No.

Megan Figueroa  

Wait… Dang it, no. I have no idea.

Lisa Sprowls  

So a pretty standard response will be something like I’m good. 

Megan Figueroa  

Ah, not what I was gonna say. I was gonna like say something like spatially definitely like… 

Lisa Sprowls  

Yeah, it’s– space and class are very tricky in New Orleans. But… so yat is generally considered to be the working class white English dialect in the city. It would have started in traditional white working class neighborhoods like the Irish Channel, which is uptown closer to the river. Then other areas like the Ninth Ward, which is now predominantly African American was working class white up until about the 1960s. 

Carrie Gillon  

Oh, okay. 

Lisa Sprowls  

So that’s where that dialect would have likely began. It is now found mostly outside of the city. So Katie Carmichael has done a lot of work on Yat showing that it is mainly in St. Bernard Parish, right so we have parishes instead of counties in Louisiana. So St. Bernard Parish borders, Orleans Parish. There are a few different neighborhoods, mainly ones called Chalmette and Aerobie which are considered to now be the yat homeland. So it has moved slightly outside of the city. And it is associated with– to put it bluntly– it is associated with white flight, the movement of this dialect. So New Orleans very much fought against integration in the public school system. So this was the site of in 1960 Ruby Bridges who integrated one of the schools in the city, and a lot of people withdrew their children and even moved outside of the city. So that’s around the time that Yat moved into St. Bernard Parish. There’s also the question of is it actually distinct from African American English?

Carrie Gillon  

Right. That’s a question that I wanted to get to for sure. So yeah, is it distinct from the African American English variety spoken in New Orleans?

Lisa Sprowls  

So if we talk about the different features of African American English and yat there’s a lot of overlap between the two. Some of the standard features that are considered part of yat would be that it’s r-less. Post vocalic r-lessness is still very common throughout yat. It is receding through the generations. 

Megan Figueroa  

So example of that would be? 

Lisa Sprowls  

Even the pronunciation of– the pronunciation of New Orleans is often dialect specific. So in yat you’re likely to get either the r retained with New Orleans or New Aw-leans. That’s a common space of that r is going to get dropped. Word finally, the er suffix that r is going to get dropped on a lot of words. Bett-ah, for better is a really common one. Even more common, proper nouns like the month names you’re going to get Octob-ah, Novemb-ah, right? So it’s gonna drop even in more standardized situations. So then moving on th stopping which is the replacement of your inner dental fricatives, the orthographic th with a T or a D. Probably the most famous example of this would be with the New Orleans Saints. Who dat? Where instead of who that you’re getting Who dat? Or the whole phrase, who dat say they’re gonna be them saints? In that whole phrase. And that is a feature you’re going to find in yat at about the same level as you’re going to find it in African American English in the city. Our list is about the same. You’re going to find that in both. There’s a few older features that are very rare to find, but you do find them in both black and white working class English in the city. We have what’s called the coil curl reversal. So for example, my adviser told me she was at a subway, I think? She was carrying her son and the lady working behind the counter told her not to sperl her child instead of spoil.

Megan Figueroa  

Oh, woah. 

Carrie Gillon  

When we- when we went to New Orleans a few years ago, Megan and I the first thing that we encountered was this actually

Megan Figueroa  

Yes, in the airport, right? 

Carrie Gillon  

Yes, someone at the airport told us it’s cooking earl, like she went out of her way to explain. 

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah, I love that.

Carrie Gillon  

Which I love.

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah, yeah. Because I think I asked her how to pronounce New Orleans properly? Well, you know, quote unquote, properly like now that I’m in New Orleans, how do I say, you know, and then she went on to tell us about that and it was perfect. I love it. 

Carrie Gillon  

Yeah,

Lisa Sprowls  

Yeah. So that is it’s a little older, but that’s a feature that both white and black speakers tend to be aware of and they will talk about it. Not so much if they use it. If they use it, they’re not really gonna… right, the level of conscious awareness of using it is slightly lower, but talking about it in a meta linguistic sense is very high. I interviewed an older woman. She was in her 90s and she was talking about– she didn’t use it at all, but she was talking about her mother would always say that she was going to buy her new skirt [skoit] to wear to school. 

Megan Figueroa  

Wow. 

Lisa Sprowls  

Right. 

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah. 

Lisa Sprowls  

Or my neighbor doesn’t he was telling me about working on his car. He apologized for there being an oil [erl] spill on the driveway. Next door whenever he was changing the oil in his car. It’s a prevalent feature. It is on the decline, but you still do hear people use it and it’s used in a performative way as well. And to throw a little more complication into this, all of those features that you find in both Yat and African American English you also find in New York City.

Megan Figueroa  

Oh.

Carrie Gillon  

That’s true.

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah, yeah yeah yeah.

Lisa Sprowls  

And other port cities. Savannah and Charleston. It is receding there. You’ll find some of that there. 

Carrie Gillon  

Interesting. 

Lisa Sprowls  

Yat also has the split short a system of New York City English.

Carrie Gillon  

Can you explain that?

Lisa Sprowls  

A split short a refers to how, for most dialects, the vowel phoneme found in the word cat is pronounced relatively stable and quality across all speakers in all environments in the dialect. A split short a system refers to a tensing that usually occurs before voiced and nasal sounds. So for example, with a voiceless P. And for example map, you’d get that standard a [short a] sound map, but mad you would get a tensing raising of the vowel to me-at 

Carrie Gillon  

Oh, yeah. 

Megan Figueroa  

Fun. I love that sound. 

Lisa Sprowls  

So you get that… yes, you get that in Yat in New Orleans, which is not a southern feature. It is not really an African American English feature. So there’s a question of why that feature has popped up in New Orleans.

Carrie Gillon  

Do you know why or is it an open question?

Lisa Sprowls  

It is an open question. I’ve previously done some research, trying to kind of postulating why yat has the features that it does. There is a pretty strong trend going through current research that it may have to do with the time of settlement by immigrant groups that are coming through port cities. 

Carrie Gillon  

Okay. 

Lisa Sprowls  

The theory that we’re running is that it has to do with Italian but maybe more specifically Sicilian immigration through port cities… is a pretty strong commonality between New York City and New Orleans. New Orleans was the largest port of immigration south of New York throughout the 1800s. 

Carrie Gillon  

Right. 

Lisa Sprowls  

A lot of people coming through. We’ve done some research about 70 miles northwest of the city. Yat doesn’t really show up between New Orleans in the communities in that– in that expanse, but we get to this little town called Independence about 70 miles Northwest, where a lot of the Sycilian immigrants who came into New Orleans were– were harled to go to Independence because there is farming land there. 

Carrie Gillon  

Right. 

Lisa Sprowls  

And they are consistently showing these Yat futures. 

Carrie Gillon  

Interesting. 

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah.

Lisa Sprowls  

So that- that’s one clue that that may be where it’s coming from. Other people have floated some theories that in the Reconstruction Era Following the Civil War, there were businessmen from New York City, who came to New Orleans to try to, you know, do some economic profiting, but that doesn’t explain why the rest of the South doesn’t have it.

Carrie Gillon  

Right. 

Megan Figueroa  

Right.

Carrie Gillon  

Is there something about the variety of Italian spoken in Sicily that would lead to this change or I mean, this distinction?

Lisa Sprowls  

Not with that specific feature. There are some vowel differences between standard Italian and what is considered Sicilian, and Sicilian is either a dialect or a separate language depending on what source you’re reading as well. 

Carrie Gillon  

Right, of course. 

Lisa Sprowls  

But with that tensing, there doesn’t really seem to be a motivation for that happening.

Carrie Gillon  

It’s interesting. I mean, it seems like you’re– it seems like it’s plausible that it’s coming from this- this particular group of people but then…

Megan Figueroa  

But why?

Carrie Gillon  

The language. 

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah.

Carrie Gillon  

That facts don’t line up but anyway, that’s very interesting. 

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah.

Lisa Sprowls  

Yeah, that’s- that’s probably going be our common trend today with New Orleans. This might be why it’s happening, but we’re not exactly sure. 

Carrie Gillon  

Well, that’s good, because people should realize that this is how science works. And we don’t always have the answers. 

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah. We’re following the evidence, but… We don’t know. 

Carrie Gillon  

We might not be there yet. 

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah, yeah yeah. 

Carrie Gillon  

Eventually, hopefully, but maybe not.

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah.

Carrie Gillon  

So okay, let’s go back to the Yat African American English difference, which seems to be small if it exists. So are there any actual differences or?

Lisa Sprowls  

Yes, culturally, there are a lot of differences. Especially after a lot of the Yats move to St. Bernard. But for the longest time, the Ninth Ward would have been white and black, right? On the same block. Even now, if you’re in the Ninth Ward, there are both white and black communities, but it really varies by block. New Orleans is by and large still, culturally and geographically segregated.

Carrie Gillon  

I think that’s kind of the case for most cities in the United States. 

Lisa Sprowls  

Yeah.

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah.

Lisa Sprowls  

New Orleans is about 63% African American. So, it’s an overwhelming majority, but more concentrated in specific areas of the city. I would venture to guess that the reason they shared a lot of the commonalities would have been initially because of geographic space, and not necessarily cultural prejudice between the two groups? Especially if you look at some other research where Yat speakers are very insistent that the dialect they speak is very markedly different than African American English.

Carrie Gillon  

I mean, it makes sense that they want to demarcate themselves because, yeah, that’s what people do. But it’s interesting that there’s not much of a difference.

Megan Figueroa  

Right. Could they tell a difference? Can they tell the difference between themselves and the other group?

Lisa Sprowls  

Not very well. So we’ve done some research on this. Looking at different verbal guise and map labeling tasks and then seeing if respondent race factored into how they’re labeling or perceiving speech in the city. 

Megan Figueroa  

Right. 

Lisa Sprowls  

So we did do a verbal guise task where we recorded nine different New Orleanians all speaking the same sentence, and they’re from different areas of the city, either black or white, different ages, most had some college education a few only finished high school, but our focus was can listeners really demarcate race with any level of above chance, really. And so we had when we did this a few years ago, I think we had 49 people that responded to this– that listened to it– and of the nine recordings, we had seven were white speakers, we had two that were African American English speakers. 

Megan Figueroa  

And that was on purpose? 

Lisa Sprowls  

It wasn’t necessarily on purpose that way, but it’s just the willingness, the willingness of people to either participate as a speaker or listener. 

Megan Figueroa  

Okay. 

Lisa Sprowls  

So for these white speakers that we had, up through middle age of the speakers up to about 50? Both our black and our white respondents could identify race correctly between 89 and 100% of the time, so of most of the white speakers, they were way above chance in identifying that these were white speakers. But then our two oldest white speakers. So we had a 78 year old who was from the upper class white dialect. And then we had an 85 year old that was from Chalmette. So the working class two, as we think very distinct white dialects, the racial identification for the speakers was basically a chance for both black and white respondents ranging really anywhere between about 44 and 51%. Correct racial identification of these speakers. That may clue us into the fact that African American English and the white dialects from the city used to be a lot more similar than they are now. 

Megan Figueroa  

I see, ok. 

Lisa Sprowls  

It is likely that when race and class really started to diverge more in the city about 50 years ago, that the dialects similarly diverged from each other. We didn’t look too much at the class with the specific one. But we did find that within the race that match their own, right, so with the black respondents listening to the two black speakers, they could tell you class right they- they are much better at it than white speakers, just like with our seven white speakers, the white respondents were much better delineating well, this person probably is working class maybe finished high school, this person has a college degree. So for both races age is what confuses people within your own race in New Orleans assumes that class delineation is a lot easier to figure out. So there are those little nuances with race and class that we’re seeing with this. Something else interesting that came up with that if we switch to our two black speakers? We had a 33 year old female and a 67 year old female, the younger speaker very much confused all the respondents. Our white respondents could identify her race 39% of the time, and our black respondents could only do it 22% of the time. 

Carrie Gillon  

Oh, wow. 

Lisa Sprowls  

What we had with her she- she had gone to graduate school. So her socioeconomic class her education was higher than most of the other white speakers. So that really seemed to throw people off. 

Carrie Gillon  

That’s fascinating. 

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah. 

Lisa Sprowls  

Our older black speaker who was considered more working class? Our white respondents identified her race correctly 71% of the time and black respondents had 100%. 

Carrie Gillon  

Right. 

Lisa Sprowls  

So there’s all these different nuances and then when people said that they couldn’t tell the race. It was interesting that often instead of just saying they didn’t know what race the speaker was, they identified the speaker as being Creole.

Carrie Gillon  

Ah, that’s interesting.

Lisa Sprowls  

Yeah. Which wouldn’t really work in cities outside of New Orleans. 

Carrie Gillon  

No. 

Lisa Sprowls  

In this kind of task, the I don’t know equivalent in other cities is were thinking the kind of the equivalent of saying that someone is Creole in these audio– in these audio guises because throughout the 300 years of the city, yes, the the meaning of Creole has shifted multiple times and there’s questions of ownership over what group is Creole, that at its base, someone that’s Creole is of mixed race origin. 

Megan Figueroa  

Okay. 

Lisa Sprowls  

So it’s kind of a catch all for this. 

Megan Figueroa  

Interesting.

Carrie Gillon  

It’s very interesting. Yeah. So they can’t tell they’re like, Okay, they’re biracial. 

Lisa Sprowls  

Yeah. Yeah, they’re trying to cover their bases and including both.

Megan Figueroa  

And that’s basically saying that they have influence from both dialects or from both kind of speakers, right? So the Yat and the African American. Okay, that’s really interesting. 

Carrie Gillon  

Yeah. But is there also a separate or was there ever a separate dialect associated with Creole people or no?

Lisa Sprowls  

Likely there was, it may still be so very briefly because a discussion of Creole could be a whole semester class, to start with, Creole referred to slaves born in Louisiana, so and then it shifted to just being born in Louisiana. So both slaves and the European immigrants who then had children here, their children were considered Creole. 

Carrie Gillon  

Oh, okay. 

Lisa Sprowls  

After the US took over, which had stricter race laws than the Spanish and French who ruled Louisiana before, Creole then took on the meaning of being mixed race. It shifted again since then, where we still have people that say they’re white Creole versus black Creole. 

Carrie Gillon  

Oh. 

Lisa Sprowls  

Linguistically, if we’re talking about Creole English, we are associating it with Creole blacks, the African American mixed population in the city. The issue with this that we’ve encountered is I’ve heard from other researchers that getting people to self identify as Creole is the large barrier to studying Creole English. 

Carrie Gillon  

Why is that? 

Lisa Sprowls  

There’s a tendency with a white researcher that people who are from these Creol areas will just identify as black because that is enough of a racial distinction when you’re talking to a white researcher. My advisor tried it, she took a black undergraduate student with her and then someone who had previously identified as a black to her I believe identified as Creole to the black student. Even if you- you’re pretty sure that someone is Creole, if they’re not going to label themselves as Creole there’s, you know, there- there’s an ethnic issue with that of can you include them in a study of Creole English, so it’s really the access to the population. There are a few Creole researchers Mona Lisa Saloy who is at Dillard University, has done some preliminary work of listing out these are some lexical features of Creole English suggesting that there is a Creole English, but there hasn’t been any in depth study of the population. Creole is also complicated if I’m not sure if you guys are aware of the group that calls themselves the Mardi Gras Indians. 

Megan Figueroa  

No. 

Carrie Gillon  

No.

Lisa Sprowls  

Okay, so Mardi Gras Indians– I recommend look it up. It’s fantastic– Mardi Gras Indians are a population within New Orleans that claim to be the descendants of slaves who took refuge with indigenous populations around New Orleans. It falls under the umbrella term of Creole but it’s considered a separate group because it’s not the White Black mixing that you normally associate with Creole. They trace our heritage to black and indigenous groups. 

Carrie Gillon  

Right. 

Lisa Sprowls  

So that would be another group. They’re very well known during Mardi Gras. They as a kind of as a tribute to these indigenous roots, they make these very lavish, almost Plains Indian style costumes and they parade in their crews throughout the city. They you know, they have their chance, they have some songs where the language that they’re using is unknown, right? They’re not even sure of what it is. People have tried to study the Mardi Gras Indian chants, people have come up with theories that it’s choctaw. Or that it’s mobilian jargon, or even that it’s just a variety of Creole French. Right. So that’s another complication of are you considering your Mardi Gras Indian population as a Creole population? Are you looking at them separately? Right, so race is not– it’s not really clear cut for any population, but in New Orleans, especially for a city that if you look at the demographics, and it says, well, it’s 63% black, but then you have your different nuances within this population of people who considers themselves to be African American who considers themselves to be Creole who doesn’t think that there’s a difference, right. So it’s a very complicated topic to look at.

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah. And I think that’s important for our listeners, too. When we like, say we’re talking about one geographic region, it is so complicated, we’re not going to even like be able to get, you know, it’s just like the tip of the iceberg kind of thing where, like, it depends on who you’re talking to, you know, like there’s so many different factors that you can talk about in one geographic region that it’s like, we’re only- we’re only talking about one band. There’s so much more and we don’t mean to exclude it. Right. But it’s like… 

Carrie Gillon  

Can only do so much in one episode. 

Lisa Sprowls  

Yeah. 

Megan Figueroa  

Right, exactly.

Carrie Gillon  

So now I want to talk about… what was it called the Garden District dialect? 

Lisa Sprowls  

The Garden District. Yes. We know that class, especially amongst the white population in New Orleans, is pretty strictly delineated between the upper class and the working class in New Orleans. I guess kind of to move back a little bit. A lot of the media representations of New Orleans use a very exaggerated southern drawl, or even a Charleston type accent. So I’m looking at you Scott Bakula from NCIS: New Orleans. It’s not right– it’s- it’s like a- it’s like a tourist coming to New Orleans and expecting people to speak French. It’s not really what the city is anymore. But any notion of southerness is likely tied to upper class English in the city. So this is what I’m doing my dissertation on right now. All of this previous research has said there is an upper class white English, but no one has studied it. No one has labeled it as such. There’s a chance that there was a study done in the early 1950s by George Reinecke, where he made a map of adults that he interviewed and it labeled- it seemed to correlate with upper class areas the Garden District, an area called Esplanade Ridge, Uptown near Tulane and Loyola universities, but he didn’t call it upper class English. He didn’t call it Garden District English. He said that it was the English that was acceptable as the standard pronunciation in the city. Which is another big shift because it is not anymore, right? Usually if you ask people they will say that African American English or Yat slash Brooklyn sounding English is what’s authentically New Orleans. So we have this dialect that we know exists. It may have been considered the standard at one point it definitely is not now. We’re pretty confident that it’s socioeconomically it’s the highly educated, richer populations in the city that speak it, but no one has really established what it is. Kind of going off anecdotal evidence, we had people label different areas of the city on a map task and very consistently, the uptown and Garden District areas by both black and white speakers are being labeled pretty equally as Southern and proper. So that kind of clued us in to right so I am a sociophonetician. My focus is the phonetics of these different dialects. So that’s the angle I’m working on. I created the diff– I created the socio linguistic interview with the different careful and casual prompts, focusing on both general southern features, read the different monophthongs that you get out of the diphthongs. Some aspects of the Southern vowel shift the pin pen merger, is a big– is a big part of that that we’re focusing on. Other southern features like the r-lessness and I’m also including older southern features that you get in areas like Charleston, and somewhat in Savannah, things like the wwh distinction, where you get weather but whether two pronunciations of horse which is very hard for me to do, so, H O R S E is harse, and H O A R S E is horse.

Megan Figueroa  

Interesting. 

Lisa Sprowls  

Traditionally in some of these older dialects, so I’m targeting some of these older features these traditional new almost what’s considered standard southern right along a lot of the features of the southern vowel shift but then I’m also including on my list of features to look at these Yat features. Right? So, the th stopping the coil curl issue, the split short a system to try to see what is showing up amongst these upper class speakers. So in the research that I’ve done so far, during the phonetic analysis, I’m pretty sure that if we put these people into a verbal guise with other general southern areas, people would just identify these upper class New Orleans as speaking a southern English. 

Carrie Gillon  

Right. 

Lisa Sprowls  

All the speakers that I’ve talked to so far have very high levels of r-lessness. It’s higher than what I’ve seen in the previous research I’ve done on a Yat. 

Carrie Gillon  

Right. 

Lisa Sprowls  

So it seems to be a retention amongst the social class that is receding in the other classes in the city. That wwh distinction, all of the speakers that I’ve talked to have that the two versions of horse, a lot of speakers have that and then some unexpected futures that I wasn’t even sure… a distinction in h where H I M and H Y M N are not pronounced the same. They’re not both him. 

Carrie Gillon  

Oh. 

Lisa Sprowls  

There’s like a hh there’s this odd voicing happening on the h, so that there are a minimal pair. 

Carrie Gillon  

Well, which one’s which? 

Lisa Sprowls  

So H I M is him and then H Y M N there’s a different voice– it’s like hhymn. There’s almost like a pre-voicing going on with a little bit of that? Some other standard southern features: The i amount of dyphthongization is very high amongst the group that I’m looking at some other southern features, which doesn’t get talked a lot about with southern English is the replacement of word final E with an E [short e] or a schwa. So happe for happy is happening a lot. I even had a participant who’s last– whose first name ended with an E, and he doesn’t pronounce it. Right, even though that is considered the more standard way of pronouncing the name, he substitutes the shwa in his own name. 

Megan Figueroa  

That’s cool. 

Carrie Gillon  

Wow. 

Lisa Sprowls  

So if we just stop there, it does just seem like it’s the southern features. The split short a system is showing up. The th shopping is not with the speakers and I’m looking– my current age range of speakers is between 20 and 95. 

Megan Figueroa  

Oh, wow. 

Carrie Gillon  

That’s amazing.

Lisa Sprowls  

Yeah, none of them really have the th stopping that we’re getting in the Yat and the African American English. But that split short a that’s showing up in the Yat system is showing up to a lesser degree it seems to only be before nasal sounds, so map and mad are the same but me-an for man so it seems to be a little more restricted in this group.

Megan Figueroa  

And- and a short a system is not something that we find in southern English? 

Lisa Sprowls  

No, it’s not considered a feature of southern English that is- it is very largely stereotyped as a New York City feature and to an extent a Midwestern feature but on specific words like be-ag.

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah. Okay. 

Carrie Gillon  

Is that because– because of the velar?

Lisa Sprowls  

Yeah, so that is it’s somewhat different, that velar raising. So we do see it more isolated in the Midwest, but yeah, the- the stereotypical association has never been with the South for a feature like this. But to me what’s a little more interesting, so if we take it to the more socio element of socio phonetic is the speakers are largely rejecting a Southerner association with their own speech.

Megan Figueroa  

Are they getting reasons for this or?

Lisa Sprowls  

Ye-ep. New Orleanians are very opinionated. It’s been– I would say it’s both– it’s- it’s a blessing to study in New Orleans because people are always going to resp– you never know what they’re gonna say. But they’re usually always gonna give you a reason. There’s a few different things where the most recent person I talked to kept making this distinction of at first you saying no, I don’t sound southern. But then he was saying, Okay, if I do sound southern I sound high southern. 

Megan Figueroa  

Ooh. 

Lisa Sprowls  

That’s not a terminology that I really come across as being a standard thing to talk about. He explained it to me he’s like, Well, he was like, high southerners plantation south. That’s upper class south. So, right? So there’s a class element coming in here. With, what is Southern, if they are Southern, were the upper class South I had another respondent who is he was one of my older ones. He’s 96, I believe. You know, I avoid asking people directly Are you southern? Because that’s, you know, it’s a blunt priming effect, but I asked him, Is there Southern English in New Orleans is New Orleans Southern? Going along with the other respondent who said that if it is it’s high Southern. He said no. He said southern is solid of the earth people. He said southern is what you get when you go to the farms outside of New Orleans. So there is there’s this trend coming through that there’s an in compatibility but between being upper class and being southern. 

Megan Figueroa  

Wow.

Lisa Sprowls  

Even if the phonetic evidence that I’m getting from these interviews is that on paper, they are very noticeably southern in their speech that doesn’t match the perception that they have of themselves. Working class white and black speakers in the city have the perception that they are Southern, as we saw in the maps that they labeled, right? Right Garden Districts: Southern. Uptown: Southern. Near the universities: proper and southern. But the actual people that live in these areas are rejecting this association. So apart from the class difference, they also tend to differentiate geographic space within the South? So I had a respondent tell me that she went to Arkansas and Tennessee with her family when she was younger. This would have been in like the 1950s. And she said they sounded like yokels. They sounded like yokels and that she couldn’t understand what they were saying. The same respondent who told me that if he’s Southern, he’s high southern said that people always mimic his dialect. But he said that when he hears it– it sounds like they’re mimicking like a coal miner from like Kentucky or Tennessee, which the association I’m getting from being a linguist and also right, I’m originally from Pittsburgh. So I’m from Northern Appalachia, is that with the states they’re identifying they’re also kind of pinpointing the Appalachian south as being very markedly different than the south near New Orleans. If they are southern, they are definitely the upper class Southern and they are definitely not Appalachian southern.

Carrie Gillon  

We talked to Paul Reed about Appalachia English and yeah. It’s the most southern of the Southern. 

Lisa Sprowls  

Yes. 

Carrie Gillon  

Is what we discovered so yeah.

Megan Figueroa  

Right. So these- these people are performing a lil– They’re- they’re committing a little linguistic discrimination.

Lisa Sprowls  

Yes. Of course. 

Megan Figueroa  

Just a little, yeah.

Carrie Gillon  

We all do, so…

Megan Figueroa  

Just sprinkle it on there.

Lisa Sprowls  

So not only with- with Southern and with class, but when race comes into the conversation with these Garden District speakers, there’s what I’m currently referring to as an othering of black New Orleans. It is at its core linguistic discrimination. But there’s the question of do these speakers actually see that that’s what it is. Right to them. It may be that they’re saying something benign, that what they’re saying may just be an observation about race, when it actually comes off as being pretty discriminatory in what they’re saying. So I had a participant who, you know, spent all of his formative years in the Garden District area of the city, went to the private schools in the area and told me that, you know, when he was in school, he was surprised to learn that the black kids across town could read and write too. Right so just the geographic space in the city did not overlap, right for black and white for him. And it was almost like a shock that they could do the same things.

Carrie Gillon  

It’s brutal. 

Megan Figueroa  

It’s brutal. Yeah.

Lisa Sprowls  

But you know, it didn’t- It was just a casual thing for him to say, right. He kind of said it with a little laugh, and I don’t- it wasn’t in a mean way. 

Megan Figueroa  

And he was older and older. 

Lisa Sprowls  

Yeah, he was an older speaker. Yeah. So to him, it was just a recollection- recollection from his youth. I don’t think that there was anything in his mind negative associated with it. Right. But linguistic discrimination is something that, you know, people honestly may not be aware that they’re doing or they’re likely not going to admit. 

Megan Figueroa  

Right, right. 

Lisa Sprowls  

They’re not going to admit that they’re taking part in that.

Carrie Gillon  

If they’re conscious of their discrimination of this at this level, they kind of push it aside, or they aren’t conscious of it at all. They just think it’s a normal thing to say like they just it’s never occurred to them, that what they’re saying is actually– says something bad about themselves. Because they wouldn’t say it- I don’t think they would say it if they knew that.

Lisa Sprowls  

Yeah. So if I can shift for a minute and talk about another study we did that we can talk about these- the discrimination coming into play. Around the same time we did the verbal guise, we did a map labeling task, and it was during the spring of 2016. Spring is carnival. So we went to different parades and we went to parade on Mardi Gras day. And while people were waiting for the parades to come through, we would approach different people and ask them if they wanted to fill out a map. So we asked people to label distinct speech areas of the city or where they thought people sounded differently than they did. We had 88 people that responded about 50% of them were white 38% were black 12 identified other as kind of the case with map tasks. A lot of people will just leave them blank. A lot of people only labeled one area and they labeled Chalmette right outside of the city and they labeled it as Yat. Really no further delineation of their thoughts on class or race. But in labeling it Yat, it does kind of indicate that they’re saying this is a white area, but there’s really nothing inherently negative about that label. So here’s an example of some descriptions we got on a map labeled by a white speaker. They circled five areas. They circled Aerobie and Chalmette and St. Bernard Parish, and just labeled it as Yat they circled the Garden District and put soft r’s almost like saying that the Garden District is r-less. So those three- those are three white areas really nothing discriminatory coming out in that but then they circle in an area of the city called Central City, which is almost an exclusively black neighborhood they labeled it as ghetto. And then they circled the Ninth Ward and wrote Ebonics. 

Carrie Gillon  

Oh my god.

Lisa Sprowls  

Yes. 

Megan Figueroa  

Oh. 

Carrie Gillon  

Okay, so obviously, both of those labels are problematic, but like the fact that they’re distinguishing between them too? Is there anything there like why are they making a distinction?

Lisa Sprowls  

That is a good question. I would guess off the labeling that in their head ghetto is less proper than whatever they think Ebonics is.

Carrie Gillon  

Oh okay. That makes sense. Yeah.

Lisa Sprowls  

Central City overall is– it’s one of more dangerous areas of the city. So that may come into play there. Right but it is overwhelmingly black just like the Ninth Ward is but Yeah, the question of why is the Ninth Ward just Ebonics, which is offensive in and of itself. 

Carrie Gillon  

Yes, yes, yes. 

Megan Figueroa  

Right. 

Lisa Sprowls  

But then to shift to something as extreme as ghetto. 

Carrie Gillon  

Yeah

Megan Figueroa  

Right. 

Lisa Sprowls  

For another black area, or other things like so I live in an area the city called Gentilly, which is predominantly black. Another map circle Gentilly and just wrote dumb on it.

Megan Figueroa  

No!

Carrie Gillon  

Oh my God. 

Lisa Sprowls  

Yes. The same map, the only other area they circled was the Ninth Ward and it said ignorant but they wrote it in like I dialect and wrote ignant. So a further level of offense apart from just calling these people ignorant to try to mimic it and the way they think people talk in that area. 

Carrie Gillon  

Oh my god.

Megan Figueroa  

That’s horrifying.

Carrie Gillon  

I should not be shocked. I should not be shocked, but I still am a little.

Lisa Sprowls  

Right and just how openly people are willing to label these and be like, yeah, you can like you can identify me by name. Here’s my offensive map. And I’m like, Thank you. 

Carrie Gillon  

Wow. 

Megan Figueroa  

Wow.

Lisa Sprowls  

But if you look at the general trends, apart from just some of the specific maps of the different areas that people labeled, the trend was for white speakers to label white neighborhoods, and for black speakers to label black areas. So the overall trend was to just honestly to identify the areas that you’d know. But then if we shift to identifying the areas you don’t know, that’s when the white respondents came in with these discriminatory judgments of the black areas. 

Carrie Gillon  

Right.

Megan Figueroa  

Right. 

Lisa Sprowls  

The ghetto and the Ebonics. Interestingly, a lot of black respondents just told us that everyone in the city speaks the same. One white speaker said that, but it was much more common amongst the black speakers to say everyone in the city speaks the same. 

Carrie Gillon  

That’s interesting. 

Lisa Sprowls  

And then if we look at some of these specific areas, right, so we made heat maps of these different labels, uptown, which again, is the Garden District, the most commonly label amongst white speakers was standard and the most common label amongst black speakers was proper. Pretty similar in the association of what this is, Lakeview which is another upper class area, the– one of the most common words for both races was proper. So we’re getting with these white neighborhoods, both races are giving a pretty neutral or even what could be considered a positive association of how people talk in these areas. But if we look at some of the black neighborhoods, so again, the Ninth Ward, the most common label from black speakers was Black English. Ebonics was the most common from a white speaker. Right? So if you can call something African American English or Black English, you’re making a conscious choice to then call it Ebonics instead. 

Megan Figueroa  

Right. 

Carrie Gillon  

Oh, yeah. 

Lisa Sprowls  

It’s a very conscious choice to do that. And then we have New Orleans East, which is another block area, black respondents tend to call it blue collar or just black. Two of the most common response- responses from white labels was lack of education and ghetto.

Carrie Gillon  

I should not be so shocked but again, it’s just like horrifying.

Lisa Sprowls  

Right, so I said before, right, it’s a blessing to do research in New Orleans. It’s- it’s also very discouraging at times.

Megan Figueroa  

Right. I mean, it’s- it almost seems like it’s hopeless, like, Oh, that feels so hopeless. 

Lisa Sprowls  

Yeah.

Carrie Gillon  

But, but it also feels like this microcosm of what’s going on in the United States right now. Right. Like…

Megan Figueroa  

That’s what I mean, that’s why I feel so hope– 

Carrie Gillon  

Yeah, yes. I mean, yes, it is hopeless a bit. Well, you could interpret it that way. But I think like, seeing the reality of like, how shitty white people can be is important.

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah, no, yeah. Sure. 

Lisa Sprowls  

The new complication we’re getting with that, right. So more of just the cultural is, New Orleans has taken down a lot of Confederate– I don’t even want to call them monuments because it’s rough– but monuments, right. So they’ve taken down a lot of them. And that has led to– it’s not even people really in New Orleans that are upset about this, but we’re getting a lot of protesters coming in from other areas of Louisiana and other areas of the South that now all of a sudden want to claim New Orleans as being very southern. 

Carrie Gillon  

Yeah. Whereas before they ignored it. 

Lisa Sprowls  

Yeah. So a good thing– the label I go with is Nick Spitzer, who’s an anthropologist and city once told me that New Orleans is south of the south and north of the Caribbean. 

Carrie Gillon  

Yeah, that- that’s a good description. 

Lisa Sprowls  

Right. So it’s never really culturally or linguistically really been considered part of the South. But then when people want to take away any of those southern relics, they want to claim it as the south they want it to be the south again. 

Carrie Gillon  

Yeah.

Megan Figueroa  

Yep. 

Lisa Sprowls  

Right. So there we are getting a little bit of that resurgence in the city right now. It’s so unclear if there’s really an effect on the language of the culture in the city right now.

Carrie Gillon  

You might expect that the white speakers would want to disambiguate themselves even more from Black Speakers. That’s what I would predict kind of like so in our music episode, we were talking about how different genres are associated with you know, different varieties of American English and this- the country music is becoming really r-full because it’s like really, really white.

Lisa Sprowls  

I mean, that would be super interesting to look at in New Orleans because, you know, New Orleans has its own right even within hip hop and rap are largely associated with New Orleans but there’s a New Orleans specific genre right bounce music is very specifically New Orleans, right. [music starts]

Carrie Gillon  

We tried to get Big Freedia on the show. It didn’t work, but maybe we’ll try again.

Lisa Sprowls  

That would have been fascinating. Very, very nice person.

Carrie Gillon  

Yes.

Lisa Sprowls  

But right even within the music in New Orleans, right, the language is showing through right so call and response in rap music largely comes from bounce music, which comes from New Orleans, that call and response likely comes from either the Mardi Gras Indians or the fact that New Orleans was such an African city when it was founded. 

Carrie Gillon  

Right. 

Lisa Sprowls  

Right. So the language is coming through and music in New Orleans as well. Right? 

Carrie Gillon  

Yeah. Oh, yeah, we could do a whole nother show just on that stuff. And I would love that maybe maybe we will at some point.

Megan Figueroa  

What would upper class African Americans say they speak?

Lisa Sprowls  

I myself haven’t done too much with African American English in the city. From some of the stuff I’ve read and some of the researchers I’ve talked to, there is a little bit of a trend amongst the upper class African American speakers in the city to trend a little more towards a standard English, right. So it doesn’t really trend towards southern as the upper class white English does a little more towards standard.

Carrie Gillon  

That’s interesting. It kind of makes sense that that might be the case. It’d be interesting to see.

Lisa Sprowls  

Yeah, the class distinctions amongst the black population in the city has not been studied to the extent that it really deserves. 

Carrie Gillon  

Right.

Lisa Sprowls  

So what I’m working on right now is really the one of the first really like class based associations. A lot of the previous work on Yat is inherently class based as well, but it bleeds a little more into a race based analysis. While the Garden District English lends itself a little more to a class association.

Carrie Gillon  

So do you have like a last message for our listeners? A takeaway?

Lisa Sprowls  

A takeaway… you know, without trying to like wax poetic or anything, New Orleans really is unlike any other culture or linguistic area that I’ve encountered, right, there’s just something that– it is just uniquely New Orleans and I would say people should experience it and maybe my really last takeaway is that if you are going to visit, you’re going to study that please never pronounce it New Orleans [long e]. New Orleans is only for Louie Armstrong when he’s singing. We don’t call it that. [music starts]

Carrie Gillon  

That’s a good one. I like that. Okay, well, thanks again. That was awesome. 

Lisa Sprowls  

Yeah, thank you for having me. 

Carrie Gillon  

Of course. Yeah.

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah, absolutely. I would say my takeaway from this is just that you have to go visit for sure. Like everything you’re saying to me, I was like, just like thinking about my time there and how wonderful it was.

Carrie Gillon  

Yeah, I want to go back. We were supposed to be there this weekend. But anyway.

Lisa Sprowls  

Yeah, the weather’s really not that nice right now. So. You’re not.

Megan Figueroa  

No, it’s. 

Carrie Gillon  

Yeah. It’s not that great here either. I try. 

Megan Figueroa  

Yeah. Thank you. We appreciate it. Thank you.

Lisa Sprowls  

This one specific weekend, New Orleans is just terrible. You don’t- you don’t want to visit.

Carrie Gillon  

Alright, fair enough.

Megan Figueroa  

Okay, well, thank you so much, Lisa. 

Lisa Sprowls  

Thank you.

Carrie Gillon  

And don’t forget, don’t be an asshole.

Megan Figueroa  

Don’t be an asshole. Bye.

Carrie Gillon  

The Vocal Fries Podcast is produced by Chris Ayers for Halftone Audio. Theme music by Nick Granum. You can find us on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @vocalfriespod. You can email us at vocalfriespod@gmail.com

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