How Millennials are Destroying the Philly Accent transcript

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

Carrie: I’m Carrie Gillon.

Megan Figueroa: I’m Megan Figueroa.

Carrie: We have emails.

Megan: We have emails. We definitely have emails. So we have three.

Carrie: I know.

Megan: Which is very a lot. Anyway, so the first one’s from Christina, and this is actually the hardest, so we’re going to tackle it first. I’m a new listener to your podcast and I really enjoyed your topics of discussion so far. Linguistics is my favorite part of college Anthropology class. I loved your first episode and then listened to number three about grammar. I have questions. Maybe I need to be cured in my own biases, so I’m working on recognizing this. However, I still must ask.

First of all, I will recognize that I don’t always use the best grammar myself. A, there’s no such thing as best grammar. Maybe best grammar within a genre or within a context but not just across the board. Just doesn’t work that way. Anyway. And was honestly not interested in schoolhouse rock when I was a kid.

Carrie: That’s okay.

Megan: I mean, it’s kind of cheeseball, it’s not really. I mean, the animation is not compelling.

Carrie: Listen, back then we didn’t have all the 3D graphics that we have now.

Megan: Hey, I grew up with like Lion King level. Exactly. It was way beyond what we had at the time, although, I guess, I guess is true.

Carrie: I guess it still was less good than say Snow White, which was a lot older. But anyway, the songs were catchy, I guess. Well, yeah. Regardless, due to reading and listening to books and podcasts, I feel I’ve gained a perhaps slightly above average vocabulary in a general working knowledge of grammar. I’ll admit my use of coms is a mess. As someone who edits, basically as a living now, yeah, most people’s coms are a mess. Don’t worry.

Megan: Yeah. Someone who taught grammar and ‘grammar’ and how to use commas. The textbooks are a mess. So, it’s hard on how to teach on how to use commas. So it’s not your fault.

Carrie: No, it’s not. Sometimes it’s just a matter of style whether you use one or not.

Megan: That’s true. Yeah, because you are not an Oxford comma user and I am.

Carrie: Well, there’s that. But even setting that aside, which that’s definitely just a style thing. But if you have what we call a verbial at the beginning of a sentence you don’t have to set it off with a comma, you can. I usually do because I think it makes it easier to read. But anyway, it’s a style thing. But some things are bad. They’re definitely bad like, put a comma between the subject and the verb, don’t do that. But yeah, you’re right. It’s a mess, the advice out there is a mess.

So anyway, I work in a call center as a manager of client services team. I grade calls to give feedback to my reps. One of the points of examination is attitude, tone, grammar. That’s a lot, attitude and tone, I could put those together maybe. But grammar is a totally separate category, or at least it should be but anyway. I choose mostly to focus on scoring attitude and tone But as you mentioned in your episodes, since these reps are speaking to people outside of our organization, it would be helpful in getting a positive client’s response to use proper grammar.

Megan: Did we mention that in our episode?

Carrie: Well, that, that it kind of matters on who you’re talking to. In a time and a place it might be be appropriate to use, ‘proper grammar’ versus another where it wouldn’t. If it’s like tied to your livelihood or which this is So, I want to push back a little bit on this because we don’t know who the clients are. For some clients it might be better for you to use a different non ‘proper grammar’ So I just want to push back on that. We don’t know who the clients are, so I can’t say for sure that you’re going to get a more positive response from ‘proper grammar’ We don’t know.

So, two people and as a white woman, I don’t feel comfortable directly explaining this to my reps who are mostly black women.

Megan: Yeah. Join the club.

Carrie: There are reasons for that. There are reasons why you feel uncomfortable doing that. And it’s good. Go with that instinct. Now I recognize it is your job and so it becomes a little bit more fraught. So if it’s not your job, just don’t say anything. But because it is part of your job. You were supposed to say something. I don’t know. I would probably still just until I was told that I wasn’t doing my job. I probably would just stick to the attitude tone. Because I mean, attitude and tone is still fraught, but it’s less fraught because we all more or less understand what politeness count, how, what counts as politeness in a client service context. So, but grammar is much more complicated.

Megan: Yeah, I agree. I would, it sucks to be in that position but I would totally just not do that part of the job.

Carrie: I would just avoid it altogether because it’s, you’re probably not being paid enough to do it anyway.

Megan: Ah, good point.

Carrie: Then, so she says one rep in particular who speaks well, but frankly it’s terrible grammar when typing emails. So if the emails are client-directed, then it becomes more problematic. Can you have a system where you’re the one writing the emails to the clients? I don’t know. But I still probably wouldn’t say anything because you’re probably not being paid enough.

Megan: Yeah, that’s a really good point. You’re probably not getting paid enough. Gosh. Yeah. Wow.

Carrie: So her questions, I mean, I’m skipping a little bit, but her main questions are how do I sensitively address grammar issues when it that I hear on calls? Well, how about send us an email when you’re told that you have to do it? And then back, and then we’ll come up with some strategies.

Megan: Yes. That also means you have to continue listening to us. Keep being a fan of the pod.

Carrie: I mean, I might say something like, listen, this is bullshit but white people expect X.

Megan: Yes. I’m sorry, we suck.

Carrie: Yeah. Seriously. But her second question is, do I leave it alone? I would say yes, unless you’re told that you have to address it. And then where do you draw line on grammar issues? Again, it’s like, it really depends. So when I was a professor, I felt like I had to explain certain things to my students. Like, hey, this is not going to come across well, you need to rewrite this in this way to say, make it sound more appropriate for the genre. But like outside of that, no, not my job and now-

Megan: Yeah. It’s not something you taught them explicitly.

Carrie: I would teach them explicitly only when it came up because I wasn’t a writing professor.

Megan: Exactly. So it’s not like something that you would right away fail them for because you you weren’t their composition instructor or whatever.

Carrie: I never graded on grammar, ever and I think it’s ridiculous.

Megan: It’s such a bad idea.

Carrie: Like if I really can’t understand anything you’re saying, well that’s another issue. I mean, then we’re talking, you need real help with writing, which is beyond my expertise. And that was rarely the case. It was usually just more like some awkwardness.

Megan: Students shouldn’t feel bad or anyone shouldn’t feel bad if writing is difficult because it’s artificial. It’s not like learning a spoken or a sign language from birth or anything like that. Like writing is something you have to practice.

Carrie: It’s a technology and every technology you have to learn how to use or any skill. Do you feel bad that you’re not a good dancer or whatever? Like to pick a skill?

Megan: I do.

Carrie: But why? I mean, you really shouldn’t. You shouldn’t feel bad just because you don’t have a skill X. Writing is really something you have to practice a lot to get decent, let alone Good.

Megan: Yep. Then sometimes you have to write a certain way to make other people the reader happy and it’s just frustrating and complex, just like this question.

Carrie: Yeah. I mean, we always have to consider the audience no matter what you’re doing, writing or speaking. So for example, we try not to use too much jargon in this show because we want to make sure that this is accessible to non-specialists. So you always have to consider your audience no matter what. But writing it’s even harder because you don’t have any tone. You don’t have any inflection. And you definitely don’t have any body language. Although in a podcast you don’t have that either.

Megan: Which is probably for the best because I’m just flopping my arms everywhere most of the time.

Carrie: I move my arms a lot, I don’t care. Okay. So that was that. I hope that answered your question. Basically, just leave it alone.

Megan: Yeah, exactly.

Carrie: Unless you’re told otherwise. Anyway. All right. A second email comes from Olaf. Yesterday I finished listening to the latest episode, though I see there’s a new one now, and I just had to support you guys. Thank you.

Megan: Yes. Thank you.

Carrie: I only discovered your podcast a few weeks ago, and I’ve been trying to listen to all the episodes as fast as I can. I learned so much every time. I come from the north of Sweden, where there are between five and 10 different languages spoken. Thank you for mentioning that, because I think people forget that there are multiple languages spoken in European countries. People conceive of France as only having French spoken in it. And even setting aside all the immigrant languages, there are indigenous French-related languages that are not French. So there are between five and 10 different languages spoken, depending on how you count and my native dialect of Swedish is quite different from what is considered standard Swedish. So a lot of your topics hit close to home.

Also, I’m a preschool teacher, and although I’ve countered a lot of the stuff you bring up during my education and career, it’s been a lot more superficial. Yeah. Because you’re probably focusing on like childcare stuff. I mean, I do think actually that early childhood education should have more linguistics in it.

Megan: No, it definitely should.

Carrie: But yeah. They’re also not paid enough, at least here. I don’t want to speaker Sweden.

Megan: Yeah. I’m assuming they get paid nicely over there, but I just assume that everyone’s better than the US.

Carrie: Well, they probably are paid better. So with each episode, I feel I acquire more tools and different perspectives that will help me prepare my pupils in their life and their education. Which is great.

Carrie: In my class of 24 pupils, apart from Swedish, there are nine other language represented among my pupils and only six of the children have Swedish as their native language. Being multilingual myself, I have always had a deep respect for linguistic diversity and my obligation as a teacher to help create a supportive environment together with our native language instructors. All pupils with a native language other than Swedish, have have the right to native language instruction at a limited time every week. Good. But I feel like your podcast has helped me better understand where I as a teacher, our school system and our society as a whole can improve. Yay. This is what we want.

Megan: Yeah. That is remarkable. I didn’t know that we were doing that in a successful way. Thank you.

Carrie: One listener at a time.

Megan: Yes.

Carrie: What I learned from the vocal fries, I benefit from every day.

Speaker: So thank you. I’m looking forward to many more episodes. Hopefully, you can do one about the north of Sweden and the indigenous Swedish[?] people and language or different finish varieties one day. But yes, I would love, love to to do an episode on that.

Megan: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I feel like sharing that email was like both educational for listeners about Swedish languages and also just a really pat on our backs kind of thing.

Carrie: Yeah. I know. Maybe a little indulgent, but I do think it, there was something important in there.

Megan: Yeah. That they’re teaching and like with preschoolers such a small age, already having something they feel that they can teach to them about linguistic discrimination is really what I live for as a linguist, so it’s great.

Carrie: Yeah. No, that’s great. I assume they’re teaching the kids, but also other people in the school system which is possibly even more important because they’re also passing on ideas.

Megan: Yeah. Teachers are so important in so many ways and that’s one of them.

Carrie: So thank you Olaf

Megan: Yes. Thank you so much. We have one more.

Carrie: One more. This one’s a little bit shorter. So this is from Stephanie. Hello, a coworker, a computational linguist just pointed me to your podcast yesterday and I love the content and your mission to help address linguistic discrimination. I just came across this article and thought, wow, the implications of this technology and the power it would potentially give to linguistic discrimination at a legal level are huge. I wonder if the vocal fries ladies have seen this? I look forward to listening to more of your show. Thank you for the quality research and content you put out. So thank you.

Megan: Yes, thank you.

Carrie: The article is from The Intercept. Amazon’s accent recognition technology could tell the government where you’re from. So we are are going to talk about this in a bonus episode. If you’re interested, you can become a patron I wrote an article for Babel Magazine about vocal fry and you check it out.

Megan: Yeah. How do you get access to it?

Carrie: I think you have to subscribe.

Megan: All right. So today, we’re talking about Philadelphia English with Dr. Betsy Sneller. So yeah, this one’s this one goes out to Gritty.

Carrie: This one goes out to Gritty We love you, man.

Megan: All right. Enjoy.

Carrie: We’re really excited today to have Dr. Betsy Snell, who is a post-doctoral research fellow in the learning and development lab at Georgetown University. She received her PhD in linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania in 2018. Her primary research interest is language variation and change. Her dissertation work focused on the way that dramatic structural sound change, phonological change is represented and produced by individual speakers during that change. We are excited to have her here today to talk to us about Philadelphia English, which is an English that we have yet to talk about I have no idea what the features are. So I will be learning today, thanks for, thanks for coming on, Betsy.

Betsy Sneller: Oh my gosh, absolutely. My pleasure. I love Philadelphia English, so I love talking about it.

Carrie: Yeah. Are you from Philadelphia?

Betsy: No, I was thinking, it’s a little unfortunate that Philly is not my native dialect. I’m originally from Michigan so that might come out as we speak a little bit.

Carrie: Oh, no, that’s totally fine. So, like I said, I have no idea what the features of Philadelphia English are. I haven’t spent a lot of time back east. I’ve been to New York, but that’s it. Oh, in Boston. But those are two separate dialects. These are very different. What are some of the defining features of Philadelphia English?

Betsy: Yeah. So Philly has, oh, it’s such a great dialect. It’s got a lot of features that differentiate it from other dialects and some of those are salient. So the speakers from Philly will be able to say, we say this and some of those features are not salient. And so it’s basically only linguists who notice it and care about it.

Megan: The story of our lives.

Betsy: Yeah. No, exactly. At Penn where I did my PhD research, we have a huge corpus of sociolinguistic interviews spanning back to, I mean, the earliest speaker was born in 1888 So it’s a really long time But at the end of all of these interviews, we ask speakers, what makes a Philadelphia accent? And so we get a sense of what they think are the defining features of Philly, and then we can compare that to what are actually the defining features. So you get, when you ask Philadelphians this question, you get a lot of comments on Lexico[?] items. So people will always point out John as like a Philly. I don’t know if you know John.

Megan: Carrie does.

Carrie: I do.

Megan: Yeah. I don’t.

Betsy: So John is a catchall term that just sort of means thing stand in for noun. So like, oh, hand me that John over there. it can also be used to mean like a romantic interest, but my understanding is that this is specifically gendered. So like, a guy can have a John, but a girl can’t. Yeah. I mean, although I don’t have native speaker intuition about this. So if a Philadelphian tweets at you and lets you know that I’m wrong, let’s take their word for it, not mine.

Megan: Yeah, definitely.

Betsy: Yes. You get a lot of Lexcoi[?] items, you get used. So Philly has a dual or a plural you marker that is kind of distinct to Philadelphia. So used how’s yous doing?.

Megan: Yeah. You’re not going to see that. I’ve seen it. I’ve never heard it in real life. Yeah. Really.

Betsy: Most people spell it youse but sometimes people spell it yous. I love it.

Megan: I may have seen it in writing, never heard it..

Betsy: I love it. I wish that my dialect had a plural you but it doesn’t, I’m stuck with you guys.

Carrie: Yeah. No, definitely. I mean, that’s still technically a plural you.

Betsy: Yeah, you’re right, you’re right.

Carrie: : Yeah. It’s just not as exciting.

Betsy: Just one word.

Megan: Yes. Like y’all.

Betsy: Right. Exactly.

Carrie: Or ye.

Megan: Yeah.

Betsy: Or ye. Is that a dialect feature of [crosstalk] I didn’t listen to that episode yet.

Carrie: Yeah. Oh, here’s another plug for it then. Yes.

Betsy: And then you get some sort of the salient aspects. So the salient parts of other features. So for example, Philadelphia has a raised thought vowel. You guys are both merged, right?

Megan: Yeah.

Betsy: Com merged. Okay. So they have a raised thought vowel. So they say like thought, but the most salient word that this appears in is the word water. So if you ask a Philadelphian what makes a Philadelphian accent, they’ll always say water. We call it water ice.

Carrie: Yeah. Actually, I think even Terry Gross has mentioned that.

Betsy: Yes, because she’s from Philly.

Carrie: Yes, she is

Betsy: Although not [inaudible].

Megan: She’s gotten rid of that?

Betsy: No, you can hear her when she says water. It’s not as super pronounced, but if you’re paying attention, it’s there that she’s got the Philly water.

Megan: Oh, now I will be.

Woman: Done inventories of microorganisms, and insects in our homes the way other researchers might inventory the wildlife and rainforests. He and the team of scientists he works with, analyze the populations of microorganisms living on floors in basements, and on water faucets.

Megan: It’s because she mentioned it. She said it in one of- this is a few years ago now, but she mentioned it so then I started paying attention.

Betsy: Now I should pay attention too, I wonder if she has still the Philly split short-a system.

Megan: Remind our listeners what that is.

Betsy: Yes. So a split short-a system means it’s talking about the vowel in the word trap, which most places in the continental US Canada area have what’s called a nasal system. So you’ll get a sound like ae before an N or an M. So, man, but a sound like, ah, before every other sound, so cat, so you get man and cat, I’m doing it really extreme. It’s more like man and cat. In Philly, the rules that decide which words are ae and which words are a are really complex.

So it’s actually one of the most complex split short-a systems in English. So it’s a little bit similar to the New York short-a system, but it’s a little bit more complex. So you get tense ae[?] before only when it shares a syllable before voiceless figutives. So you get gas, path but you get lax short-a when the following voiceless figutive is part of another syllable. So you get like piss, but passive. Yeah. same rules, but for nasals. So you get, man, because that n is part of the same syllable but manage when it’s part of a different syllable.

Megan: Oh, that’s wild. I love it.

Betsy: It’s beautiful and you see in Philly that this applies. So I’m a phenologist. We say it applies at stem level so it that short-a rule gets selected before any other phonological thing happens to the rule. So for example, let’s say you have the word family but in normal speech, you’re going to delete that middle vowel and you’re just going to say family. So that, if you think about it now, that m is part of the same syllable, but in Philadelphia English, it would still be pronounced family because it’s underlyingly part of a different syllable.

This is actually, so this is a word family that no Philadelphian speaker to my knowledge has pointed out that they do. But it’s one of the most defining features. If you hear anybody say family, they’re going to be either from Philly or Montreal. If they don’t have other marked features.

Megan: Why Montreal?

Betsy: Yeah. So Montreal, so like I said, most of north America has this nasal split system and Montreal just doesn’t. I don’t know why.

Megan: Is it a French thing, Carrie? Do you know?

Carrie: I don’t know.

Betsy: I like to ask Carrie about anything Canadian.

Megan: No, absolutely. So you’ll, if you ask a Philadelphian, they’ll say things like, oh yeah, we say ass hole but they won’t say, oh yeah, we say family. So it’s that tense production that ea, that’s really marked people notice it, but that lax production, ah, people don’t notice.

Carrie: Yeah. I barely notice it when even though you’re pointing it out. I must have the tents before the m family. I don’t hear it as that, you know?

Betsy: Yeah.

Megan: Is this a shared feature with New Jersey, New York?

Betsy: Oh my gosh. Let’s get into it. So the Philadelphia dialect region actually extends quite a ways outside of Philly. So South Jersey has the same dialect and it actually extends all the way down into Baltimore.

Megan: Oh, I didn’t know it that far. Okay.

Betsy: Yeah. So although that might be contentious if you talk to someone from Baltimore.

Megan: Yeah. Probably

Betsy: They might say something like, no, no, the Philly accent is actually the Baltimore accent.

Megan: Fair enough. Yes.

Betsy: So you have in New Jersey, the southern part is basically Philadelphia, English, the northern part is basically New York English. And then there’s this question of does Central Jersey exist?

Megan: Yes. So funny, we definitely had an argument about that. Not so much the linguistic part, but just regionally,

Betsy: Culturally too. Culturally, the question. Does Central Jersey exist?

Megan: Well, one of our guests got yelled at on Twitter about it.

Carrie: She said it doesn’t exist.

Megan: Apparently Central Jersey does exist.

In the hearts of many.

Betsy: Yeah. Well, so it may be interesting to know that linguistically it sort of exists as well. There’s a sort of area in between Philly and New York that has this nasal short-a pattern.

Megan: Oh, okay. Very cool.

Betsy: Yeah.

Megan: All right. Central Jersey, you exist it

Betsy: Possibly exists. Yeah. So that short-a split is that my dissertation was on this complicated short-a pattern which is being replaced actually right now. Oh, by the nasals? short-a split. So you see speakers from Philadelphia and I think this is super interesting. It’s delineated by what type of high school people went to. If you went to a, an elite public high school, you’re most likely to have this new system. If you were born after 1983. But if you went to a local Catholic high school you’re most likely to have the traditional short-a split. And it’s sort of encroaching, you can see it trickling down into these different school networks.

Carrie: Is this a race thing at all?

Betsy: So I’m glad you brought that up. I’ve been talking about Philadelphia, English as though there’s only one. That is not the case. So what I’ve been talking about is the traditional white Philadelphian, English. There’s also Philadelphia, African-American English which has different features. So Philadelphia Ave, which I’m going to call African American English Ave shares a lot of the syntactic features of Ave that you see across the country. It’s got, so like, instead of this crazy short-a pattern where it’s split, Philadelphian Ave traditionally has just one target. So they’ll say it’s like the vowel and the word bed, like the thing you sleep in, it’s like that vowel for everything. So cat man, bed.

Megan: I was like, what are you saying? But you were saying Cat Like for me it’s cat, but it was cat. Wait, Cat.

Betsy: Yeah, cat.

Megan: Cat. Got it. Okay.

Betsy: Yeah. So I have this go-to thought in my mind where one of my participants, so we always ask like how people identify, and one of my participants like, kind of looked at me and she was like, I’m black. Oh, yeah. So I think of that like black

Megan: And at that beautiful vow. Yeah.

Carrie: So this particular vowel is Philadelphia or is it more general?

Betsy: No. This is pretty typical for most varieties of African American English but something that’s interesting is you see a similar type of thing happening to the Philadelphia ave[?] short-a pattern as what’s happening in the, in the white speakers as well. So we’ll get a little bit into sociology. So in Philadelphia you have a couple different types of schooling. You’ve got public schools, which mostly is not white students. The Catholic schools are seen as the sort of alternative to local public schools.

So if you can get into one of these elite high schools or middle schools, which is a process. So if you can get into one of those, then you go there. If you can’t many white folks from Philly are part of a Catholic parish, and their parents will send them to Catholic school. So in the black community, you have sort of a similar trajectory where if you can get into an elite public school, you will, otherwise you’ll go to the local public school. What we see is also delineated by school type. If you are a black Philadelphian and you graduated from an elite public school, and you were born after 1983, you’re more likely to have this nasal short-a pattern.

Otherwise if you went to the local public school, then you’re more likely to have this we call it a neutral short-a system where it’s just one target.

Megan: Why do you think that is? Why are these elite schools- Is it like more ‘mainstream’ dialect they’re targeting here?

Betsy: So this gets into the question of dialect contact. So, it’s a great question. You could say, well, there are two reasons that this change could happen. One is that kids are making it up, they’re just doing it and it’s spreading, which would be really cool. In my dissertation, I did some computational modeling with, this is joint work with Joe Frugal and Charles Yang. That basically showed the most likely path to this change was through dialect contact. And when you look at the demographics of who is actually sending their kids to these elite public schools, about half of them are not from the Philadelphia area or have parents who are not from Philadelphia.

As we know, based on our Philippines’ work in Philly in the 1980s, if you don’t have two Philadelphian English-speaking parents, this complicated short-a system is really hard to pick up.

Megan: Ah, wow. Okay. So you need two, you can’t just have one parent that’s not enough for this.

Betsy: Yeah, basically.

Carrie: Wow. Yeah. Interesting.

Megan: That is really interesting.

Betsy: Yeah. So these elite public schools have a lot of students who have parents who are maybe L[?] two speakers of English, otherwise also from out of state and they’re sending, they moved to Philly maybe for a job, and then they send their kids to these elite public schools. Oh. Also, Quaker schools fit the same pattern as the elite public schools. Same idea.

Carrie: Because they’re-

Megan: wait, yeah. Think that Quaker schools, yeah. You would think that they would be more from the area, or they wouldn’t be as many.

Betsy: The Quaker schools are very expensive. And they’re very expensive unless you get a tuition waiver. So you get basically this intersection with class.

Megan: That doesn’t seem very Quakery [?].

Carrie: I know that doesn’t feel Quakery[?].

Betsy: It does not. No

Megan: But yeah, obviously this is a class, there’s a class thing going on as well as Yeah. A regional thing.

Betsy: Yeah, exactly. Cool.

Megan: Yeah. Very cool. Yeah. okay, so we’re talking, okay. There’s obviously some race and class issues going on. I wonder how Philadelphia English is perceived by these two groups. Like it it’s probably different. So if you want to speak to maybe Okay. What about the white Philadelphia speakers do they have pride in their dialect? What’s going on there?

Betsy: I mean, you get quite a range. So there is as part of my PhD work, I also worked specifically with a bunch of college and high school aged students and asked them questions how much do you identify with the city of Philadelphia? How much do you like your accent? Did you ever try to change anything about your accent? And sort of, you get an interesting thing where almost every single person rated their affiliation with the city of Philadelphia as like a nine or a 10 super high. If you ask me how I affiliate with my hometown, it would be like a two.

So you get, it’s more typical for like, sort of hometown, local orientation to be correlated with use of local features. But for the participants that we looked at, it just wasn’t so people felt affiliated with Philly but maybe had a strong Philadelphia accent, or maybe didn’t. Another piece of this puzzle is sort of what college you go to. So we had a lot of participants who were undergrads at Penn who said, I got here and people would make fun of me. Like, I would say, I’m going to class, and my roommate would say, what? I’m going to class, what? Oh, I’m going to class. So they have these words that interact with people from other parts of the country and they’re not understood. What do you mean class or another?

Another feature of Philly English is the fronting of the back vowels saying ow as in cow, the animal that moves as like, ale, so kale, ah. So you’ll get like, oh, where’s my tail? Where’s my towel? And then, o, also fronts. So I’m go, I’m going home. And then, o, fronts as well. And this is interesting because most of the features that we’ve talked about previously, so a raised thought vowel as in wood or talk, that was too extreme. Talk. So that is a feature that’s sort of shared with like New York English, for example. But this fronting of the back vowels, that’s a feature that you see in Southern English.

So Philly’s this kind of interesting mix between some features that get interpreted as northern and features that get interpreted as Southern. So a lot of our participants would say, like, you know, I’m from Philly. I got to Penn, and my roommate was like, oh, are you from Texas? ? And Penn is in Philadelphia.

Carrie: Yeah. Is Penn kind of considered an elite university?

Betsy: Yeah, it’s one of the IVs. Yeah. So it’s definitely on this like nationally oriented draws people from all, all over the country and other countries as well. Actually, so this back vowel fronting thing, Billbo Ferald and Ingrid Rosenfeld wrote a paper in 2013 where they looked at the trajectory of this vowel movement over the past 100 years. And they found that these back vowels were fronting up until about speakers born in 1960, and then they started reversing back.

So there’s this question of like, why is that? They postulated that maybe maybe they were trying to orient away from forms that were interpreted as southern. Yeah.

Megan: Maybe. Yeah. I could see that. Is is the southern English probably just from like family migration up to the area like decades ago.

Carrie: Or this just seems to be a separate thing. No?

Betsy: Yeah, exactly. So this is a completely separate thing but because people don’t know what Philadelphia English is, they have to put it in one of their preconceived decades. So even like another thing that linguists from Penn like to talk about is that media representation of the Philadelphia dialect is terrible. Whenever something’s set in Philadelphia, they usually get a New York English speaker. Yeah.

Carrie: Yeah. Do you have an example?

Betsy: Rocky is like the classic example.

Man: Here. It’s chaos, Rocky, you want the distance, you want the 15 rounds. How do you feel, Phil, what are you thinking about when that buzzers on for that line? What you think about when the 15th you’re coming out?

Speaker: Rocky. Rocky, Rocky.

Megan: Still have never seen that

Betsy: Oh my gosh. Sorry. I just thought of another wonderful Philadelphia thing that is completely not salient at all but is a really good marker of Philadelphia English, which is, Philadelphians have an Ali phonic rule So this, where the sound A, as in day gets produced sort of like A so it gets lowered when it’s in an open syllable. So day oh, it’s a nice day out but when that syllable gets closed, it raises up to like e so one day, two Ds, so it’s this kind of crazy pattern that once you are told about it, it’s super salient and you can pay attention and notice it. But we’ve never had a single Philadelphian say, oh yeah, I say Ds.

Megan: Ds. That’s cool. So is there any sort of dialect rivalry between New York and Philadelphia then?

Betsy: It may be the case that the differences between New York and Philadelphia might not be obvious to a casual listener.

Carrie: That’s true.

Betsy: Like, the New York has a short-a split that’s sort of similar. So New Yorkers will say, pay us. But they’ll do it in more words. So they’ll also do it, it in like cab and cash. I need some cash. But in passing when if you hear somebody say class, you don’t know, maybe they’re in New York, maybe they’re Philly.

Megan: Yeah. I think, I wonder this because when we did talk to our friend in New Jersey, he kind of was like, because I think he lives in Philadelphia now. He is like, “My kids don’t even sound like me anymore.”

Betsy: What kind of school did his kids go to?

Megan: I don’t know. I would’ve assumed public wouldn’t you? Because he didn’t say anything.

Carrie: Well, he’s also a construction worker, so my guess is that it would just be public but I don’t know for sure.

Megan: Yeah.

Betsy: I mean, his kids, I’m assuming were born after 1983, they’re of the generation that their peers are doing something slightly different. Yeah. So he has the-

Megan: [inaudible] picking up on that.

Carrie: Yeah. Very cool. Oh so the shift that you’re talking about, it just happens to be millennials like this is kind of like recent decades?

Betsy: How millennials are killing the Philadelphia accents.

Megan: It’s like that Twitter that’s linguistics paper bot, it feels like that would come out of it.

Betsy: That’s hilarious.

Megan: Millennials are destroying X.

Betsy: Yeah. So I want to be super clear and say what we see the younger speakers doing is a shift away from the most salient features but that doesn’t mean that the Philadelphia accent is gone. It just means that there are different features that are differentiating it from other languages. So don’t stress out other linguists, there’re still beautiful dialect variation happening.

Megan: Or anyone listening in Philadelphia who’s like, but I still speak like I do? No. Yes, you do. Yeah, you do. So, okay, when you did that, your dissertation work, you didn’t really get a clear picture of how people perceive their accent or did you? It just didn’t correlate with what you thought it would.

Betsy: So, right. So we don’t see an effect of hometown affiliation, but what we do see is that okay, so you have, some people are mostly surrounded by other Philadelphians and then they’re kind of like, well, I don’t know. You’re talking about I talk normal, which is very reasonable.

Carrie: Yeah. You do.

Betsy: I talk normal. One time I went to Paris and they all thought I was from Texas and that was really weird. And then you have Philadelphians who are surrounded by non-Philadelphians who are commenting on the way they talk. What you see there is people saying like, yeah, sometimes I try not to sound so Philadelphian or sometimes people label it with this is a podcast about linguistic discrimination. So sometimes people label Philadelphian features as sounding like accented to be the most bland all the way to like, oh, that sounds low class. That sounds stupid. That sounds bad, that sounds rough. I get the word rough a lot. So you get some people moving away from it. And then you have what I think is like a classic Philadelphian attitude, which is you get some people who get other people commenting on the way they talk and respond by being like, no, fuck you, this is how I talk I love the way I talk.

Megan: I think that should be our title for this episode. No, we can’t say if. I guess we can say F. We could just say f.

Carrie: I know how much you hate that but I think that would be a delightful title.

Betsy: I would be in strong support of that.

Carrie: So it feels like, I mean, okay, so some people are saying like it’s low class or whatever, but it’s like if these changes are happening kind of in the school system, it’s like you’re perpetuating these class issues and it you’re seeing it in the dialect.

Betsy: Exactly. Yeah. I mean, we see this over and over. People are really good at judging other people’s class, gender, race.

Megan: We sure are.

Carrie: And they love to do it and a lot of people don’t know that they love to do it or that they’re doing it.

Megan: They think it’s okay. They think it makes them interesting. That’s the thing that bothers me the most. It doesn’t make you interesting. It makes you the same as everybody else.

Betsy: It just makes you the same kind of ass hole.

Megan: Yeah, exactly. So Carrie you said like it, that seems obvious, but I’ve never seen like, it said in this study like that, or for her to find results like in numbers that I was so correlated with Ah, you class. The schools which seem to be related to class. And you see this dialect change shift.

Betsy: I guess I’ve never seen it with just schools alone.

Megan: Yeah. So that’s very interesting. That was in your dissertation. Blah-blah.

Betsy: Check it out. It’s on my website. So I found this and Dan Duncan who did work on the northern city shift, which is my native dialect but in St. Louis also found that Catholic schools predicted people retaining their local dialect. So he also found a difference between Catholic schools versus public schools.

Megan: Yeah. Okay, so I am from Arizona and I have never lived anywhere else
and I don’t have any stereotypes of Philadelphia English speakers except maybe I have been complaining them with New York for this whole time. So stereotypes I’d have grown up with about Philadelphia English And New York English would be like, the way they talk is rude. For some reasons that is just fused together with whatever perception people I grew up around had about these goes. I feel like a lot of people have New York, Texas and California as the three dialects in the US, so I have fused it all together. I think that’s how I grew up perceiving Philadelphia English, Do you have anything Carrie that you’ve perceived?

Carrie: I don’t think I really, when I was a kid had any perception of there was a difference between Philly and New York, because why would I? I have been to Philadelphia exactly one time and yeah, I guess my perception is, yeah, the people are very brusque in comparison to Canadians anyway.

Megan: And to people in Arizona.

Carrie: And to people from the Midwest.

Megan: Oh, true. Yeah.

Betsy: Yeah. I would say that stereotype of, I mean, it sort of spans the East coast or at least the mid-Atlantic of being rude, pushy, like direct, might be a way to say that.

Megan: Yeah. There you go.

Betsy: I mean, Philadelphians in general are kind of, they’ll talk about themselves being assholes, It’s kind of like a social stereotype of New York, Philly area.

Megan: Jersey too because again, our Jersey speaker called himself an ass hole.

Betsy: Yep.

Megan: He did straightforwardly multiple times.

Betsy: Yep. But of course, social norms about rudeness are developed in a social practice, and so, what’s rude to me is actually polite to somebody else.

Megan: Yes, for sure. Exactly.

Betsy: So if I’m like roundabout and passive-aggressive, in my hometown, that’s interpreted like, okay, you’re requesting this thing in the nicest way that you can. Yeah. But so my in-laws are from North Jersey and to somebody from that dialect area, they’re like, spit it out, let me know what you want.

Carrie: Yeah. I have to admit, I actually prefer the direct way most of the time. There are times when a softer touch is better, but for certain things if you want to go for dinner, just tell me you want to do that. Don’t be like, Hey, are you hungry? I don’t know, get to the point.

Megan: Yeah. I’m very, very highly sensitive, so I always want people to beat around the bush with me but I’ve actually learned as I’m getting older, get over it, because they’re not being rude, Megan. Like, they’re being efficient as well. Okay. You are inefficient. Megan. Yeah, no, it’s true. Again, I just have this perception of rude, and that’s based on the people that around me in Arizona that has nothing to do with people in New York or Philly or New Jersey.

Betsy: Yep. So I get this sort of like reverse culture shock, and whenever I go back to Michigan, and I speak the way I’m used to speaking now which is also a combination of like in academia you’re socialized to talk very, like, this is what I’m saying, like very directly. So my family is like, “Whoa, what do you mean you’re hungry and want to go to dinner right now? Why would you say that to me?”

Carrie: How dare you tell me directly what you need. I also have reverse culture shock when I go back to Canada. It’s not so much about that, but, well, I guess it is slightly related because Vancouver in particular it’s a very cold city, so people are not overly chatty with you usually. Oh. And I’ve gotten kind of used to chatting with the Safeway cashier here.

Betsy: Yeah. The first time I went back, I think there was like an N wave conference in Chicago my first or second year of grad school and I went and like, walking down the street, you pass strangers and strangers made eye contact and were like, isn’t it beautiful weather outside and I realized like, oh my God, that’s what I’m used to and I’ve been missing strangers talking to me about the weather.

Carrie: So they do that in Chicago, it is Midwestern.

Betsy: Yeah. I think it’s a general Midwestern. Oh, let’s be nice to each other kind of a thing. I forgot to say this about Philadelphia English. There’s also syntactic features.

Megan: Yes. I’d love to hear them.

Betsy: Okay. Yeah. So Philly has positive anymore, which means, ah, so anymore for most people is a what’s called a negative polarity item, which means you can only use it with negative sentences. So I don’t smoke anymore, means I used to smoke now I don’t. In Philly, you can also say, John smokes anymore, which to me, in my native dialect is completely meaningless. I can’t even reconstruct what it might mean.

Megan: Well, I have to constantly tell myself nowadays, otherwise it just doesn’t compute at all.

Betsy: Yes. So it’s roughly translated as nowadays, but it’s not exactly the same because I know specifically as logically it means didn’t used to do X now does X. So they can say things like, anymore jewelry’s so expensive which means jewelry used to be cheaper, now it’s really expensive. That is a super interesting feature to me because you’ll get participants who, if you ask them outright, John smokes anymore, what does that mean? They’ll say, we have a couple of cases where a participant has said, I don’t know what that means. I’ve never heard that before in my life. But then you go back to the interview portion and they said it. Oh, they said, people are getting fired anymore.

Carrie: It’s really interesting.

Betsy: I love it. It’s one of my favorite examples to talk about because it’s logic, beauty. I love it.

Megan: New York doesn’t have it.

Betsy: Not that I know of. I don’t think so.

Megan: Yeah. Okay. So it’s a little… okay, that’s cool.

Betsy: Yeah, a little silly thing. And then I’m not as much of an expert in Philadelphia and African American English, so I don’t know that if there’s any specific to Philadelphia English features of African American English. So you’d have to talk to another linguistic about that.

Carrie: Yeah, no, that’s totally cool. So why are some features more vulnerable to change, do you think, in a dialect con context situation or do we have any sense of what is vulnerable and what isn’t?

Betsy: Yeah, I mean, so the easiest answer is social salience. So if you get told, oh, the way you say class sounds rude or whatever. Now it’s in your head and now you’re going to every time you go to say the word class, you might think twice. So we see like, salience of a feature. If people are aware of it, those are the features that are the first to go. But it can also work the other direction. So you get this thing called covert prestige where something is a marked feature, but it signals something that is still good, like tough or something like this.

So this goes back to Peter Gill’s work in the UK where you saw TH fronting, which is saying fu like fu so like tif spreading out and it was like a male-led change. And the argument is that men heard other men doing this and they sounded working class and tough and so it’s spread and now it’s all over the UK. I mean, it’s all over a lot of dialects actually. So social salience is a big reason. But then another thing that I’m interested in is sort of phonological reasons.

So is our simple features easier to adopt than complex features. So this short-a split is a great example because the nasal split that’s incoming into Philadelphia is very simple. I can explain it using one sentence. But the Philadelphia traditional short-a split is super complicated. I mean, it’s got extra complications that I didn’t tell you about. There’s lexico exceptions, They say mad and bad and those don’t rhyme with the word sad.

Megan: Ah.

Betsy: Yeah. That’s another telltale sign. If mad and bad, don’t, don’t rhyme with sad. You’re talking to a Philadelphian.

Megan: Ooh, cool, I’m going to get out, I’m going to go to Philly, I’m going to be in the airport and I’m going to be, tell me these three words right now.

Carrie: Because that’s not weird.

Megan: No. I mean, welcome to my life.

Carrie: Yeah, exactly.

Betsy: But so there’s an interesting question about maybe phonological simplicity plays a role as well in things that are easier to borrow or easier to not borrow. So this is kind of shifting a little bit away from my work on Philly English broadly, but I also did some work on a community of speakers in South Philly that were white speakers who were in contact with black neighbors, regular contact. And we see these white speakers starting to produce TH fronting, which is a feature of African American English and not a feature of white Philadelphian English.

So we see these speakers start to do TH fronting. So they’ll say the one that sticks out in my mind as a participant saying like, I kicked his teeth down a stroke. It’s a great question. Why was that feature the one that could be adopted? One potential answer is that TH as like a segment in Philly English already had a non-standard production. You get TH stopping so dis and that. You get TH stopping in the voiceless version for some of the oldest speakers. So tink for think. Which is sort of associated with Irish English.

So one possibility is if you have a segment that already can do sort of non-standard signaling, maybe it is more open to having additional variants sort of thrown onto it.

Megan: But there’s also the thing that TH becomes f in lots of dialects.

Betsy: Yeah. So this gets back to like the phonological naturalness of it.

Megan: Yeah. So maybe like fink is very common in, or at least it was very common in London, for example.

Betsy: Yep. Still super common. It’s like the majority of form for many younger speakers. Yeah. You see it in, it’s in Glasgow, it’s in Edinburgh, it’s in New Zealand.

Megan: Apparently it happened in maybe it was not now I don’t remember which language it was, but it’s happened in other languages in the past as well. That exact same change.

Betsy: Yeah. So there’s a, I mean, it’s a great candidate for change too because I mean, thought is th difficult sound. It’s one of the latest segments that English speakers learn. So maybe that plays a role. And th and f are acoustically very similar, it doesn’t add confusability. If you do that, do that change. But I guess the short answer is, I don’t know, I would love to find out. So that’s why people should keep doing research.

Carrie: Yeah. Indeed.

Megan: I mean, job security.

Betsy: Yo, Oh, oh my God, I didn’t talk about yo, which is like a super Philadelphian thing. Yo is just like, sort of a Philly, I mean, yo, did you see that movie last night? Yo. Or like, I mean it’s just like an interjection/salutation.

Megan: The new fin land, and I’m not saying that right. Carrie, new fin land.

Carrie: New fin land.

Betsy: Oh, is it secondary stress on the last syllable?

Megan: Yes. See, and I cannot do it.

Betsy: I did not know that.

Megan: It’s interesting,.

Carrie: Understand Newfinland[?] is how you remember it.

Megan: Newfoundland.

Betsy: That’s a nice mnemonic I like that.

Megan: But they have a the boy, how do you say it?

Carrie: Boy.

Megan: Boy. And that’s kind of acting the same way, as yo or no.

Betsy: I don’t know. because it’s like, yes, boy. Or I mean, I guess I don’t think you would ever, well, okay, I shouldn’t say this. I don’t know if you can say it at the beginning of a sentence. Oh, okay. I definitely have this strong feeling that it’s at the end.

Megan: Okay. But with yo, you can have it beginning end.

Betsy: Yeah. I think so.

Megan: Yeah, I think so too. So I have a friend who’s from, well New Jersey, but he was like, really? Philly. Really, really? Philly. He would use yo all the time.

Betsy: Yeah. I mean, it’s just like a Oh, that was really hard. Yo.

Megan: Yeah. Although they would say hoard.

Carrie: I know that there are other speakers, like I’ve heard it from other places, but it’s not as much.

Betsy: Yeah, exactly. So yo is a word that I have in my native dialect, but I would not use it nearly, it’s like a quantitative difference rather than a qualitative one.

Megan: Yeah.

Carrie: Yeah.

Betsy: I find it super useful. Anytime I see anything interesting, I’ll text people and be like, yo, yeah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, Blah.

Carrie: It is useful.

Betsy: Yo. John, obviously we talked about that one before.

Carrie: And that one’s spelled not-

Betsy: J-A-W-N.

Carrie: Yes. Like Yong. Okay. John.

Betsy: Yes. John.

Carrie: John.

Betsy: Yeah, exactly.

Carrie: Yeah. I think I have the wrong vowel for that.

Betsy: Water, water, ice. Which is a frozen ice cream treat, not ice cream treat, it’s a oh gosh. I listen, I’m from the Midwest. All we have is ice cream on the East coast. You get a difference between water ice, Italian ice, and ice cream.

Megan: So water, ice is not Italian ice.

Carrie: It depends who you ask honestly. Yeah, because remember Lou told us it was the same thing. It was like a south versus north jersey thing. So for him it’s the same, but for some people it’s not. Got it. Because Rita’s do you have a Ritas there? Rita’s water.

Betsy: Oh my god. Yeah.

Carrie: Okay.

Betsy: So do we.

Megan: Oh, that’s right. In Phoenix not in Tucson.

Betsy: My palate is not refined enough to be able to tell a difference but my partner tells me there’s a difference.

Megan: So it’s crushed ice with flavoring.

Betsy: Yeah, but it’s like more delicious than just like a snow cone.

Megan: That’s all I was imagining was a snow cone. Because snow cones are really boring.

Betsy: So it’s not a snow cone. It’s like, I thought it was going to be like a snow cone, but it’s this creamy, delicious, smooth. Oh my God, you got to try water, ice. I’m going to send you one of my favorite Philadelphian clips that’s just a beautiful example of o fronting and water. There’s a situation where it was actually kind of horrifying, but you know these duck boats, the boats that are like land and water? There was a situation where one of those duck boats got run into by a barge and people jumped into the water and were swimming. And the guy who calls 911 to talk about it, the person on the other end cannot understand him.

Man: But all the people swimming holy shit. Hello. Hello. A tugboat just ran a ferryboat over.

Woman: Just ran it over.

Man: Yes. A tugboat just ran one of the ducks over, right in front of Penn’s landing. Hello. A tugboat and a barge just ran a duck. One of [crosstalk]

Woman: Ride the duck.

Man: The ferry boat duck things.

Woman: They’ve ran out completely over. There are people swimming.

Man: The Philadelphia ducks. No, no, no, no. The car ducks.

Woman: Ride the duck.

Man: Right in front of Penn’s landing in the wall. There’s got to be 50 people in the river. In the river lady.

Megan: Wow. That’s amazing

Betsy: I know. But it is such a beautiful example of Philadelphia accents and dialect miscommunication too.

Carrie: No, it happens.

Megan: Yeah. I guess our last question is just why is it important that we not judge Philadelphia English speakers.

Betsy: Yeah, I mean, great question. I feel like it just goes back to your tagline, nobody wants to be an asshole. Yeah. Don’t judge people who’d speak any kind of way that you think, some kind of way about.

Megan: Yeah, I agree.

Carrie: You should let people tell you about themselves, don’t let their accent tell you about them.

Megan: Yeah. Content.

Carrie: Content [inaudible].

Betsy: Yes, exactly. I get red here on the East coast as like really nice and like, oh, super cute and super sweet not that serious. And like, I don’t think that aligns with my personality at all.
So it annoys me when people do that to me and there is a wide range of variation in what people are like in every dialect. So exactly. Let them tell you who they are.

Carrie: Yeah, exactly.

Megan: If they say something bad, then you can judge them In whatever action they’re using. It has nothing to do with-

Betsy: Exactly. Let’s jump the content of people’s words and not the way they say them.

Carrie: Exactly. So I guess that goes right into us telling you thanks and tell everyone not to be an asshole.

Megan: Yes. Don’t be an asshole.

Betsy: Wonderful. Thank you so much, you guys.

Megan: Thank you.

Carrie: Thank you. Okay, bye.

Man 1: You don’t think I know what’s going on?

Man 2: Oh, Jesus Christ. I don’t get it.

Man 2: Open your mouth, bitch.

Man 2: What?

Man 1: Prepare to be blasted bitch. Brenda. This is my new merchandising idea. It’s a gun that shoots liquor into your mouth.

Man 2: Ah, you throw tequila in my eye.

Man 1: Well, I haven’t figured out how to get the tequila to come out of the barrel with a gun.

Megan: The Vocal Fries podcast is produced by Chris Airs for half-tone audio. Theme music by Nick Granum. You can find us on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at the vocal fries pod. You can email us at



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