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A Common Misconception about the New Orleans Accent

  I am a couple of weeks into my exploration and I have already captured the stories of several people who have called the New Orleans Ninth Ward home. And, after hearing their voices, I feel compelled to debunk an old New Orleans’ stereotype. People from New Orleans do not speak with a Southern drawl....

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

 

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

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

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

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

[audio:http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/files/2012/06/Accent-Clip.mp3|titles=The Nint’ Ward Accent]

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

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

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

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

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

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Meet the Author

Author Photo Caroline Gerdes
Caroline Gerdes recently graduated from Louisiana State University where she studied journalism and history (her major and minor, respectively). As a native of the Greater New Orleans Area, she decided to explore her own backyard with help from a Young Explorers Grant. Caroline is currently conducting an oral history project about the New Orleans Ninth Ward. She seeks to record the community’s full history — its immigrant beginnings, the development of jazz, the depression and prohibition, desegregation and hurricanes. Caroline’s exploration is also a personal quest as her father and paternal grandparents grew up in the Ninth Ward. Her blogs reflect an inside look at New Orleans life and culture, especially the edible aspects.