My wife’s family lives in the southern part of New Jersey, just outside of Philadelphia, and this week we are here on a visit. A popular local newspaper, The Courier Post, ran an interesting article this week on the New Jersey accent. Since being married into the family, I have taken note of the peculiarities of the accent in this area of the United States. My wife insists North and South Jersey are two entirely different places. The north being influenced by New York City and the south by Philadelphia. Since spending time here visiting, I have noticed that the accent of these two region does in fact show this regional difference. I too can now tell a South Jersey speaker from a North Jersey speaker.
The newspaper article goes into detail about the differences in pronunciation and the image a heavy accent conveys to the listener. This certainly is true about accents in general. Although to some degree, every speaker has an accent betraying where they learned to speak, some accents are more noticeable than others. Accents serve as an geographic identifying mark for a person. In the United States, although each region has variations and accents, the Midwest region is considered a neutral American accent. So when you are listening to U.S. newscasters and announcers, generally this is the accent they are speaking in. I had the accent-fortune to be born in the Midwest, and although I primarily grew up in the Southern United States, I learned the neutral Midwest accent from being around my parents.
Certain accents are annoying in sound to listeners that are not used to hearing the peculiarities that with come with that accent, or they convey a negative image of ignorance and lack of education. This is why some people take classes to reduce their accent. I have taught students accent reduction when they are learning English as a second language, or if they have been taught British English and wish to sound more American. It is not easy to reduce your accent, because it becomes a learned habit of speaking. A person may not even notice their accent or even of those around them with a similar accent, because the human brain has the ability to filter it out. And like my wife, who doesn’t have much of a regional accent, it can intensify when she gets around her old friends that speak with a heavier South Jersey accent.
All in all, accents provide variety and identity. They are not a problem as long as a person can be understood by those they want to be understood by. Accents are really just a matter of taste and preference. A heavy accent to one person, it the correct way to pronounce words to another.
If you would like to learn to speak like a real South Jersey native here are some tips:
- “Water” is pronounced “Wudder”
- The Philadelphia Eagles (local football team) are pronounced the “Iggles”
- “Human” is pronounced “You-men”
- “Crayon” is pronounced “Cran”
For more tips on other New Jersey accent regions and more words, check out the article.
Peculiarities: Things that are different or unusual about a person or thing to set it apart from others