Thoughts on the Philly accent. I didn’t even know there was one, aside from saying”cheesesteak”. All I have to say is it sounds a lot like the New York accent based on the examples provided.
I’ve been lazy lately. I know, I know. More coming soon. Blehh
THE Philadelphia regional accent remains arguably the most distinctive, and least imitable, accent in North America. Let’s not argue about this. Ask anyone to do a Lawn Guyland accent or a charming Southern drawl and that person will approximate it. Same goes for a Texas twang or New Orleans yat, a Valley Girl totally omigod. Philly-South Jersey patois is a bit harder: No vowel escapes diphthongery, no hard consonant is safe from a mid-palate dent. Extra syllables pile up so as to avoid inconvenient tongue contact or mouth closure. If you forget to listen closely, the Philadelphia, orFilelfia, accent may sound like mumbled Mandarin without the tonal shifts.
Some dialects can be transcribed onto the page, but the Philadelphia accent really has to be heard to be believed. And when an accent goes silent, so do its speakers. A recent study out of the University of Pennsylvania reported that, like many regional phenomena, the Philly sound is conforming more and more with the mainstream of Northern accents. And that’s a shame. The beauty of the Philly accent, and I should point out it’s mostly to whites that these sweeping statements apply, is its mashing-up of the Northern and Southern. Nowhere but in the Delaware Valley can you hear those rounded vowels — soda is sewda, house is hay-ouse — a clear influence from Baltimore and points south.
An upstate New Yorker now, I miss my native tongue, especially this time of year, when, dutiful moviegoer that I am, I cram in as many movies nominated for the Academy Awards as I can. What’s becoming more and more clear is that, to the extent it ever appeared, the Filelfia accent, reflecting the general trend, has all but disappeared from the screen.
Take “American Hustle,” for example. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, the film is set in the late 1970s and early ’80s and based on the F.B.I.’s Abscam operation. It includes several characters based on real-life people from Philadelphia and South Jersey, and I hoped at least one actor would tackle the Broad Street brogue. One might expect Jeremy Renner’s portrayal of the mayor of Camden, N.J., Carmine Polito (Angelo J. Errichetti in real life), to include one youze guyz. No dice. Mr. Renner’s Polito comes straight out of the broad stroke school of accent choices, which holds that any character from Philadelphia or South Jersey must be portrayed in the New Yawk or New Joisey style. To the roughly six million Americans in the Delaware Valley, they sound ludicrous. Of course, having endured everything from Sylvester Stallone in the “Rocky” movies to Tom Hanks in “Philadelphia,” we’re used to it.
Da prom here, we might say as we order our cheesteaks, is we don’ ave enuff akkers hew are willen to masser da Filelfia acksin. Nonsense. Offhand, I can name two native sons, Bruce Willis (Salem County, N.J.) and Kevin Bacon (Center City Philadelphia), who, at least in interviews early in their career, before accent reduction training kicked in, let their diphthong freak flags fly. And Upper Darby, Pa., native Tina Fey’s shout-outs and occasional youzes are encouraging, as are stories of her singing “You Light Up My Life” in full Brotherly Love voice (“Yew loight up moy loif”).
The latest addition to my Philly accent watch list is Bradley Cooper, another star of “American Hustle,” who in last year’s “Silver Linings Playbook” played Pat Solitano Jr., a bipolar Eagles — err, Iggles — fan who returns to his childhood home — hewm — in Upper Darby. (The novel on which it’s based sets the action in Collingswood, N.J.; both places are less than a half-hour’s drive to Lincoln Financial Field, known as the Linc,hewm of the Iggles.) Cooper/Solitano, obsessed with getting back together with his ex-wife, instead befriends Tiffany Maxwell, played by Jennifer Lawrence. I’ll keep the spoilers to a minimum. My point is this: Between Ms. Lawrence and Mr. Cooper and his parents, Dolores and Pat Sr., played by Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro, great actors all, not a trace of Philadelphia-ese can be heard throughout the film. Not one mention of theIggles, of gewing downnashewr (going down to the shore) or tew the Acca-me to get hewgies (to the Acme grocery store to get hoagies).