The traditional New York-New Jersey accent seems to be fading. (Do not be fooled; they are the same!) Then again, it seems to have been fading for a long time. Governor Al Smith was reknowned at the time for his accent; some even said it contributed to his loss in the 1928 presidential election.
Except, well, all the audio of him seems to show somebody with a barely-discernable accent. Compared to the parade of New Jersey accents appearing on MSNBC these days, Al Smith sounds like he is from Ohio. In the below clip I guess there is a little bit of an accent buried in there somewhere, but not really. He sounds like a deeper-pitched Matt Yglesias.
Smith did have an accent that emerged on occasion. The above clip is from 1933. In this 1928 clip, though, you can hear a very faint “ey” sound instead of “er.” That’s an iconic but archaic marker of NYNJ speech. The archaic accent, however, makes the modern content of the speech rather ironic: consider the studious avoidance of sexism at the end. (Also note the pretense at very high ethical standards. Do not be fooled into thinking that closing bridge lanes would not have sunk a candidate back in 1928.)
Back to the point: the markers of NYNJ speech do not depend on the now-defunct “ey” sound or the rarely-heard “youse.” I took the dialect quiz at the New York Times four times, and each time it pegged me as being from New York, Jersey City, or Yonkers. This despite giving honest answers about my use of “catty-corner” (a phrase I distinctly remember learning in California) and “you all” or “y’all” rather than “youse.”
The accuracy was slightly spooky, in fact. Is this just a New York phenomenon, or can such a short quiz really peg all Americans with such precision?