I am finishing Chris Hayes’ A Colony in a Nation. It’s quite good, but the parts that really resonated were his descriptions of growing up in the New York City in the 1980s and 1990s. It turns out he grew up in Norwood, moved to Riverdale as a teen, and went to a private school around 96th Street in Manhattan. He then went to Brown University.
This, for no particular reason, is a picture of Brooklyn:
Anyway, I mention Hayes’ sojourn in Riverdale and his educational pedigree because they explain his complete lack of a New York accent. And I mean complete. Hayes has nothing, not the nasality, certainly not the /ɔː/ → [ɔə~oə~ʊə] “low back chain shift.” (That shift is what Russell Crowe keeps getting glaringly annoyingly wrong in all of this otherwise spot-on portrayals of white working-class New Yorkers. See minute 1:12. But why? It ain’t hard.)
But it is no surprise that Chris Hayes has a general American accent: of course somebody with that education — and who lived in Riverdale and hung out on the Upper East Side — would speak television!
But then I discover that the famous Robert Caro grew up on the Upper West Side and was educated at Horace Mann and Princeton. Yet he has a pronounced New York accent. It is frankly impossible to imagine somebody from a rich family in that neighborhood and with that education sounding like Robert Caro today.
So one of three things must be true:
- Robert Caro is the honey badger. Robert Caro just don’t care.
- Robert Caro is a mensch but it was just harder to lose a Noo Yawk accent back then. This I do not believe for a second.
- New York accents had less stigma attached to them in the 1950 than they did in the 1990s.
The regional accent is not dead yet, especially in its latest form (or in New Jersey) but it ain’t what it used to be.