Me talk pretty one day?
May 22, 2012 8:33 PM   Subscribe

My informal English is boring! I'd like to make it more interesting by incorporating new and/or local (to Philadelphia) linguistic features to it.

I'm already hip to caring less instead of not caring less, but other than that my non-technology related speech probably sounds like something from the 80s or 90s for all of its linguistic and grammatical modernity. The most transgressive thing I might do is the occasional y'all (after years and years of living in the South from childhood through late 20s).

Now that I'm living in Philly, there are so many cool quirks I could incorporate: things like the positive anymore, jawns, (those are the ones I've heard of/noticed; I'm sure there are more). I'd like some guidance on how to introduce them non-awkwardly and non-self-consciously into my everyday speech.

I'm not 100% sure I want to sound exactly like a local, but I'd love to communicate like one, rather than feeling like an awkward out-of-towner English professor who occasionally says y'all (and, on the rarest of occasions, might could).
posted by Deathalicious to Writing & Language (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
As a native of the Philly suburbs, I strongly encourage you to never, ever, ever, ever say "jawns" or "yous." Go right ahead with the "anymore."

I kind of get from your question that the better thing for you would be to learn newer slang, rather than a regionalized pattern. Listening to people is the best way to imitate them, so do some eavesdropping on the subway, in line at food carts, etc. But I think any attempt you make to unnaturally modernize your speech is going to backfire.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:43 PM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Riding the El for hours will definitely teach you loads about Philly slang and dialect, but please for the love of Rita's do not say "wudder." Ever.

Also yeah "jawn" has sounded incredibly strange every time I've heard it said by other non-Philly natives, and even the natives I know don't actually say it, unless they are from certain very localized areas. And they were 13-17.

That said, there are also many, many English professors and even more English majors on the streets of Center City and beyond, so you may blend in more than you think! But seriously, eavesdropping and learning language patterns will get you to the point of deeper communication. Local concerts. Grocery stores that aren't Trader Joe's. And definitely, definitely anything Septa, except the R5.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:57 PM on May 22, 2012

I've never heard anyone who is new to the word 'jawn' use it in a non-awkward way.

When the word is used naturally, it's just a part of a sentence, with (usually) no special emphasis placed on it.

When I hear newcomers pronounce it, it's all, "Hey, look at me, I'm using the word jawn!" (not saying this is what you are doing) and they center all of the emphasis of the sentence they're saying around the word jawn, and they overemphasize the pronunciation of the word too. I'm not a linguist, so I'm having trouble describing this, but it's not pronounced how it's spelled. Roughly, the pronunciation IS jaw-n, or jaw with n at the end of it, but the a in there is more like a slurry of both "aw" "o" and "ah" sounds rather than just JAW. And then, the whole word is stretched out, especially on the n. The most straightforward thing I can think to prepare it to is the French pronunciation of the name Jean, but even still...

Anyway, this is not one that you can use a lot. It can be slipped in here and there, but like DoubleLune suggested, it's kind of outdated- and very easy to mispronounce, from what I have experienced.

Aside from that...

The Market Frankford Line is usually just called the El (In my experience) so that might be helpful information to you while getting around.
posted by jumelle at 9:01 PM on May 22, 2012

Oh, God, please, no. Tell me you're joking. As a native of the Philadelphia area I spent my childhood and adolescence ensuring that I did not pick up either the loathsome local accent or its "quirks." (Pittsburghese is even more grating, if that's possible.)

However, Pennsylvania Dutch has contributed some charming, fun vernacular. I still say "redd up a room" occasionally, thanks to my mother and grandmother.
posted by tully_monster at 9:04 PM on May 22, 2012

jetlagaddict: "That said, there are also many, many English professors and even more English majors on the streets of Center City and beyond, so you may blend in more than you think! But seriously, eavesdropping and learning language patterns will get you to the point of deeper communication. Local concerts. Grocery stores that aren't Trader Joe's. And definitely, definitely anything Septa, except the R5."

I feel the need to pop in and say that I'm not an English professor and was concerned that it came off that way in the post. Just someone who doesn't speak with enough slang. Maybe a better way of putting it would have been "rather than feeling like an awkward out-of-towner Data who occasionally says y'all". Please don't make me come back in here to clarify that I'm not actually an android
posted by Deathalicious at 9:24 PM on May 22, 2012

Some rural Ontario for you, if you want to sound exotic and redneck at the same time:

It's always "anyways" not "anyway" (and "Anyways" is an appropriate start to any sentence, even when you aren't being snarky about changing the subject)

Always contract "I've" to "I" ("I been thinking about learning some new words.")

"Right" as an adjectival emphasis ("I'm feeling right tired.")


Anyways, after living three years in Philly, the two big linguistic developments I picked up were non-ironic use of "aight" and "dawg." I can't imagine having used these words five years ago without feeling incurably white, but now they're natural. I think my ideolect is better for it.
posted by 256 at 9:25 PM on May 22, 2012

Also, surely "jawn" is a step up from my placeholder of choice, "thingy".
posted by Deathalicious at 9:29 PM on May 22, 2012

"Awesome" with the "aw" pronounced closer to the "aw" in "coleslaw."
posted by steinsaltz at 9:48 PM on May 22, 2012

Or "oh" really.
posted by steinsaltz at 9:55 PM on May 22, 2012

I'm a big fan of "You want I should." "You want I should pick you up tomorrow?"
posted by Snarl Furillo at 10:32 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

fin, short for "fixing", as in working up to something.
fin to be a cold summer.
fin to go out but then I watched two movies.
posted by eddydamascene at 11:41 PM on May 22, 2012

If you didn't grow up saying it, it only really makes sense to say jawn under two conditions:

1. that you know the person you are saying it to will be familiar with it
2. that it is genuinely the word that comes to mind when you are otherwise at a loss for a thing's proper name.

There's no point using jawn as the handy verbal shorthand it is if you're going to have to backtrack and explain it to your listener, and there's no point consciously inserting it in your speech when you can perfectly easily call to mind the real name of the thing you are talking about. Unless, maybe, the object's proper name is excessively long or unwieldy.

At home, I will often refer to various fiddly pieces of kitchen equipment as a [noun] jawn, with the noun indicating what the object might be for. We have a spiralizer (it cuts vegetables into long thin strips) that is invariably used to spiralize potatoes, so at this point everyone calls it "the potato jawn."

Two more things I can think of are that many locals manage to pronounce the name of the city as "Phiwwy" (particularly neasties but I've heard it all over)- although I beg you not to start doing this- and the fact that in any bar, if you ask for "lager", they understand you to be asking for yuengling.
posted by Aubergine at 5:00 AM on May 23, 2012

*whoops, should be "neasty" not "neastie"
posted by Aubergine at 5:03 AM on May 23, 2012

Just someone who doesn't speak with enough slang.

It's awkward enough when you see a teenager from the suburbs start to drop urban street slang into his speech. I imagine it would be 10 times as awkward to see this occur in a full grown professional adult.

There's this great piece of writing that I sometimes quote from which happens to use the word "jawn" in it, and actually the word basically hurts the overall style and pacing of the passage. The reason is basically that it forces the reader to stop and return to the word, figure out/explain wait it means, and then continue. (doubly awkward because the passage in question is about Boston, not Philly, so it doesn't even make sense to use it in context)

Use of slang makes it harder for a person to communicate, not easier.
posted by deanc at 5:11 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ooh, I'm so torn. I don't actually think this is a great idea, mostly because people generally suck at picking up the nuanced restrictions on the use of unfamiliar linguistic features once they're adults. On the other hand, I have some suggestions if you're set on going ahead with it...

You definitely need to check out Sean Monahan's work. He makes videos about the Philadelphian dialect that are aimed at a lay audience but are also linguistically spot-on (unlike so much dialect material intended for popular consumption). I recommend starting with this YouTube video, but he also has a blog called Philly Tawk where you can get in way deeper.

The odds of you picking up any pronunciation features of the Philly accent in an accurate and consistent way are pretty damn low, so I'd definitely stick with more lexical features. Positive anymore is an easy one to pick up once you understand what it means. The key is that it has the opposite meaning of our usual standard negative form. "Traffic isn't too bad any more" means that in the past traffic was bad and now traffic is not bad. "Traffic is awful anymore" means that in the past traffic was not bad and now traffic was bad. It does not mean something like "Traffic used to be terrible and continues to be terrible." It's typically described as being used in complaints, but I've been picking up examples lately where this isn't true.

A grammatical feature found in Philly that people are completely unaware of is that you can say "I'm done my homework" to mean that you have finished working on your homework and it is now complete. You don't need a "with"; in fact, putting a "with" in there makes it mean something slightly different. "I'm done with my homework" means that you've stopped working on your homework but it's not necessarily complete. However, there are environments in which you do still need a "with" after "done", such as when you've been using a tool and are no longer using it. Good luck using this one successfully; it will almost certain break your brain if you're a native speaker of a variety that doesn't permit it!

Keep in mind that you will never have a convincingly Philadelphian accent, so any use of local lexical and grammatical features is going to be obviously affected. People may judge you for this. My personal suggestion would be to work on being a casual, friendly, unpretentious conversationalist in general, because that's a genuinely useful skill that will go far in any locality and will do more to ease your worries about sounding like an android than learning how to successfully deploy the word "jawn" ever will.
posted by ootandaboot at 8:40 AM on May 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Just popping in to say that I lived and worked in Center City Philadelphia for 7+ years and never heard (or heard of) the word "jawn," so first I'd agree with others who say just don't go there and second unless it's become a lot more prevalent there since I left in 2004, a lot of people aren't going to know what the heck you're talking about.
posted by kaybdc at 8:57 AM on May 23, 2012

Slang that is artificially put into your speech is going to sound artificial. Especially if you don't know the difference between slang and accent. Like saying "wudder" versus saying "water" with a Mid Atlantic accent.
posted by gjc at 4:35 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have found myself a couple of times using the positive anymore, as it is a very useful construct. I find myself wanting to say jawn but exercising restraint, even when it means using the far less dignified "thingie".
posted by Deathalicious at 2:52 PM on December 31, 2012

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