Potato, potahto n’at

Last night, I woke up just in time to see David what’s-his-name on CSI Miami say about the victim du jour, “His name was Steve Lancaster.”

It perked me right up. He said Lancaster like Burt — langCASter. But not like the town in Pennsylvania. Folks there call it LANGkister — all run together, veddy British. And if you’re from Latrobe, you call it LAYtrobe. And if you’re from the Laurel Mountains, you say Donniegol (the Irish way), while the typical PA Turnpike traveler simply says Donegal (DAWNigll). 

Of course, the natives are pronouncing it correctly. But I think it’s funny that we ‘Burghers, who are quick to laugh at a new newscaster who says MUNroeville or KITTENing or North Versigh, are almost universally wrong about Lancaster, Latrobe, and Donegal. (I met a girl in college, and all of us thought it was so funny when she said, “I’m from LAYtrobe.”)

I always notice accents. Also pronunciation, though I’m not always right in what I think is correct. After my diatribe against pronouncing verbiage “verbage,” I learned that was OK — the #2 way in the dictionary. Just like my husband’s pronunciation of compass to rhyme with pompous (but you’d think an eagle scout would know better), or saying aunt like taunt, or vase like voz.

At my husband’s church, while everyone was AHmen-ing, I was AYmen-ing. I’m still studying that one — maybe it’s a Catholic thing or a ‘Burgh thing? We (my relatives) were praying aloud at the funeral home a few weeks ago and we all AYmen-ed while my husband AHmen-ed.

I can always pick out a Western PA accent, even a latent one, though I didn’t know I had one of my own until 7th grade, when Mr. Klebaha amazed our entire English class by pointing out our Pittsburghese. I’ve learned to suppress it in the years since, but there’s still something comforting (although funny — Stanley P. Kachowski funny) in hearing someone who’s going dahntahn or doing the worsh or taking an ahr to get to work on a slippy day. These are the voices of home — and I’m proud to throw in a yinz or a “needs fixed” or a trip to the Sahside every now and then — it’s my right as a native. It bothers me when people equate those terms with being uneducated (or downright unwashed) — no one accuses Southerners of that or Chicagoans or Bostonians. We Pittsburghers share a unique voice (all the linguists agree), and it’s OK to be proud of that!

Why just a couple months ago, Mike and I saw an unfamiliar weatherman on The Weather Channel, and I immediately said, “He’s from around here.” Yep, according to his profile on weather.com, Severe Weather Expert Dr. Greg Forbes was born and raised near — you guessed it — good ol’ LAYtrobe.

Language is not an abstract construction of the learned, or of
dictionary makers, but is something arising out of the work, needs,
ties, joys, affections, tastes, of long generations of humanity,
and has its bases broad and low, close to the ground.
                                        ~ Noah Webster

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8 Comments

  1. CUTEBLOG NAME said,

    Tuesday, December 11, 2007 at 8:52 am

    I say munroeville, not like the doctine. What about Mt Lebenon, not pronounced like the country. I think a lot of times they(TV ,actors) never heard it pronounced, like Troy PoLAMAlu.

  2. WritingbyEar said,

    Tuesday, December 11, 2007 at 9:01 am

    Yes, I read on The Burgh Blog that during one of the last national Steeler games they showed the obligatory Primanti’s sandwich shot only they called it Primahnti’s. She was appalled.

  3. robbie said,

    Wednesday, December 12, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    Anymore I don’t care what words sound like uttered from the great unwashed (or washed). I just enjoy hearing complete sentences and proper verb tenses. Actually, just receiving any response can be gratifying. It’s a shame language skills keep sinking. I read many years ago language degradation is an early sign of a civilization’s decline. Even the Queen (Liz II) no longer speaks “high English”. How common we’ve all become.

  4. WritingbyEar said,

    Wednesday, December 12, 2007 at 5:15 pm

    Well put, Robbie. And I agree that speaking and grammar skills have declined. I think the best we can do is police ourselves and hope some of it rubs off on others.

  5. Moonrunner said,

    Sunday, April 6, 2008 at 11:23 pm

    Aah, whadda yinz know ’bout langwich? Da ‘Burgh has its own way of tahkin’. It’s what makes us special. So’f yiz gotta problem wit dat, wiencha
    go ta Philly an’ have a soda while we sit here suckin’ dahn a few Ahrns wachin’ the Stillers kick butt? Oh yeah, yinz can have a cuppela’ Alligainy white fish sammiches wit yer sodas. Yinz seem like the types that’d enjoy ’em. Izzat fancy schmancy tawk ‘nuf fer ya?

  6. WritingbyEar said,

    Monday, April 7, 2008 at 9:23 am

    Hey Moonrunner, we’re all ‘Burgher’s here. Grew up on Regent pop and Snyders (the best chips). Wouldn’t have it any other way.

  7. Blossy said,

    Tuesday, May 5, 2009 at 1:09 am

    I really appreciate what you wrote about our (Pittsburghers’) unique voice. It bothers me, too, when people make fun of my native dialect; it bothers me most when the people poking fun are native Pittsburghers themselves!

    I never even knew I spoke Pittsburghese until I went to college at Carnegie Mellon. Here I was, attending school in my native city, yet I felt like a foreigner. Friends teased my speech for everything from pronunciation (‘Hode’ the elevator!) to sentence structure (my car “needs fixed”). I was all set to jump on the anti-Yinzer bandwagon when my Linguistics teacher shared this article:

    http://www.pbs.org/speak/seatosea/americanvarieties/pittsburghese/

    Knowing the origins of my unique dialect has changed everything! If I call someone “nebby” I’m not provincial – I’m mimicking the Scots aristocracy that shaped the city at the turn of the 20th century. If I say my clothes “need washed” I’m not uneducated – I’m proudly reflecting my German heritage. My speech is unique, like my city and the people in it. We Pittsburghers are bound together by a common (sometimes inimitable) tongue. I’m proud to share that.

  8. WritingbyEar said,

    Tuesday, May 5, 2009 at 8:41 am

    Thanks, Blossy, for your great comments and for sharing such a good article. I’m proud to have a distinct regional voice and hope “our” way of talking always has a home here in Pittsburgh and wherever Pittsburghers roam. (We know the Stiller nation is vast…)


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