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21.11.07

Youse Talk Like That In Pennsylvania, Say?

Since I hail from Palmerton, PA, I was interested to note Benjamin Zimmer's post pointing out this comedy sketch poking fun at "heynabonics," the dialect of northeastern Pennsylvania. Most of "heynabonics" is widespread informal and/or lazily-enunciated American English (e.g. the classic pre-dinner conversation "Jeet jet?" "No, jew?"). The two distinctive-to-Northeast-Pennsylvania items covered in the video are "youse" and "heyna." I've always thought "youse" was a much more logical alternative to "y'all," but I'm afraid the latter is becoming the QWERTY keyboard of English pronoun innovation. "Youse" was common but not universal in Palmerton, and was sometimes explicitly noted as being a "Monroe County" thing (Monroe County lying just northeast of Palmerton's Carbon County). "Heyna" (a "tag question" like the Canadian "eh?"), on the other hand, was new to me despite living at the border between northeast and southeast Pennsylvania. But in Palmerton (and possibly surrounding areas -- I'm not sure) we had our own tag question, "say?" The Heynabonics video in some ways reminds me of how Palmerton was also marginal to southeastern Pennsylvania's regional sub-culture as well. I have some college friends from the Philly suburbs, and they would occasionally forward me "you might be from Philadelphia if" lists and other such things, on the assumption that I was from the same region -- yet I rarely got most of the jokes. Then again, you also have to factor in the fact that I was fairly shy and my family moved to Palmerton from northwestern PA when I was 9, so I never fully imbibed the full Palmerton culture (for example, I didn't start drinking iced tea or eating pierogies until after I moved away from home).

Zimmer also points out the "glottalized" pronunciation of the region's major city, Scranton (pronounced more like "scran'-un"). Many years ago I was traveling through this area with a friend and her dad, who hail from Long Island. The dad mentioned that we were getting close to "Scran-Ton" -- not just pronouncing the T as a T (rather than a glottal stop), but emphasizing the O (pronounced like "off" rather than reduced to a schwa) as well. I found it amusingly unnatural-sounding.

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