Over the holidays I spent almost two weeks in New Jersey, the land of my birth. Whenever I return to the east coast, I feel as if I have reached civilization. Although I pride myself on not being one of those uppity mofo’s from the east coast who believe nothing can exist outside the Northeastern bubble, I do feel as if I’ve returned to civilization when I see glitz and glamour of the Northeast corridor from my plane window. When my plane is descending into Newark and I peer out my window, I sigh a breath of relief upon seeing the lights of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings.Frequently after a few drinks, I’ll spout some proclamation in a Jersey/New York-ish accent. Since I live in Madison, WI, people always take notice. For instance, a couple of friends and I went to a brewery outside of Madison tonight and ordered the beer sampler. Reading the description of each beer, I pronounced the Irish stout as having “cawfee” overtones without skipping a beat. As soon as I said it, I realized my mother’s and father’s voice had overtaken my own in an effort to articulate the description of the beer. Usually I don’t notice these Jersey slips, but I was surrounded by my labmate from Nashville and her boyfriend who is also from the South. They don’t let these irregularities slide by.
When I moved from New Jersey to Connecticut as an eight year-old, my new classmates immediately criticized my pronunciation of “water.” I said “wooder,” and they said “Wah-ter.” Big deal, right? Well, as an insecure third grader, I actually changed the way I pronounced water to equal my classmates’. Ridiculous. I should’ve stuck to my roots and kept saying “wooder” like I was in the forest. I allowed my classmates to mold my enunciation into an uptight Connecticut youth’s. Thus, I lost a lot of my Jersey accent. I managed to maintain my inability to articulate words with “nt” in them, but soon was able to pronounce words with “er” with abandon. While I appreciate the elocution of people from Connecticut, I resent losing a bit my Jersey/NY character. Not only is it a great gimmick to entertain bouncers with (at the first bar I went to in Madison, upon seeing my Jersey license the bouncer asked for a Jersey accent, and I replied “How ya doin’?”), but it is actually part of my heritage.
As my family is from NJ and NY, they have the accent. At the most recent funeral I attended, I felt as if I was on the set of the Sopranos. After an hour or so, I could hardly understand my mother (originally from Queens, she remarked “Oh, I haven’t seen these pic-shas in yeah-as Ahhhhhg, yeah-as”), and the amount of “yeah, yeah” ‘s had multiplied ridiculously. Normally when I agree with you, I’ll say, “yeah, yeah, yeah” in rapid succession. After a couple of drinks, I’ll repeat the phrase, resulting in six “yeah” ‘s. At the funeral, however, my relatives ignored the rule of six and just kept going. I ate that shit up. I love the accent, and I literally cannot get enough of it whenever I’m home. I love going to the Coach store at the mall (the mawww-l) or the Polish deli to he-ah the Jersey inflection on certain words. You could probably come up with some psychological reason that it reminds me of my parents and extended family, therefore putting me at ease (which is true), but let’s face it—we all love that accent. You wish you could do it. You want to sound tough, so what do you do? You shorten your words, deepen your tone, swear a lot, and assert your dominance via modulating your vocal expressions. F*ck you, you mothah-f*ckahs.
This is why I now resort to mimicking the accent as a late-night drunken antic. None of my close friends in Madison are from NY so they can’t judge whether I have an authentic accent or not (though I’d argue it’s not bad since I was raised by a couple of NYers), and they love it. Also, taking on the accent as a short female gives me some stature to battle certain pricks who might pick on me.
I’m sad that I let my Jersey accent almost disappear in my youth, but I try to bring it back as much as appropriate in certain situations. I hope I never lose the ability to transition from my fairly innocuous accent to the Jersey accent. That stuff’s brilliant, yo.