[Courtesy of iamigor on YouTube]
To many, William F. Buckley, Jr. may have represented modern conservatism. To others, an impressive – if not downright unusual – command of the English language. To me, the American WASP.
He is often cited for his “idiosyncratic” accent, having learned Spanish first in Mexico, French second in Paris, and English third, in London at the age of seven. In linguistic terms, he had a cross between the Mid-Atlantic accent and British Received Pronunciation, and was often referred to as an example of the Boston Brahmin accent.
The accents of the upper crust have changed dramatically in the past 50 years as immigration patterns have changed and the lines between social classes (and races) have begun to blur. But on the flipside, so have the accents of the lower classes, at least in New York.
New York City’s amNY recently did a study of the trajectory of the New York accent. While not exactly pleasant to the ear (though more so than the Boston accent), it is a trademark of the city that never sleeps. According to famed linguist William Labov, the New York accent is still “hanging on”, though far less so than other regional accents.
Daniel Brook, the author of a 2003 article in “The Next American City”, claims that the New York accent left when Giuliani came in and “cleaned” the city and drove rent prices so high that many natives fled, with their accents in tow.
Education too, is to blame. So is the influx of fresh-faced college graduates to Manhattan for work, which has not only encouraged the gentrification of the city, but has also altered the accent. In Queens, home of much of the 7-train line (jokingly called the “International Express”), the exodus of Asian immigrants is speculated to eventually change the way New Yorkers speak.
Let’s look at some examples of the transgression of the American accent in pop culture: Paris Hilton has a nondescript American accent, while her mother Kathy lets slip her 20th century-possibly-mid-Atlantic accent every once so often. The one that is so very common in actors from the early 20th century through the early 80s. (“Pair-us”, she called after her eldest trainwreck, and not “Pa-ris” or “Pair-is”.) Even Backstreet Boy Nick Carter, if you’ll believe it, once had some of that charmingly lethargic mid-20th century accent in him, despite being born into no money (negative money, even). Of course, he lost it in the early nineties and adopted a displaceable wigga accent, something I will not get into here.
So is this transgression good or bad news? The concession of legacy (or heritage, depending on where you’re standing) towards the democratization of America? Sounds like our big ole melting pot, all right.