Saturday, February 26, 2011


Peterson, R. (2011, Feb. 13). Is yunz is or is yinz ain't from Pittsburgh? Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Accessed 2-11.

Both some old friends of mine, and my brother, sent me this article, which ironically was written by a guy here in Carbondale; surely, if he's from Pittsburgh, and he's been here in town so long, I must know him. It's well-known that I have strong feelings about this dialect and would be interested in any article about it, and I am also interested in the pursuit of pronouns like "yunz" (or "yins" or "you'ns" as the case may be) just as a matter of principle.

The article brings up a number of points, not all of which I entirely agree with. One is the suggestion that routine shortening of expressions is a Pittsburgh-dialect thing: a lot of this shortening, I would say, is quite common everywhere. Who doesn't use "wanna" or shorten "ing" words to "in" words (going to -> goin' to, snowing -> snowin', losing -> losin')? The first step, it seems to me, is to separate out what is truly Pittsburghese from what is just general laziness of the mouth which we are all guilty of.

Now an argument is to be made that Pittsburghers will shorten some things in some ways that are not common to other areas or other people; ok, I accept that. So, maybe "slippery -> slipp'y" is common to the Pittsburgh dialect but not to others (one example of this would be that Iowans often would say "probably -> pro'ly" in such a way that I always thought was uniquely Iowan). It would make sense that certain shortened forms would be commonly enough heard to be just taken, after a while, as part of the local dialect. And, that they wouldn't be shortened that way in other places. One common example of this is in cases where certain towns or cities put a word in the language much more often in one area than in another (so that, when there is a town of Slippery Rock, people have many more occasions to use the word, and so are more likely to shorten it). We here in southern Illinois have some unusual town names and can attest to this.

I agree with him that the correct pronunciation of "yunz" is closer to "yunz" than "yinz" but a better way of saying this would be that it's the vowels that make Pittsburghese a thoroughly unique dialect, and the vowels are almost impossible to do justice to in English orthographic script. "Yunz" is in fact the most salient of Pittsburghese words, so it's good to hear that people are using it again, and calling themselves "yunzers," etc. although there is a measure of pretentiousness in that. Pittsburgh is the only large city in a large mountain area (that includes smaller cities like Knoxville, Charlestown WV, maybe Roanoke VA & a few others) but it's a fairly extensive area with a truly unique accent. An old story from Kentucky holds that a man is in a doctor's office, stalled temporarily holding a jar with his wife's urine; when asked if it is urine, he says, "no, it's ma wife's"...this story points out that such pronouns as "his'n", her'n", your'n", our'n" and even "their'n" were all possible if not common in the mountains for quite some time (I'm not sure of this, but would like to know more); ironically the only true survivor is "thine". I'd also like to know to what extent these pronouns could be plural (the writer says, one could hear "yunzes"; it reminds me a little of the arguments around "y'all", "all-of-y'all", etc.)

The one assertion that fascinates me is the idea that a dialect, in this case Pittsburghese, could have more shortening, or be more clipped, merely because so many of its speakers work hard labor in the hot mills day in and day out. OK, here's the question: to what extent does one's environment really affect one's speaking patterns? I will buy the general idea that people in the south, say, speak more slowly than people on the east coast, possibly because of the long, hot, sultry summers make the general pace of life slower. Maybe I'll buy it. But some southern vowels are shorter (I -> ah) than their northern counterparts. Iowans shorten some things that Pittsburghers don't. Wouldn't these changes run throughout the dialect? In other words, if southerners had uniformly slower speech/more drawn-out vowels due to their environment, wouldn't that show up in all the vowels? Just askin'.

So, in conclusion, I don't really have a complaint with Dr. Peterson's article, except that he may have attributed some things to Pittsburghese that really are better characterized as routine, conversational, everyone-ese. I was disappointed that there was no mention of "gum bands," (known in the rest of the world as "rubber bands", which to me always represented the essence of the dialect; to this day, I insist, to my kids' bemusement, that there is no such thing as "rubber bands." But to me, way out in the hinterlands as I am, there is no hanging on to the curious vowels; I can no longer replicate those accurately, even when I want to. I'll stick my neck out here and say, these vowels are highly unique and unusual; they are common to a whole mountain region and therefore not attributable to a work-in-the-mills environment; and, that in general, most dialectal variation is just the way things are (what people, in groups, choose to do together) rather than attributable to specific environmental conditions. There is nothing specifically steel-mill about "Souseside" dialect, though hearing it sure brings associations with it, so you can practically feel the slag, under your feet, when people use it.



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