New Jersey Pronunciation Guide

As a native Nebraskan I grew up in the Midwest where the accent is to have no accent. Most of the national news anchors come from the Midwest because you can’t discern a strong regional accent in their speech pattern and that is effective, the networks claim, because the anchors can easily be understood by a wide viewing population.

Moving to the East Coast was quite an experience in learning to really listen when people talk because, especially in New York and New Jersey, the accents you will hear are not only American regional but International regional as well. Tuning my ear to effectively translate the various accents is a task I practice every day.

During my first year of teaching at Rutgers University in Newark my students loved to tease me that I had a “white bread” accent. During my roll call every day I would try out various accents to test their listening skills just to make sure they were always paying attention.

Then, one day, a student said, “Why don’t you try the Jersey accent?” The other students in the class wanted to kill her. I asked, “What’s the Jersey accent?” and the rest of the class moaned!

The Jersey Accent, I was told, meant you had to add an “er” to the end of any word or name that ended with an “A” and if a word ended with an “an” or “en” sound you changed it to “in.” There were also other subtleties in pronunciation that the students exampled for me. One student in the back shouted, “That’s the South Jersey accent! In the North we talk regular!”

Everyone laughed.

New Jersey, if you don’t know, is a state bisected by stereotype of mind, with the farmland “hicks” below the line in the South near Philadelphia and the urban “intellectuals” above the line in the North near New York City.

There’s a good-natured North/South war that goes on every day in New Jersey and I had been drawn into the middle of the conflict. So, I decided to go with it and I told my students I would call roll that day with my new South Jersey Style Roll Call Pronunciation and, to a student, the second I finished that announcement they all screamed “Noooo!” If you’re having trouble imagining how the South Jersey accent sounds, here’s a quick guide for you.

The South Jersey pronunciation appears on the left and the North Jersey pronunciation appears on the right:

Small = Smell

Risin = Raisin

Mahat-in = Manhattan

Writ-in = Written

Carla = Carler

Debra = Debber

Brenda = Brender

Ella = Eller

Tina = Teener

Barbara = Barbar-er

Each semester I now hold at least one traditional South Jersey Roll Call and every time I still get screams.

59 comments

  • Thanks for clarifying how my name would be pronounced “up there!”
    I think I like the southern pronounciation better! ;-)

  • Carler! :)
    I, too, love the Southern New Jersey pronunciation even though it drives my students nuts. At least they’re paying attention!

  • Oh, I mean southern as in the south :-) which sort of draws out the “car” part of it. Although my friends from “Chahston” (Charleston) draw it out as “Cahla.”

  • Ooo! That’s interesting. Isn’t “Cahla” the Boston accent, too, or would that be “Kay-leh?”

  • “Cahla” probably would be Boston, but with a lot more nasal than the way my Charleston friends pronounce it.

  • Ah yes, the nasal resonance is the key!

  • But, dahlings… The cut-glass English accent is just a cut above all else, surely?! ;)

  • Harr!
    Point taken, Hannah! :)

  • I beg to differ that a Midwesterner has no accent. In deep Florida they believe we do. I was browsing at a fruit stand with my boyfriend and a young man asked me if I was from up north. I told him I was. “Ah thut sow,” he said, in just about the slowest drawl I ever heard. “Yew gut a aksint.”

  • North east jesey accent is the same as NYC,
    South jersey is like a Pa or Maryland accent, A bunch of hicks.
    South jersey should be separated from the north

  • Thanks for your comment, Jay!

  • Actually, I am from the heart of “South Jersey”, Vineland. I am a linguistics major and have lived in; Florida, NYC (Brooklyn), and Philly. Though I admit South Jersey is not as urbanized as North Jersey and tends to have more rural areas that seem to foster “hicks”. The “hicks” ARE the exception to the rule. Even as far south as Cumberland county where I live is influenced by the NY accent and usually more so the Philly accent. This mixing of these two accents have led to something in between with some people saying “watah” = Water and also say “Scraaaaple” = Scrapple and ” Wall Women brijde ” = Walt Whitman bridge. Thats a very tacky statement Jay, and Mr.Boles your pronunciation is terribly off your getting your opinion of what it should sound like from students from North Jersey… the’re alittle biased and dont properly know obviously. Usually the most notable differnce would be the way we pronounce our A’s both long and short. Our Long A’s as in “Able” are much more stressed like “Ayble” and our shorts are pronounced like an “au” as in “Talk” rhymes with “tauwk”. Also most are T’s are completley glottel meaning they’re omitted and a short pause is inserted. Also our L’s are much deeper in the throat “Little Lulu went to little Italy” is nearly impossible “gi”le gugu went to gi”le i’aly” we say “Moun’ in” for ‘mountain” When said quickly we say “Sihy” for “city” occasionally ” Sihddy” if we’re speaking slowly our T’s are at most a quick D. Many things are very nasal such as “Swan” and “scrapple”. Alright I hoped that helped clarify alittle and NJ is NJ whether your North or South and we’re still a liberal open minded state lets keep it that way.

  • Hi Patrick –
    Thank you for informative comment!

  • Sorry I forgot to mention the Jersey “wooder” for “water” and “crick” for “creek”. ;)

  • Telepathy! Love it!
    AND THEN?

  • Why, it’s like we’re in the middle of a Quentin Tarantino movie!
    If you tell me at the end this story that you die, I’m going to kill you! :mrgreen:

  • “Ugh” is a guttural response cry: It’s universally understood the world over!

  • This is the discussion cracks me up… Its funny that people think north jersey is all urban and south jersey is hick-land when both of these stereotypes are so untrue. I grew up in hick-land north jersey and went to college outside AC. And, hell yes, i have a jersey accent…. i say wooder, “coffee” is “couw-fee”, and my dresser has draws, not drawers. basically, i think every word has a “w” in it… not to mention the fact that jersey time warps back to the ’80′s.

  • I was always corrected by my parents who grew up in North Jersey but raised me in South Jersey. I was corrected from saying spoon with a long “u” sound and home with a much more nasal “o” sound. I have heard that South Jersey originally had a southern accent as you might still find with people still living in remote parts of the Pine Barrens.

  • There are several accents in New Jersey, but the accent that the rest of the contry identifies to New Jersey is the North East Jersey accent which is very much like a NYC accent.Remember the largest population of people living in New Jersey live in the part of NJ near NYC approximately 5 million of the 8 million people have what is refered to as a NY Metro accent. The closer you get to NYC the stronger the NYC accent ie: Jersey City or North Bergen. Many people have referred to this area as The sixth Boro of NYC.
    The further you get away from the city the less you hear the accent.
    South Jersey is very much a Mid Atlantic accent and many of the words sound southern, The way the O’s are pronounced is very differnt from North Jersey.
    I have lived in North Jersey my whole life and Own a condo in Wildwood and believe me there is a major difference.
    Every state in the North East has similar examples
    ie: Brooklyn NY compared to Buffalo NY; Buffalo is more like a Chicago accent and we all know the Brooklyn Accent, but the rest of the country thinks of Brooklyn when they think of a NY accent.
    How about a Boston accent? People living in Springfield Mass on the western end of the state don’t have a Boston accent only those living near Boston. Well, it is the same way with a New Jersey accent, The closer you live to NYC the stronger the accent and because that is where the majority of population is, thats the Accent people identify to New Jersy.

  • Sorry typo, Country not contry

  • If you are from North east Jersey people can tell you are from the NY metro area. Try this: Call someone on the phone in the Midwest and tell them you are from a radio station and the game is you have to guess where I’m from. Say the following sentence and I assure you they will say you are from New York.
    Hia, Im Callin to Talk to someone about the Lost Dog I found while I was Walkin this Mornin. The Dog is a Chochalate Lab. It was around Dawn when I saw him Walkin towards me. I had a cup of Coffee in my hand and he jumped up and almost knocked the Coffee at a my hand.
    He is full of life and is a Awesome Dog ,fugget about it.
    How much did he Cost you?

  • P.S
    Patrick, Nobody in North east Jersey says crick for creek or wooder for water.
    It’s like a person from Buffalo NY trying to tell someone from Brooklyn NY how to say Car.

  • Hi,
    i’m from North Carolina. Grew up in South Carolina. Lived in Connecticut for six years back in the 80′s. Not that all that has anything to do with how to talk with a NJ accent except that I am acting in a play where my character is from Newark, NJ. I’m required to learn the accent. Anymore specific pointers from that area or where I might find a CD/book that might help instruct me further in the mouth mechanics? By the way I am very much appreciating all that i’ve read so far.
    Please respond ASAP.

  • Mary,
    If you read what I wrote above it will help you understand how to speak with a North East Jersey accent and that is what you want for your play considering it is based on a character from Newark. Remember the closer you are to NYC the Stronger the Accent. Also, we have a lot of Italians living in this area as well, matter of fact the New York Metro area has the most in the country. So, with this in mind, if the character you are playing is italian, she would most likely have a thicker Jersey accent.
    Also, the people who leave to go to college out of state tend to neutralize their accent so they don’t get sterio typed.
    Somebody you might want to study on TV would ge Kerri from the King of Queens, she has a New York metro accent not to strong but strong enough for people to know she is from this area.
    Tip: everything has a aww sound like, tawk(talk) wawk(walk)dawg(dog)
    Good Luck

  • Hi Mary,
    A couple words that I’ve noticed to be different between jersey and CT are orange and aunt. Myself and everyone I know in jersey say Aunt like “ant” (the bug). Whereas, people in CT seem to think they are British in their pronounciation. Also, people in CT say orange with the begining part rhymning with “or.” I’ve always known it to be more like “Arange.” I definitely do the “w” thing. People in Ct also point out that I drop “T”‘s from the ends of some words. Like “shut up” is more like”sha-up!”
    Have fun with that!
    keri

  • I find that this is a very interesting topic. I was born and raised In North jersey about 15mins from Nyc and there is a big difference between the way we speak and South jersey. It’s very intersting to hear the difference. And Joe you are right, we have that aww at the end of words, like Coffee (cawfee) dog (dawg) etc.

  • Thanks for all your responses. Please keep them coming. I’m doing o.k., but keep slipping in and out of my new NJ accent. I’ve also learned from a dialect coach who came to rehearsal one night that the focus or energy so to speak comes from between the lower front teeth and the lower lip. Making the lower lip kind of pouty and a little relaxed has helped me correct myself and really exaggerating it in warm up to exercise those areas has too. I’m just worried my accent is now too strong, but I think it’s just that I’m not use to hearing myself that way. I sometimes slip into a Bronx accent i.e. not pronouncing the “r’s” sometimes. All and all, things are going well and the show goes up Nov. 3. I think I’ll have a decent accent by then – I hope.
    Look forward to any other NJ accent news.
    thanks again,
    Mary
    P.S. Anyone know where I might find a CD/book for a Philadelphia accent?

  • Don’t be afraid of losing the “r”, many of us in North Jersey lose the “r” on a lot of words.
    Joe

  • I am from the Pine Barrens in South Jersey, which is perhaps the most backwoods area. A few traits of our speech which I think really standout in the accent are as follows:
    Long O’s- very drawn out and almost British sounding. Non South Jersey speakers seem to have an almost Canadian long O’s to my ears.
    Words ending in a W, such as “draw” or “saw” gain an L on the end, so that “draw” becomes “drawl” and can rhyme with “wall”.
    Water is wooder, and creek is often crick.
    Naturally, there are certain turns of phrase and wordings that are different from a Central or North Jersey accent (“I ain’t got none” is heard and generally accepted, though keep in mind that I am speaking specifically about my area in the Pines, just outside Chatsworth)
    Also, I’m sure this is a melding of accents (South Jersey and Trenton?), but my father adds an R in words like “wash” (“warsh”).
    In general, the heavy South Jersey accent in the Pines sounds a lot like a Southern American backwoodsy accent (I have often been fooled into believing natives from my town are actually from below the Mason-Dixon line, and I myself am a Piney!) I wasn’t made away of my heavy accent until I went up north to Rutgers and stuck out like the hayseed I am. Granted, my double negatives aren’t bad at all, but sometimes they slip through.

  • Ryan, no where is it more backwards than Sussex and Warren counties!!!

  • I’ve lived in NJ for my entire life, and have definately noticed some interestinig accents. However, in Princeton, where I live, I haven’t really noticed any accent. There is no over-pronunciation of vowels or mispronounciation of words entirely, at least so far as I have heard. Neither is there any trace of a Trenton accent, though Trenton may be only 15 minutes or so away. My dresser has “drawers” not “draws”, I drink “water” as opposed to “wooder”, and I don’t think that I’ve ever been to a “crick”, although maybe a “creek” or two. If any of you have been to Princeton, and not just the surrounding area (as people have noticeably tweaked accents), please tell me if we Princetonians have an accent. I mean an actual accent, mind you, not something that I pronounce differently from others but is actually being pronounced correctly. Thanks so much!

  • Joe -
    Not to be rude, but people in Northeast Jersey definately do say “crick”. This is, however, not to say that everyone does, but every person that I personally know from that area calls the “creek” at my house a “crick”.

  • Erin,
    You live in Princeton, not North East Jersey, Maybe people where you live say Crick for creek, but not those of living in the New York Metro ( Hudson, Passaic, Bergen, Essex, or Morris counties.

  • hi,
    i have to do a brooklyn accent for a school play, and i have been looking all over trying to find something. i would like to ask for a few tips of pronouncing words, like call- caul.
    thanks !
    ashli

  • i am from newark, nj. i definitely can agree with a lot that i have read about accents, but i have to disagree with a lot. i am an african-american female and am 20 years old and i have noticed thath african-americans tend to speak differently than whites in these areas. i go to school in md now and some people ask if i’m from ny or nj. i never thought i had an accent but now when i go home i listen for it. weird huh? but i say creek, wooder ( which is correct to me) coffee the way my friends from brooklyn say it and daughter (like door) not dotter which drives me crazy. anyway i think people from newark have a very unique accent which is influenced by new yorkers but not as strong. i just know that everyone where i’m from talks like me and i never heard “crick” in place of “creek”. lol. good luck on the accents guys. One!

  • oh yea, and my aunt lives in princeton and i can’t seem to pick up an accent down there either. i’m sure people from other areas may here one but i can’t. figures!

  • ashli, just read what I wrote, and you will learn the accent.

  • im from north jersey. and there is no way in hell we would eva take the name Carla and make it Carler…..

  • I live in Essex County, but I grew up for a time in coastal Virginia. My accent is some weird, twisted Elizabethan Tidewater VA-Northeast NJ-Philadelphia hybrid. Whether I’m in VA, NJ, or anywhere else, people always ask about my accent. It doesn’t belong in either place. I say “coffee” like any good Jerseyan would. But I also say “awnt” instead of “ant” and the machine at the laundromat accepts “qwarters” not “corters.” I drop “R”s all over the place. My favorite candy bar is a buttafinga.
    It may sound crazy, but I think the generalizations mentioned are too, well, general. I can easily tell the difference between a Hudson County accent and a Bergen County accent. It’s tough, but if you listen to someone speak for awhile you can usually tell if they’re from Jersey City, Brooklyn, or Staten Island. There are subtle differences that I don’t quite know how to describe yet.
    Anyone familiar with this phenomenon? I know a guy from Union County who, instead of saying he is “used to” something after awhile, he’s “used of it.” Is that common?
    Oh, and crik? The only place I’ve heard that is Pittsburgh.

  • what the h*ll are you talking about you got it all wrong! im from north jersey and i moved to south jersey and they all think I talk funny but i think they have no accent at all. Here look.
    word-south jersey-north jersey
    all – oll – awwl
    talk – tok – tawwk
    dog – dog – dawg
    you, your- u – ya
    chocolate- choklat – chawwklit
    coffee- caffe – cawwfee
    I hope that helps
    [Edited for content by David W. Boles.]

  • Interesting. I’ve lived in three different places in Jersey, as well as in three other states. Non-Jersians I meet tell me I have no accent, and are invariably surprised to hear where I spent most of my life. 98% of people I’ve met in Jersey (North, South, and Central) have no easily identifiable accent. They speak a generic sort of American English (like newscasters on TV, I guess). I have heard “warder” though.

  • I wonder what is the correct pronunciation for NEWARK???

  • Great question, Linda!
    I’ve heard “Nark” and “Nurk” and even “New Yark” to name a few! :grin:

  • I am from South Jersey myself, and am told I have an accent. I go to school with a lot of people from North Jersey who point out my accent the most. I can’t say that I agree with the “er” thing, maybe I just don’t understand it, but I do agree that we do say some things very differently.

    For example, people from South Jersey are more likely to say hoagie, while people from North Jersey would call it a sub. While people from North Jersey would call it “Taylor Ham”, people from South Jersey call it “Porkroll”. Another term that we have a different name for is Water Ice. In North Jersey, it is “Italian Ice”, but here in South Jersey it is “Water Ice”.

    We also seem to say home and phone weird, not pronouncing the “o” correctly. We also say “wooder” instead of water. Also, lots of people from Southern Jersey pronounce the word “crayon” as “crown”. Also, the word museum is typically pronounced wrong, sounding more like “musam”.

    And a couple of friends from North Jersey brought to my attention we say “I gotta get a shower”.. apparently, if you’re from North Jersey, you would say “I have to take a shower”.

    • Jenn!

      I love your examples. Can you provide more? I love how even intra-state regionality can suggest differing definitions and pronunciations.

      I think “crayon” as “crown” is priceless! :)

  • We can say cowfee but not much else.. please help. p.s we are british but have incredibly versatile accents. xxxx

  • Dude I’m from Nebraska too!
    And I really wanna learn a bunch of different accents because I met an Australian guy today. haha

    • Welcome to the funny way of speaking club!

      Be sure to tell your Australian guy today that we end a lot of questions with the word “at” — “Where did you put it at?” He’ll die laughing! SMILE!

  • Yes, Mr. Boles, you *do* have an accent. ;) Everyone does; you just have a standard accent, like the American analogue to British Received Pronunciation.

    There are parts of North Jersey that do the -er thing, but not most of it. æ-tensing is very North Jersey, and the “o”s like the ones in Florida, horrible, etc., are pronounced “ah.” There are lots of glottal stops, and “Mary,” “marry,” and “merry” all sound different.

    “Bah!” to all of you people who want to change your accents! I wouldn’t get rid of my North Jersey accent for anything! You are who you are! :)
    (Phonetically, that would be, “‘Bah!’ ta alla you people who wanna change yer accents. I wouldn’t get rid’a my North Jersey accent fer anything! Ya are who ya are!”)

  • I am heading down to Atlantic city with my Canadian accent this should be funny ehh.

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