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!”
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.