What’s With The New Yawk Accent?

John Patrick Thomas
John Patrick Thomas

In the 1960s, Columbia University graduate student William Labov headed into New York City’s department stores in search of something. He scoured Saks, Macy’s, and S. Klein, asking all the employees he encountered a single question. He’d ask things like, “Where are women’s shoes?” and “Where is sportswear?” but he wasn’t really looking for either. Labov already knew the answer—those items were on the fourth floor—but he wanted to hear the salesperson say it. He was hunting for something more elusive: the New York r.

The r-less New “Yawk” accent is as classic as “Rockefella Centa” or the East “Rivva,” but when linguists tried to study r-dropping among native New Yorkers, the results were inconsistent. The r showed up in some words but not others—even for the same person, even for the same word. Its appearance, or lack thereof, seemed a matter of chance.

R-dropping had once been a mark of upper-class prestige along the East Coast, a connection to the “veddy propuh” British habit. But at the beginning of the 20th century, as it mixed into the rough-and-ready developing dialect of arriving New York immigrants, its status changed. By the 1960s it had become the opposite of prestigious. Labov thought the missing r might be better explained by social factors, which is why he picked Saks (a luxury store), Macy’s (a mid-range store), and S. Klein (a bargain store) for his investigation. As it turned out, employees at Saks pronounced the r in “fourth floor” more often than those at Macy’s, and much more often than those at S. Klein. The classier the joint, the more common the r.

After Labov got the “fourth floor” response he was looking for, he would say, “Excuse me?” The employee would then repeat the phrase, more slowly and carefully. At all three stores, fewer r’s were dropped the second time around. This was especially true at Macy’s, where employees presumably had a bit more status anxiety, being close to, but not quite in, the truly high-status group.

Shifts in the perception of “good speech” can cause language to change from generation to generation. Every decade since Labov’s study has seen more r’s make their way into the average New Yorker’s speech. Even so, when the study was repeated in 1986 by Joy Fowler, with May department store standing in for S. Klein (which had closed), and in 2009 by Patrick-André Mather, with Loehmann’s and Filene’s Basement taking May’s place, everyone used more r’s overall, but the same difference between the stores persisted. More prestige? More r.

If New Yorkers associate r’s with prestige, why are any dropped at all? Recently, Maeve Eberhardt and Corinne Downs studied r-dropping on the TV show Say Yes to the Dress—and they may have found an answer. Sales staff at New York’s bridal salon Kleinfeld, where the show is filmed, are well aware of the prestige factor (the higher the client’s budget, the more likely the salesperson is to retain the r). However, they drop the r when providing emotional support. For example, when a sales associate comforted a bride who was upset about her dead sister’s absence, the difference was pronounced: “She’s theah though. Just always remembah that.” Dialect is solidarity, and solidarity is comfort. Prestige ain’t always the most important thing.

Wayfair’s Fourth of July Clearance Sale Takes Up to 60 Percent Off Grills and Outdoor Furniture


This Fourth of July, Wayfair is making sure you can turn your backyard into an oasis while keeping your bank account intact with a clearance sale that features savings of up to 60 percent on essentials like chairs, hammocks, games, and grills. Take a look at some of the highlights below.

Outdoor Furniture

Brisbane bench from Wayfair

- Jericho 9-Foot Market Umbrella $92 (Save 15 percent)
- Woodstock Patio Chairs (Set of Two) $310 (Save 54 percent)
- Brisbane Wooden Storage Bench $243 (Save 62 percent)
- Kordell Nine-Piece Rattan Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $1800 (Save 27 percent)
- Nelsonville 12-Piece Multiple Chairs Seating Group $1860 (Save 56 percent)
- Collingswood Three-Piece Seating Group with Cushions $410 (Save 33 percent)

Grills and Accessories

Dyna-Glo electric smoker.

- Spirit® II E-310 Gas Grill $479 (Save 17 percent)
- Portable Three-Burner Propane Gas Grill $104 (Save 20 percent)
- Digital Bluetooth Electric Smoker $224 (Save 25 percent)
- Cuisinart Grilling Tool Set $38 (Save 5 percent)

Outdoor games

American flag cornhole game.

- American Flag Cornhole Board $57 (Save 19 percent)
- Giant Four in a Row Game $30 (Save 6 percent)
- Giant Jenga Game $119 (Save 30 percent)

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Rosetta Stone Teaches New Languages Without Making You Memorize a Thing

Will flags fly out of your mouth when you achieve fluency? Well, no.
Will flags fly out of your mouth when you achieve fluency? Well, no.
SIphotography/iStock via Getty Images

TL;DR: Rosetta Stone is offering up to 45 percent off subscriptions from now until July 1.

Rosetta Stone has been the go-to program for many language-learning enthusiasts since its launch in 1992. Whether you’re considering taking up a new language to prepare for a future vacation or just to pick up a new hobby, here’s a quick guide to what it is, how it works, and what you could gain from becoming bilingual (or multilingual).

What Is Rosetta Stone?

After you said your very first word, your parents almost definitely didn’t hand you a textbook filled with long vocabulary lists and essays on grammar rules. Instead, they probably built up your language skills by doing things like pointing at a dog and saying “Dog.” Before long, you could say “Mom, can we get a dog?” without ever having been aware that you were learning a language.

Rosetta Stone is a subscription-based service founded on the premise that learning a new language should be just as easy. Basically, it’ll pair a word with an image, speak the word out loud, and then ask you to choose a similar image that corresponds to that word from a few options. It’s sort of like your mom pointing at a dog, saying “Dog,” and then asking you to point out the next dog you see. As the lessons progress, you’ll build on that vocabulary until you’re choosing images that match phrases and sentences, and then having full-fledged conversations into your device's microphone.

Since the goal is communication, Rosetta Stone never makes you memorize grammatical dogma—after all, when you’re asking your waiter in Italian which meals are dairy-free, they’re not going to make you identify the prepositional phrase in your sentence before they answer. Just like you did as a kid, you’ll subconsciously pick up grammar and syntax patterns in your new language and echo them without even realizing it. There’s also speech precision technology that recognizes parts of your accent that could use a little work (and it’s adjustable, so you can lower it to your ideal level of nitpicky-ness).

What Are The Benefits of Learning a New Language?

The benefits of learning a new language extend far beyond helping you convey your dietary restrictions in restaurants abroad. In terms of mental exercise, it’s a little like circuit training for your brain. Studies have suggested that bilingual speakers’ ability to juggle more than one language at a time makes them better multitaskers, and it’s possible that learning a new language could even help protect against Alzheimer’s or dementia.

And, of course, it could help you catch a translation error that might otherwise cause you, your company, or your country some serious problems (or at least a moment of embarrassment). When KFC opened its first store in Beijing in the 1980s, for example, their famous “Finger-lickin’ good” catchphrase was mistranslated as “Eat your fingers off.” Ford Motors had a similar problem in Belgium, where a campaign that was supposed to boast that “Every car has a high-quality body” ended up reading “Every car has a high-quality corpse.” Though nothing quite beats President Jimmy Carter’s 1977 visit to Poland, when his interpreter translated “when I left the United States” as “when I abandoned the United States,” and “your desires for the future” as “your lusts for the future.”

What Does It Cost?

Now through July 1, you can purchase a lifetime Rosetta Stone subscription for $199 (instead of the usual $299). While that’ll get you the best bang for your buck, the monthly deals accommodate various levels of commitment: a three-month subscription is $11.99 per month; 12 months costs $7.99 per month; and you can sign up for a two-year subscription for $5.99 per month. There are 24 languages to choose from—including Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, and more—and you can find out additional details about all their deals here.

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