Editorial: Don’t lose your Pittsburghese
We aren’t one nation of people that look alike and think alike.
So why should we all sound alike?
A class at the Community College of Allegheny County offers yinzers the opportunity to “lose your Pittsburgh accent.”
“Come to this class and learn how to subdue your Pittsburghese,” the course description says.
It’s a fun concept, and yes, there are some professions where sanding the edges off your “Pittsburgh Dad” dialogue might be helpful, but let’s be careful that we don’t encourage people to lose definition as they learn diction.
Pittsburgh and her surrounding communities aren’t Chicago or New York or Sacramento or Miami, and we shouldn’t have to sound like a homogenized, vanilla Midwestern anchorman to be taken seriously.
We don’t drink wooder like they do in Philadelphia. We don’t pahk our cahs like they do in Boston. We don’t “yeah sure ya betcha” like a Minnesotan. And there is nothing wrong with any of those accents, either.
Southwestern Pennsylvania has its own character and sound. The language is flavored with the long vowels of “dahntahn” and the sharp consonants of “jagoffs.” It’s peppered with the excitement of Myron Cope’s Stillers patter and Mike Lang’s Pens play-by-play.
Pittsburghese speaks of hard work, fair play and perseverance. It’s the subtle humor of a nod and a “Hey, Kennywood’s open” when someone forgot to zip up. It’s people who are too busy to use all the words in a sentence, dropping some when the front porch “needs swept” and abbreviating others with the casual shortcut “n’at.”
Too often, like Southerners or the Cockney flower girl in “My Fair Lady,” those fluent in a dialect like Pittsburghese can be dismissed as speaking that way because they aren’t smart enough or educated enough to understand “real” English.
The truth is, like so many people who identify with a regional or ethnic culture, we can actually be speaking two languages at the same time. We listen to the people on TV speak to us in that one-size-fits-all Wonder Bread baseline and might answer back with something that is all babushkas and Primanti’s sandwiches.
A Pittsburgh accent isn’t something to ascared of. It’s just the chipped chopped ham of our communication — something locally delicious but perhaps misunderstood elsewhere.
And while more education and more communication is always good, and making sure we are all on the same page is important, we don’t want to lose what makes us who we are.
Because that could be a slippy slope.