I’m so proud to be born and raised in the incredible city of NEW ORLEANS. The city is enriched with beautiful people with creative influences from our cuisine, music, dance, dialects, etc. While there are many things to highlight about New Orleans, I would like to discuss the dialects spoken throughout the city. So many words are pronounced differently in New Orleans than in standard American English. New Orleans accents reflect the city’s unique history and culture and are important to its identity. Our accents come from a gumbo pot of influences, including French, Spanish, African, and Caribbean languages. But, even though we do not pronounce words in the typical English standard does not negate our intelligence. For example, I have found that people worldwide love how we say the word “Baby might sound like “bay-bee,” and the word “go” might sound like “gow.” The letter “r” is often dropped, so words like “car” might sound like “cah.”
When I moved up north, I found myself attempting to change the way I spoke, but it fought me tooth and nail, and to this day, I continue to talk fast as my African-turned-Creole ancestors. It’s part of my language legacy of saying, “Hey, Y’all – how’s ya mama and n’em doing? “Bless ya po heart, babe.” And, “Ya better leave me alone before my Nanninan burns a candle on ya!” No matter if a New Orleans native moves away and ever comes back, we will always say, “I’m gonna make groceries,” for the rest of our lives.
However, I can not escape being taught how to speak “proper English” whenever I come into contact with people that are not New Orleanians, as if I’m from another country. I’ll go back and forth with people attempting to correct my pronunciation of words such as “Cooking earl instead of oil, chirrens instead of children, wrenching out instead of rinse out, mynez is mayonnaise, and zink instead of sink. But I found that making statements like “Come by my house, and I’ll give you a cold drink (soda pop) out of my ice box (refrigerator). It’s something with the ‘Come by” that drives non-New Orleanians into a tizzy. The sounds of the words that roll off my tongue are part of my lineage, and no one who came shames me for what makes me authentically New Orleans.
Here are a few of the unique dialects found in the city:
Yat: This dialect is spoken by many native New Orleanians, particularly those from the city’s working-class neighborhoods. Yat is characterized by its distinctive pronunciation, which includes dropping the “r” sound and adding an “a” sound to the end of certain words, such as “idea” (which becomes “idea”).
Creole: Creole is a language that developed in New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana during the colonial era due to the blending of French, African, and Native American languages. While Creole is now considered a distinct language, many New Orleanians still use Creole words and phrases in everyday speech.
Cajun: While Cajun is technically a dialect spoken in rural parts of Louisiana, it has had a significant influence on the culture and language of New Orleans. Cajun speech is characterized by its French influence and its use of unique vocabulary and grammar.
African American Vernacular Eng” ish “AAVE): AAVE is a dialect spoken by many African Americans in New Orleans and other parts of the United States. AAVE is characterized by its unique vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar and is often associated with hip-hop culture.
Midwestern: While not unique to New Orleans, many residents who have relocated to the city from the Midwest have brought their dialect. This can include characteristics such as “nasal” vowels, the pronunciation of “cot” and “caught” as homophones, and the use of the word “pop” to refer to carbonated beverages.
New Orleans sayings:
Standard greeting or response. “Hey, how ya doing?” answer: “I’m awrite.”.
A lot. Origin in Haitian Creole and French (beaucoup).
“Brother,” shortened, is used betweyou’re to address one another.
Thi’ ter’ of endearment is Cajun in origin.
When you order a po-boy, “dressed” means you want lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and mayo.
FAIS DO DO
A Cajun dance party. Lots of good food, lots of good music.
Pronounced gree-gree refers to a Voodoo good luck charm that protects the wearer from evil.
A carnival organization, as in Krewe of Rex or Krewe of Zulu, and a variation of the word “crew.” Members privately put on the balls and parades that make up Mardi Gras.
A little something extra (pronounced LAN-yap). This could be a free dessert at the restaurant or a treat on the pillow at your hotel.
LAISSEZ LES BON TEMPS ROULER
French for let the good times roll, our motto here in New Orleans.
Old-timers in New Orleans “make groceries” at the store. This is another one that has French origins, as a rough translation from “faire son marché,” which means to do one’s grocery shopping. Since “faire” means both “to do” and “to make,” making groceries came from a slight error in translation from French to English.
The median or grassy strip in the middle of a road. The term is said to have originally referred to the wide median on Canal Street, which separated the residents of the French and Creole part of town from the more newly settled American sector.
The equivalent of a county in the other 49 states. Louisiana has parishes instead because it was initially ruled by the Roman Catholic nations of France and Spain, from the French paroisse.
An old Spanish coin that was 1/8 of a dollar. Connotes something small or petty
One of New Orleans’ most distinctive architectural symbols is the long, narrow houses you see with rooms all lined up in a row. The design is considered an evolution of the African “long house” style brought to Louisiana via Haiti. The name is thought to come from the West African word shogon, or “God’s house,” although some historians also say it refers to a house where you can fire a shotgun, and the bullet goes through every room the shape generally of a shotgun.
This standard New Orleans greeting means “How are you?” or “What’s going on?” So don’t tell the asker where you are. Just say you’re doing alright.
The official cheer of New Orleans Saints fans everywhere, shortened from “Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?” Saints fans are also called “who dats.”
YA HEAD ME!
YA MOM’N ‘EM
Your immediate family. “How’s ya mom’n ’em?”
YEAH, YOU RIGHT!
Expression of agreement or happiness
Regardless of how we pronounce words, New Orleanians will speak to everyone who crosses their path, unlike some folk.