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November 12, 2000 - Pittsburghese - 2002-02-01


INTRO: VOA Wordmaster Rosanne Skirble recently went back to her hometown of Pittsburgh in the US state of Pennsylvania in search of clues about the way she speaks American English.

MUSIC: "The Pennsylvania Polka"/Lawrence Welk

TEXT: I didn't realize it growing up, but I spoke a dialect of American English called Pittsburghese. Of course, we didn't call it that. It's just the way we talked in Pittsburgh, and everyone understood one another.

When I left Pittsburgh for college and work I adapted to my surroundings and sounded, well, let's just say 'less Pittsburgh.' Only on visits to my hometown would I slip into the familiar dialect. Once again I'd call rubber bands 'gum bands' and thinly sliced ham 'chipped-chopped ham.'

So, you can imagine my delight when I learned that the words and phrases that I had spoken as a child were alive and well and living in cyberspace at www.pittsburgese.com. I have to admit that when I logged on, I felt a sense of community.

Alan Freed and a co-worker in Pittsburgh created the site to attract new customers to their web design business. When we met in his basement office on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh, he told me that the site has become a meeting place for people like me lonely for Pittsburgh.

TAPE CUT ONE: SKIRBLE/FREED

ALAN FREED: "It gets about 100,000 hits a month. I'd say most of the attention that the site gets is from people who have moved out of the city and are longing for stuff from their hometown."

RS: "You are now on to the Pittsburghese website, and you've clicked on to 'nouns.'

ALAN FREED: "I clicked on to nouns. That's actually our biggest section that people have contributed the most words to, so I thought we'd go there and take a look at some of the submissions. I see on the screen right in front of us, "jaggers" is something that means thorns like if you have a rose and you have thorns. Those are "jaggers."

RS: "Do you have a favorite (Pittsburgh) phrase or expression?"

ALAN FREED: "How are yinz (you, plural) doin' and 'at.'(That)" is one of my favorites because it would blow away any one who was from out of town."

RS: "Can we translate that?"

ALAN FREED: "How are you?"

TEXT: The "How yinz doin'" greeting baffled University of Pittsburgh linguist Paul Toth when he moved to Pittsburgh from Rochester, New York ten years ago. After a while he says he began to see patterns in the way people from Pittsburgh talk. For example, he says, the ever-popular "yinz" is simply an informal way of saying the plural pronoun "you."

TAPE CUT TWO: PAUL TOTH

"The Southern dialects are famous for 'you all' or 'ya'all' and in Pittsburghese we have 'yinz'. That comes from saying 'you ones and blending that together' as 'yinz.' It does actually make sense that you would call more than one person, 'you ones' over there, and 'yinz' is where that comes from."

TEXT: Also, I discovered from Paul Toth that people in Pittsburgh swallow the th at the beginning of a word.

TAPE CUT THREE: PAUL TOTH

"That th is gone. So, it's gone just like "-"-is" and just like "at." 'They talk a little bit like "-is." And they also say, "and at" as sort of a connector at the end of a sentence. "Yinz guys going down the Steelers game and (th)at." "And -at" is "and -at," and the th is gone from the beginning of that."

TEXT: Another common Pittsburgh sound is how words like doing and going are pronounced.

TAPE CUT FOUR: PAUL TOTH

"The vowel would be /ue/" They are sort of pronounced 'ue-en', "How you doin'? ('due-en'). This is what you hear people say when they are greeting you. "How you doin'" "Where you goin'?" So they are really merged together as a similar vowel. So, if you put your second person plural pronoun in there and talk about "going to the house or going down town you could say, "Yinz goin' to the house? Yinz goin' downtown?"

RS: "I guess moving away from Pittsburgh I really changed to a more standard English vocabulary, and I didn't even realize that growing up I had a grammatical problem. Things like, "That shirt needs washed."

PAUL TOTH: That's the one thing I can identify as a grammatical difference. In Standard English you would say, "The shirt needs to be washed. And in Pittsburghese they have extended that pattern from the present participle "need washing" to the past participle as well and say "needs washed."

TEXT: Alan Freed demonstrates all of this with animated graphics and enhanced facial features on the www.pittsburghese.com website.

TAPE CUT FIVE: SKIRBLE/ALAN FREED

RS: "Do you have anything to say to our listeners just to say goodbye to them?"

ALAN FREED: (in Pittsburgese) Maybe you can come up here and go to a (Pittsburgh) Steelers (football) game and (that).

RS: "Loosely translated that would be, "Maybe you could come to visit us in Pittsburgh and go to a Pittsburgh Steelers football game. Did I get it?"

ALAN FREED: "That 'ill work."

RS: "That will work. Thank you so much it's been a pleasure talking with you!"

MUSIC: "THE PITTSBURGH STEELERS FIGHT SONG"/Jimmy Pol

RS: Whether or not you can learn Pittsburghese in a day as Alan Freed claims, you will can get an entertaining start at the www.pittsburghese.com website. Nostalgic or not for Pittsburgh, write to us at Wordmaster, Washington, D.C. 20037 USA or to word@voa.gov. Avi Arditti will be back next week. I'm Rosanne Skirble.

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