For a city whose residents have been cooped inside for weeks, taking to pot-and-pan clanging, conch-shell blowing and clapping out of windows to express themselves publicly, the arrival last week of the #BestNYAccent challenge on Instagram was a chance for catharsis.
Here were oodles of videos of born-and-bred New Yorkers talking to the camera — it hardly mattered what they were saying, only how they were saying it. The casual disregard for pointy syllables. The pacing, which vacillated between dramatically drawn-out words and tight firework-syllable clusters. The occasional “yeeerrrrrrrr,” a herald trumpet announcing the arrival of royalty.
What we think of as the distinctive New York accent is really a pool of accents, a stew that draws liberally from various communities: Italian, Jewish, Jamaican, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Irish and many more. Slang might come from Yiddish, or it might come from hip-hop.
But what was most striking watching the videos en masse — from every borough, from children and senior citizens, from dozens of ethnic and racial backgrounds — was just how much of what we think of as the New York accent is not about sonic specifics at all.