Evolution of Pittsburghese and Where the Accent Developed

Evolution of Pittsburghese and Where the Accent Developed

Sep 23, 2019Keith Cathcart

Ask a typical American what their ancestry is and you’ll likely get at least two countries, but those are just the ones they know of. The reality is that the U.S. is a melting pot and very few of us have just one or two countries in our make-up, as the Statue of Liberty fulfilled her promise when she proclaimed with silent lips, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” This fact can be seen if you just look around at us, especially in big cities, but go to Pittsburgh and you’re like, “Whoa! What happened here?” They don’t just sound different, but they also have their own WORDS! So many, in fact, that there are dictionaries and translators made just for Pittsburghese. So, seriously, what happened?

Well, in one word, immigrants. Okay, that’s too vague. How about this: River + Railroad + Factories + Immigrants = Pittsburghese…

One of the reasons the French and British fought for Pittsburgh was its prime location. Just off the Alleghany River, not too mountainous, far enough inland, not too cold or hot, etc. When the British won and the country was opened to immigrants, the eastern and central parts of Pennsylvania were settled first so when the Scots-Irish arrived (not the ones who were close to London; these were the northern ones), they were like, “Dang, the Germans, Quakers, and other English people are already here. Guess we’ll go a little more west!” So for a while, they had the largest influence, and in fact, laid the base with which everything else mixed. Germans decided to go farther west, too, and Poles came in droves looking for work. All the while African Americans were coming in waves since Pittsburgh was an active stop for the Underground Railroad in the Civil War and later welcomed them as scabs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. All of these groups and more found their niche in Pittsburgh but also melded together out of necessity, building upon the British which became Scots-Irish which eventually became Pittsburghese. Each stubbornly refused to let go of their own dialect and vernacular but couldn’t help be influenced by the one already present.

So dere.

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