Git aht!

Dr. Barbara Johnstone is a linguistics professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Of all things, she specializes in Pittsburghese. You might be tempted to say, Git aht! but let me assure you that she does.

Few cities have so notable a concentration of verbal and grammatical peculiarities that an esteemed teacher could find enough to study over the course of a decade or so, let alone with a colleague. Pittsburgh, however, is one of those few. You can read more about Johnstone's observations at The Pittsburgh Speech & Society Project, or read this recent highlight of her work which includes a three-minute video with examples. Or, for plain old fun, visit the informal version at Type in a note and have it instantly translated into Pittsburghese.

Rosetta Stone, look aht, an I ain't jaggin!

Okay, what's the point? What used to be a normal product of immigrant communication has become an identity marker for natives and non-natives of Pittsburgh alike. I grew up south of the city and yet came to love funny words like nebby and gumbands and yinz. Put me in a room with other Pittsburgh fans and we'll go on with a language all our own. Yet, it isn't our own. The PR magicians didn't launch this. We adopted it. Pittsburgh just kept on being Pittsburgh and friends of the city caught on. It helps that we like the place. A hole in south-western Pennsylvania most likely would have failed to gain attention beyond the locals.

The Post-Gazette article about Johnstone's work struck me because I love language and have an affinity toward Pittsburgh, but also because there's something powerful about having influence in the world that comes simply from being entertained by your own oddities. So here's my invitation to join in the fun:

If yinz ever visit yoor relations near da burgh, git off da caach 'n meet me at Permani Brudders fer a sammitch and pop. Bring yer bumbershoot if it looks like its gonna rain. Meybe we'll even ketch a Stiller game. 


Laura January 10, 2011 at 4:48 PM  

I think it's very interesting that we live so close (well, sort of) and our "grammatical peculiarities" are so different. The burghers (not the kind on a bun) don't have that Appalachian twang, do they? When my husband was ten, his family moved to California (Callyforny) and they put him in speech therapy.

Sam Van Eman January 10, 2011 at 5:14 PM  

Very interesting, Laura. And don't therapists take these things into consideration? Poor kid.

Bob Gorinski January 10, 2011 at 11:04 PM  

Great Sam! Finally some recognition for the Yinzers.

It wasn't so funny though, when I went to college and asked the anatomy professor "Do we have to identify all them forearm muscles?"

True story.

Nah gedduppair 'n start rootin fer tha Stillers.

Sam Van Eman January 11, 2011 at 8:12 AM  

Great story, Bob. You didn't know any better then, but what a beautiful dialect we can now use at will, being bilingual as it were.

Marcus Goodyear January 11, 2011 at 9:50 AM  

Hey, I actually went to "Permani Brudders" last year. It was great.

What could be a more powerful community builder than shared language? Our words determine to a large part how we interact with the world and the people in it.

Sam Van Eman January 11, 2011 at 10:00 AM  

I must have missed that adventure. I hope you enjoyed it.

Deidra January 17, 2011 at 10:48 AM  

My husband and I were just talking about how his mother and my grandfather would say, "veggetubbles" - four syllables - instead of saying it the correct way. They didn't grow up near each other, but somehow they each said the word the same way.

Sam Van Eman January 17, 2011 at 10:51 AM  

Maybe that IS how you say it, Deidra. :)

Every Square Inch January 18, 2011 at 4:27 PM  

Don't have any relatives in the 'Burg but the lure of Primanti Brothers may be enough to get me there :-)

I wonder as popular culture becomes more globalized, will there be a backlash or resurgence of interest and affinity for localized micro-cultures?

Sam Van Eman January 18, 2011 at 4:34 PM  

ESI, according to Johnstone, while native speakers of Pittsburghese appear to be decreasing in number, fans of the city and its culture aren't. I think globalization may prompt us to hold more tightly to local traditions and nuances for identity's sake.

Here's an extra draw to Pittsburgh, and something right up your work and faith alley:

I'll be going and will connect with others in the High Calling network. Let me know if you're interested in attending.

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