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'How Are Yinz Doin?' Pittsburghers Ask; 'Huh?' G20 Leaders May Wonder

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AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on WORDMASTER: we discuss a local dialect spoken in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the host city for this week's Group of 20 economic summit. That's Rosanne's hometown, and she went back in 2000 to tell us about Pittsburghese.

MUSIC: "The Pennsylvania Polka" / Lawrence Welk

Pittsburgh skyline
Pittsburgh skyline

RS: 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.

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.

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 that are longing for stuff from their hometown."

RS: "You are now on to the Pittsburghese Web site, and you've just clicked onto '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. Let's just see what comes up here. I see on the screen right in front of us, 'jaggers.' Jaggers is something that means thorns like if you have a rose and you have thorns, those are jaggers, they're not thorns."

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

ALAN FREED: "How are yinz doin and at?' is one of my favorites because it would blow away anyone who was from out of town."

RS: "Can we translate that?"

ALAN FREED: "How are you?"

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.

PAUL TOTH: "The Southern dialects are famous for 'you all' or 'y'all' and in Pittsburghese we have 'yinz.' That comes from saying 'you ones' and blending that together to 'yinz.'"

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

PAUL TOTH: "That th is gone. So, it's gone just like iss and just like at."

RS: "Meaning?"

PAUL TOTH: "Like this and like that. 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 at?' 'And at' is 'and that," and the th is gone from the beginning of that."

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

PAUL TOTH: "The vowel would be 'ue' They're sort of pronounced 'ue-en', Like 'How you doin'? This is what you hear people say when they're greeting you. 'How you doin'?' 'Where you goin'?' instead of 'Where are you going?' So they are really merged together as a similar vowel."

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. And in standard English you would say 'The shirt needs to be washed.' And in Pittsburghese they have extended that pattern from the present participle 'needs washing' to the past participle as well and they say 'needs washed.'"

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 Web site.

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

AA: And that was a segment from November of 2000. You can read and listen to WORDMASTER online at www.unsv.com/voanews/wordmaster -- where you can also get our new podcast. And that's WORDMASTER for this week. With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on WORDMASTER: we discuss a local dialect spoken in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the host city for this week's Group of 20 economic summit. That's Rosanne's hometown, and she went back in 2000 to tell us about Pittsburghese.

MUSIC: "The Pennsylvania Polka" / Lawrence Welk

RS: 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.

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.

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 that are longing for stuff from their hometown."

RS: "You are now on to the Pittsburghese Web site, and you've just clicked onto '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. Let's just see what comes up here. I see on the screen right in front of us, 'jaggers.' Jaggers is something that means thorns like if you have a rose and you have thorns, those are jaggers, they're not thorns."

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

ALAN FREED: "How are yinz doin and at?' is one of my favorites because it would blow away anyone who was from out of town."

RS: "Can we translate that?"

ALAN FREED: "How are you?"

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.

PAUL TOTH: "The Southern dialects are famous for 'you all' or 'y'all' and in Pittsburghese we have 'yinz.' That comes from saying 'you ones' and blending that together to 'yinz.'"

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

PAUL TOTH: "That th is gone. So, it's gone just like iss and just like at."

RS: "Meaning?"

PAUL TOTH: "Like this and like that. 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 at?' 'And at' is 'and that," and the th is gone from the beginning of that."

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

PAUL TOTH: "The vowel would be 'ue' They're sort of pronounced 'ue-en', Like 'How you doin'? This is what you hear people say when they're greeting you. 'How you doin'?' 'Where you goin'?' instead of 'Where are you going?' So they are really merged together as a similar vowel."

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. And in standard English you would say 'The shirt needs to be washed.' And in Pittsburghese they have extended that pattern from the present participle 'needs washing' to the past participle as well and they say 'needs washed.'"

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 Web site.

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

AA: And that was a segment from November of 2000. You can read and listen to WORDMASTER online at www.unsv.com/voanews/wordmaster -- where you can also get our new podcast. And that's WORDMASTER for this week. With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.

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