You’re from Buffalo, aren’t you?
What is the ‘Buffalo accent’ and why do people hate it so much?
At a recent work meeting, we somehow got on the topic of accents and a co-worker said: “God I hate how people speak in Buffalo, it’s like a drill straight to the ear.”
Now wait just a second. Did you just infer that Buffalonians have an accent?
This was bizarre to me. Growing up in Buffalo, everyone on my street and in my school basically talked the same way. I knew the Long Island accent; the New England accent; Southern accents; all the stereotypical ones you see on TV. But a Buffalo accent? Never heard of it.
It never occurred to me that it’s 100 percent possible and understandable that outsiders could think we have an accent. I’ve asked foreigners if they thought I had the typical American accent before, but nobody ever attached a region to it.
Curious if this was actually a thing, I Googled “Buffalo accent” and to my surprise, a slew of Reddit Posts, articles and YouTube videos appeared.
It’s real, and people love to hate on it.
The Buffalo accent is described as being nasally with long A’s and extra emphasis on R’s. So instead of “car” and “aunt,” Buffalonians (supposedly) say “Caarr” and “aant.”
People seem to have a bone to pick with our long vowels and nasally pronunciation. One blog post said, “I know many [people] have it … but to the extreme, I think it’s pretty damn annoying.” People also hate how we say “pop” instead of “soda” and say “the” before we name a highway, but those are stories for a different day.
It turns out our accent is a part of what linguist and University of Pennsylvania professor William Labov calls the “Northern Cities Vowel Shift.” Vowel shifts in the Great Lakes region of the country date back to the 1400s, and helped establish the basic contours of modern English.
Labov argues that during construction of the Erie Canal in the 1800s, people flocked to New York and other Rust Belt cities, each speaking different kinds of English. The Erie Canal moved the New England accent west along the Great Lakes, leaving Buffalo, Detroit, Cleveland and Chicago each with their own distinct dialect.
Our proximity to Canada and influx of European immigrants –– mainly German, Polish and Italian –– also impacted the end result of our accent. The Ontario accent is very similar to Buffalo, but was affected by the spread of French from Montreal to Toronto.
So we’re the middle ground between the elongated pronunciations you might hear in Boston and the flat vowels found in Chicago.
After finding this out, I asked that co-worker and some out-of-town friends if they thought Buffalonians had an accent and to describe it. Most people said something along the lines of: “Well, you don’t have an accent, but a lot of people here say their A’s funny. It’s borderline Canadian, but less annoying than someone from Chicago or New England.”
Another friend from Long Island said: “It’s literally the worst. People think we have an annoying accent, but you guys are definitely worse.”
I’m relieved that people don’t think I have an accent, but it still perplexed me that my entire life, no one had ever previously pointed out that people in my city talk in a specific way.
We don’t have a reality TV show flaunting Buffalonians with heavy accents and we’re never the subjects of jokes made in “Family Guy,” comedy specials or Geico commercials. So how was I supposed to know that we talk funny?
After thinking about it a little longer, I’m happy Buffalo has its own accent.
We’re a proud city. We bleed blue and red, brag about our regional food, –– you out-of-towners got nothing on Sahlen’s hot dogs, beef on weck and sponge candy –– Cheerio-infused air and rich history. So if some of us sound a little funny when we talk, so what?
We’re a melting pot of different European and Canadian backgrounds that have come together to form our own unique sound. I think the history of regional dialects in Northern cities is really interesting, and if anything, learning about the Buffalo accent has made me even more proud to be a Buffalonian.
We don’t go around saying “soorry” and we order chowder, not “chowdaah.” We don’t say “y’all” and aren’t “stoked to catch some waves, bro.” But if we say “aunt” a little funny, deal with it. YOU decided to come to school in Buffalo, so get hip to the lingo.
I’m proud to be from Buffalo. So in the future, when someone asks “You’re from Buffalo, aren’t you?” I think I’ll say “Oh, did my accent give it away?”
Max Kalnitz is the senior news editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Max_Kalnitz