A Primer on Pittsburghese
GUY RAZ, Host:
Are you sitting in a beer garden watching the Pens? Let me translate for those of us who don't speak Pittsburghese - I wondered if you'll watch the Penguins play in the Stanley Cup finals at a bar tonight. Well, sort of it. Pittsburghese is a dialect being studied by a group of linguists at Carnegie Mellon University, which, of course, is in Pittsburgh.
We wanted to know a little bit more about Pittsburghese, so we decided to come here to Pittsburgh's famous Original Hot Dog Shop to talk to people about Pittsburghese and to find out what it sounds like.
SKIP MAXON: Hi, how are you doing, sir?
RAZ: How are you? What's your name?
MAXON: My name is Skip Maxon.
RAZ: And are you a local?
MAXON: Yes, I am. Born and raised in Pittsburgh.
RAZ: Do you speak Pittsburghese?
MAXON: Yes, I do speak Pittsburghese, and we actually say Picksburgh, but it's not proper English so I don't use it anymore. I used to say Picksburgh.
ALEX CARRESTACY: My name is Alex Carrestacy. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh. Basically I know one phrase: hey, you guys, we need to red up this room for the (unintelligible) game tonight. That's about it.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
RAZ: What did you just say?
CARRESTACY: Hey, you guys, we need to clean up this room for the football game pretty much.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
BARBARA JOHNSTONE: One of the things that Pittsburghers would tell you right away is that when they are talking about going to where all the buses go and where all the shops are and so on, they would talk about going donton.
RAZ: That's Barbara Johnstone. She's a linguistics professor at Carnegie Mellon. She runs the Pittsburgh Speech and Society Project. Johnstone's recorded hundreds of Pittsburghers, all with the goal of preserving this very unique dialect.
MAXON: It's a big enough house so she has her part of the house, I have her part of the house.
RAZ: That ah sound is unique to Pittsburgh. But a few other Pittsburgh words have seeped out beyond city limits, like yins, which means you all. And nebby - that means nosey. But even though most Pittsburghers know the words...
JOHNSTONE: Older people use them more than younger people, and what that suggests is that, in certain respects, the dialect is dying out.
RAZ: Dying out because many Pittsburghers are embarrassed to speak it, including Jane Smith. I met her at the Original Hot Dog Shop.
Do you speak Pittsburghese?
JANE SMITH: Yes, I do, because I live here but I try not to.
RAZ: Do you allow your kids to speak it?
RAZ: Professor Barbara Johnstone says that's normal. Dialects constantly wither and evolve. And, besides, her mind's on something else at the moment - tonight's big game.
JOHNSTONE: Go Pens. Maybe you'd say it a little bit differently if you were a native Pittsburgher. I think you might say Go Pens.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.