Decent read on American Jewish accent(s)

Some good info in this piece: Why Linguists are Fascinated by the American Jewish Accent.

The title is overblown, but that is common in journalism these days.

All accents are interesting once you pay attention. I am fairly good at telling the region of the US someone grew up in by their accent. When wrong, I often find that one or both of their parents grew up in the region I identified.

Many regional accents are suppressed at home, often by parents who are better educated or who have moved from elsewhere. And this leads to further degrading the regional norm. You can find a lot of this in New England, which has several very beautiful regional accents. Rural Mainers speak in ways that sometimes remind me of a Texas drawl.

One paragraph in the linked article got me:

Another element that isn’t dying is the particular conversational style of Jews. When linguist Deborah Tannen taped dinner conversations between Jews and non-Jews (her work was published in 1981), she found that arguing and interrupting (or “cooperative overlapping”) occurred at higher rates among Jews. Pauses were also different: Jews tended to use both shorter pauses and fewer pauses between clauses and sentences. Like intonation, this isn’t really “accent,” in a strict linguistic sense, but as a broad answer to “how do Jews speak differently from non-Jews,” it’s a significant element.

I grew up in a community with many Jews and learned a lot of speech habits from them. “Cooperative overlapping” was one of them. To this day it is very hard for me not to do this. When you have this style ingrained in you it feels very warm and friendly, though many other American English speakers find it disrespectful, even rude.

When I speak with people who don’t do “cooperative overlapping,” conversations can seem slow-paced, even boring.

More information can be exchanged with “cooperative overlapping” as well as more quick shifting of topic and nuance. Also, more options for situational humor.

If there is one thing other regions could beneficially learn from Jewish speech habits, this is the one I would choose. It’s not hard to do and it adds several dimensions to speaking and listening.

One thought on “Decent read on American Jewish accent(s)

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