A Fresh Look: Speaking clearly in Pittsburghese

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Wah da hell is gowen on here?

I moved to Pittsburgh one year ago, and I still cannot understand most of the people some of the time. ... Or wait! Is that some of the people most of the time?

I speak Noo Yawk (earl and vinegar, meet me at two-tirdy third at tree-tirdy) and can even pull out a sweet Bahston accent -- did ya pak the ka?

But Pittsburghese is a language all its own.

I have figured out that "dahntahn" is "Downtown," "aht" is "out," "dem Stillers" is "those Steelers" and "yinz" is the plural form of you, though in Da Bronx, we would simply say "yous."

Yet I go to Ritter's Diner and cannot understand (let alone savor) all the variations and accents and dialects that get bandied about ... and wah da hell does "jeet jets" mean?

Ahz nebby abaht tings, so I decide to explore. Somewhere, deep down in my heaving bosom, I knew that understanding Pittsburghese was easier than understanding the colors in the Allegheny County Belt System.

To prove my point, I called a friend who tells me she must remain anonymous.

"What color highway route do you live on?"

She said, "Huh?"

Then ... "Say something in Pittsburghese."

"Hit da bricks."

Point made.

I go one step further and call the mayor to discuss Pittsburghese, but he dint call me back

To dig deeper, I decided to find a dialectologist and found one in Barbara Johnstone, professor of linguistics and rhetoric at Carnegie Mellon University. She and her sociolinguist associate, Scott F. Kiesling, associate professor of linguistics at the University of Pittsburgh, have put together a Web site (english.cmu.edu/pittsburghspeech) that offers a compressive look at what and why and how and when and who of Pittsburghese. Although it's user-friendly, the site is too academic for me, with occasional "big" words such as "monophthongization" rearing their six-syllable heads.

Important stuff? Yes.

But I jest wanna have fun.

And then I went to www.pittsburghese.com, a marvel of a site that promises I can learn Pittsburghese in a day! I feel like a kid playing arahnd in a LAH-renceville candy store! Imagine! Famous quotes have been given new life here. Who woulda guessed John F. Kennedy actually said "Ask not wah yinzes country can do fer you n'at. Ask wah yinz can do fer yinzes country."

The audio quiz is hysterical -- I get all five questions wrong, scoring zero "pierogi points." (Rilly! I couldn't even pronounce "Get aht, dere's a fahr in da filled!")

There are easy-to-follow calisthenics that warm me up for the actual diction lessons ("Yinz gotta be loose to rilly speak Pittsburghese"), and a "translator" takes English words and phrases and turns them into Pittsburghese, making you sound like a Picksburgher!

Whoever runs the site insists that it's "purely intended to be fun" and "will be the first to admit that this site is not intended to be a scholarly dissertation about our region's unique dialect. ... Some of the entries may be a bit of a stretch to say the least. You could say that we're just jaggin' around."

Doesn't matter. I'm ready. I'm set. Umina Ritter's.

I'll have chipped ham and eggs and wheat toast dry no dupa er please.


To commemorate Pittsburgh's 250th birthday this year, newcomer and writer/editor Alan W. Petrucelli is sharing his insights with us weekly. He lives in Churchill and can be reached at entrpt@aol.com .


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