You Talkin’ to Me? The Unruly History of New York English

Oxford Univ. Jul. 2020. 288p. ISBN 9780190657215. $19.95. COMM
White (history of English, Stony Brook Univ.) has written an important book that reaches across the fields of sociolinguistics and cultural and ethnic history. In seeking to understand the unique way in which New Yawkers tawk, White investigates issues of class and social differences in language acquisition and usage. Through an overview investigation of the speech in New York City in relationship to Standard American accents to how speech is heard in films and broadcast news, White provides insights into how New Yorkers themselves see their speech. Discussions of slang and colloquialisms coined in New York City as well as underworld slang that emanated from there are particularly interesting. Finally, White tackles the complex topic of language change. As a city of immigration, New York has always been a polyglot of language-mixing and code-switching. In this well-documented, scholarly, albeit highly engaging text, he provides a depth of insight into the evolutionary importance of New York speech to the history of English. Given the organic and natural evolution of this history, it is no surprise that Robert De Niro’s famous improvised line in the movie, Taxi Driver (from which the title of this book is derived) was as natural to him as it is for audiences to grasp immediately its many nuanced meanings.
VERDICT There are many terrific examples of New York speech throughout this text and White contextualizes them all extremely well. Highly recommended.
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