My Kids Have Jersey Accents

I’m constantly defending my choice to move to New Jersey to my friends who don’t live here. I say that the housing and school options are good. We have great grocery stores and restaurants. The people are cool. Plus, Jersey is culturally diverse.

Sure, we have real-life Snookies and Situations in Jerz. I don’t deny that. While I’m not worried that my kids will grow up to be Jersey Shore hooligans, I am worried that they’ll sound like them.

My kids have Jersey accents. They don’t use the word mirror. They say, “Mirrah.” They say words like, “Cah,” “dawter” and “dawg.” They skip their consonants, saying, “Mih-ens” and “kih-ens” instead of mittens and kittens. They pick this stuff up at preschool, not at home. I’m from Kentucky where the theater is a “thee-a-ter” and cement is “cee-ment.” I’m not saying my southern drawl is better, it’s just different.

I sigh when I hear them clip the r sound. I worked so hard to get rid of my accent (mostly). I didn’t like it when New Yorkers made fun of me in college. I didn’t like sounding like a hick. Maybe one day they’ll be embarrassed to sound like they’re from down the shore. Or maybe not.

I hoped my kids would pick up their father’s perfect Westchester dialect. But so far, they haven’t. They don’t ask me, “What did you think about that, Mommy?” Instead, it’s, “Whatdju think, Mom?”

I choose to find it endearing in a colloquial way. So my Manhattan friends can go ahead and scoff. My own parents shake their heads at my little Jerseyites. Slowly, I’m learning to love my youngins’ East Coast accents–just as I’ve learned to love my decision to raise them right here. I guess it’s just one more thing about Jersey I’ll have to defend.

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  1. The more I think about it Kristen, the more I realize– you should really move to Manhattan, and not just anyone one that island, but the “right” neighborhoods….. It seems as if you cannot possibly be happy ’round these parts. So…. Leave….

    Because as a life-long New Jerseyan, I’ve had about all I can take with newbies (here, you) writing what they (here, you) think is some new take on accents, but really is just a retread of any number of articles, stories, etc. written over the last 75 years (here, you).

    So, to this I say, not for nuthin’, but Fugetaboutit it!!

  2. Oh, and perhaps you should follow this up with “My kids are being raised in the richest State in the Union.” (Well, second richest, this year).

  3. Ease up there, Prof. As a lifelong New Jerseyan, you should have developed a little thicker skin about this stuff by now.

    I was raised on Lawnguyland and have now lived in Joisey for about 15 years – so I have made peace with having to defend my place of residence. I try to take it all with a grain of sawlt.

  4. I have to say, as a lifelong New Jersey resident, that it is only in the past few years that I have heard anyone from New Jersey call it “Jersey.” In fact, when I went to Rutgers there were two surefire ways to identify an out-of-stater – referring to the state as “Jersey” and calling the parkway “the Garden State.” Oh yeah, and their empty wallets from paying out-of-state tuition.

  5. Wow, Prof. Feeling a little ornery today? The re-tread issue is valid, but telling someone to leave because they are amused by their children’s accents sounds a bit shrill for you.

    Personally, I make sure to use “wicked” in front of adjectives as often as I can so that my kids will pick up on THAT.

  6. How is is that I was raised by New Yorkers and lived my entire life in New jersey and never developed either accent? The only time I’ve ever said Joisey is in mocking someone who answers “Oh your from New Joisey?!” when I tell them where I’m from.

    Some of us manage to enunciate when we speak.

  7. I dont know anyone who says “cah” except my friends from Boston. Kemp, are you sure your kids aren’t picking this accent up from another transplant? And if your kids cannot prounounce the sentence “What did you think about that, Mommy?” I suspect that they are attending a NJ school that didn’t quite make the top 100

  8. As far as I can tell, what is called a Jersey accent around here is just a Brooklyn accent, since the old timers took their accent with them when they fled Kings County a generation ago. You hear it early in the morning when the seniors have their coffee and paper at the local deli.
    Nowadays, by the time you get to the western part of the state, people start saying “warsh” instead of “wash” and so on.
    There are some local peculiarities, though, like Caldwell natives calling their town Cullwell, or something like that.
    But based on my occasional travels, I have found that there is no Jersey accent, per se, just a modified Brooklyn accent in the NYC metro area, and something entirely different near Pennsylvania.

  9. In college, we were then all required to take a speech test, which involved reading a text about “a very large, affable rat named Arthur” into a tape recorder. The reading was analyzed to your face by members of the Speech Department, and the usual “bad” diagnosis was what they called “substandard regionalisms” back then. So they’d recommend, but could not force, you to take a 2 point speech course.

    I took it because it was full of my fellow football players (from all over the country) and reputedly a breeze. It also turned out to be fun. Must have helped some, too, because 40 years later a friend who was a speech pathologist-audiologist said that the best anyone could guess about my accnt was that I hail from somehwere on America’s East Coast. Such efforts as the speech test and course would naturally be frowned on in these days of cultural “diversity,” I’m quite sure.

  10. I grew up down the shore – which is how we native New Jerseyans refer to it – as did my siblings, and aside from the prominence of the w-sound in some words (dawg-dog, dawter-daugther, cawfee-coffee), none of us nor our friends who also grew up down the shore speak with the same accents as the excessively-bronzed denizens of “Jersey Shore” nor, apparently, Kristen’s transplanted young’uns.

    Anybody who did talk (“tawk”) like that immediately stuck out either as a migrant from North Jersey, or, worse yet, a Noo-Yawkah, which is where most of the bimbos and muscle-heads on “Jersey Shore” actually come from. Damn bennies!

  11. I find it amusing how politicians can change their accents depending on the crowd they’re speechifying to. Nothing wrong with having a NEW Jersey accent, the problem is many out of staters think you’re from Brooklyn.

  12. Just because our area of NJ is one of the most convenient suburbs for commuting into Manhattan and has some fabulous shopping options doesn’t mean that it’s perfect. Thank you, Kristen for pointing out that, while you can come to terms with raising your child to one day say they are “from New Jersey,” that doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to cringe every time you think of it. Not to mention considering moving out of the state every time you see a 10 yr old girl walking down the sidewalk with her father in a skirt so short my dad wouldn’t have let me where it around our own house or sweatpants with words emblazoned across the rear. I’m from PA and will never accept the insistence that NJ is anything more than a good punchline.

  13. Ah, I won’t “ease up” as this is, as everyone knows, a retread of a “story.” That it has garnered 12+ comments is telling.

    Coming tomorrow, “Why do Jersey folks say ‘Down the Shore’?”

    @ Schooled, unfortunately the writer is not merely “amused” by her kid’s accent, or perhaps you didn’t feel the backhanded slap of her paragraph?

    @ herbeverschmel: your comment is a joke, right? I hope so.

  14. Proof that there is a difference between a New Jersey and a New York accent:

    How do you pronounce “Newark”? If you say “Nerk” you’re from NJ; if it comes out more like “New-ik” you’re a New Yorker.

  15. Growing up, my mother had a thick Mississippi accent and my father was off the boat from Greece. In kindergarten, my teacher asked where I was from because I pronounced words in such a strange way. Eventually, I went on to have my own Jersey City accent, which I have tried very hard t get rid of.

  16. After 20+ years, my SoCal folks have finally stopped snickering at me when I call them. Guess they’ve gotten used to my accent!

    When I first moved here, the Jersey Girls would laugh when I’d say “ferry”. I didn’t get it until they told me I was saying “fairy”, when what I really meant “feahrry”!

    and my native Montclairion hubby says he lives in “Muntclair”. 😉

  17. Your kids do NOT have a Jersey accent. No one calls it “Jerz” either. I have never heard thst in my life (grew up in Central Jersey). What people think is “Joisey” is some weird Staten Island thing. Also sort of a class/Italian thing going on…Don’t worry about defending NJ .. to who? Some snotty Upper West or East Side or Park Slope people? Seriously! As we say, “not for nothin'” but you have some issues! And it’s def. “Pa-sake” for Passaic NOT Pa-say-ik if you are from around here!

  18. For the sake of balance and a well-rounded story, can we get some Staten Island/Brooklyn folks on here to be offended about people mocking their accents?

    And really, blooming, PA is a state with two lovely cities at either end with a lot of Pennsyltucky/Deliverance in between. And some pretty good accents. (Disclosure: I speak fluent Pennsyltuckian.)

  19. Why do so many articles on this site seem like they’re written by an anthropologist studying a local tribe? Just when I think I’ve read the most condescending article about locals on this site, it’s topped by another.

    If you don’t like NEW Jersey, don’t like the accent, or the presumed lack of cachet, then leave.

  20. I’m from Brooklyn and I can assure you there is no one Brooklyn accent. The dialect is generally influenced your heritage Irish, Italian, Jewish, Black etc. I myself was startled when during my own speech class in college to hear the way I turned the final er to an a. My two children, although born in Brooklyn, were raised here speak without anything noticeable to me but I’d bet they’d be identified as at least an Easterner. There are some excellent texts on linguistics which trace dialectical differences found in all regions of America.

    But defend New Jersey? Really!!!!

  21. tondalayo is right on the money.

    I would only add that these stories seem written by someone who took an anthropology 101 class and feel as it he or she knows EVERYTHING, certainly not an “anthropologist”.

    But hey—- 25+ comments on B-kids. THAT’S HUGE!!!

  22. My husband was born and raised in Montclair and all three of my kids have been raised here and no accents. Actually I dont know any born or raised here who has an accent.

    Where does one pick up a ‘Jersey’ accent?

  23. Well said, commentators! Nothing like soaking up all we have to offer, then bashing it, ever so delicately.

    I would add that, as everything else children do and don’t do, it all comes back to what is done at home.

    As the parent, especially with children at the age they are at, YOU should be providing the direction on how they speak. As the parent of pre-school age twins myself, who have rarely been apart, they have two separate accents. One sounds like she is from Yonkers, the other I am not sure. They argue over “poddy” and “pot-tee” all the time.

    As it turns out, “poddy” has a hearing issue, recently corrected with surgery. Advice from their doc, step one: do it at home! Set the example by properly saying the improperly pronounced words at the beginning and the end of a sentence, repeatedly.

    Slow news day on B’kids.

  24. Oh, and yippee for local accents! How boring would it be if there were no regional accents? Besides, if no one had that Brocton/Quincy, MASS accents, or an accent from south Jersey/Philly, who would we make fun of! : – )

  25. I told an old boss one time (from Bergen County) I was going to the “Nerk” St. Patrick’s Day parade…His response: “What’s a Nerk?” I told him a Nerk is a mutant leprechaun…I think he is shaking his head to this day…

  26. I know a friend who is NOT Mexican, but her kid speaks with a Mexican accent.

    The kid, I realize, watches WAY TOO MUCH Dora the Explorer.

  27. Tudlow – there’s a lot more in between Philly and Pittsburgh than just “Pennsyltucky/Deliverance”. Granted, along the PA Turnpike (the road leading btwn the two cities), it’s not the nicest area, but we also have the Poconos, Erie, and lots in between the two of those. State College is a lovely area, of course and Harrisburg/Hershey area isn’t so bad. Do we have a lot of farmland? Yes – a lot more than this so-called Garden State, but I don’t see how that’s worse than a state full of crazed people who have apparently never heard of a turn signal or learned how to react near a Yield sign. An over-crowded state full of individuals with over-inflated opinions of themselves is not a lot to brag about.

    raxxx – love that you pointed that out. I grew up near Jersey Shore…it’s not one of the greater towns in the state.

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