Does Brooklyn tawk the tawk? Fuhgeddaboudit!
Brooklyn Heights filmmaker Heather Quinlan is getting to the bottom of the New York accent in her unfinished documentary, “If These Knishes Could Talk” — and lets native speakers, some of them plucky Brooklynites, tell it like it is!
“The accent captures the public’s imagination all over the world,” Quinlan said. “A lot of people have told me that when they travel, it’s not necessarily cool to be an American, but it is to be a New Yorker. The image is that we’re a city of Serpicos and Godfathers!”
To explore how the accent is evolving — or disappearing — amid the city’s rapid gentrification, Quinlan picks the brains of famous scribes Pete Hamill and James McBride, TV personality Joe Franklin, and comedian Pat Cooper.
But the charming film is also a hodgepodge of average Joes.
There’s a deaf New Yorker who contends that people here use sign language faster and with more cursing. And then there’s a Korean sanitation worker who grew up on Staten Island and sounds like Robert DeNiro. One woman is training to erase her accent altogether so she can be on TV, and a retired Brooklyn maintenance worker who is fed up with people mistaking him for a mobster.
Most people think there is a “Brooklyn accent,” but Quinlan’s research suggests that the borough’s dialect isn’t so special. Most linguists categorize the New York accent by Jewish-, Irish- and Italian-based pronunciations.
“People with a New York accent who might be from Long Island or Queens often get asked if they’re from Brooklyn when they travel,” Quinlan said. “There isn’t much difference in accents these days largely because people move a lot more between boroughs and states.”
The most famous indicators of the accent are the “aw” sound in words such as coffee and the dropped and added Rs after vowels: “Come ovah heah and bring me a soder.”
Why “Knishes”? The Bronx-born Quinlan started the film as a tribute to her father, who died 15 years ago. She never forgot the first Jewish treat that her Irish father bought for her in an Italian borough, and that, she says, is as New York as it gets.
A 25-minute version of the film is showing at the Art of Brooklyn film festival in Brooklyn Heights on Saturday, but Quinlan is still fundraising on Kickstarter so that she can finish a full version of the documentary in 2012.
“If These Knishes Could Talk” at St. Francis College [180 Remsen St. at Court Street in Brooklyn Heights, (718) 522-2300], Aug. 27 at 4:30 pm. Tickets $15 ($12 in advance). For info, visit www.parkslopefilms.com.