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The New Orleans Accent: Why Can’t Hollywood Get it Right?

There is a unique accent here that’s not Southern and yet kinda is, but it’s more Broklyn-ese if anything. We have a tendency to say “dis” “dat” “dese” and “dose”. And even if we do pronounce our “tee ayches” there is a something in the inflection, the way we say certain words that even highly educated people seem to have a hint of.

Yeah, it sounds like somethin’ from New Yawk. It doesn’t have that Southern lilt, that Southern tinge. “Where yat, dawlin.” “Jeesus Gawd!” are definitely not Southern. We’re like our own little country here with our own way of doing things, our own way of eating talking, celebrating.

So when I see a Hollywood movie where all of the main characters who are supposed to be from New Orleans “tahk lahk theah” from the South, it irks me. I mean, didn’t they do their research? Haven’t they walked around the city, talked to the people enough to know “dat ain’t dah way dat we tawk?”

I remember years ago a TV movie made in New Orleans had people talking like they were from old Atlanta out of Gone With The Wind. The movie’s crowning achievement in inaccuracy was when some tall male character introduce himself as “Kernal Bo-re-gahd.” I just laughed and shook my head.

I used to never think I had an accent at all until I went out to live in California and people commented on it. Having lived away from the city long enough and in doing some theater work I gradually lost pretty much any accent I had. People would asked where I’m from and when I said New Orleans, they’d smile and go “really! Wow!” and then add “but you don’t have a Southern accent.” To which I would silently grind my teeth and then explain that, no, people from New Orleans don’t have Southern accents, it sounds more like Brooklyn-ese.

To be sure there are people with Southern accents here but they are not from here. We are in the South, but not of the South.

The only movie I can recall that at least tried to be authentic to our accent was The Big Easy. Dennis Quaid tried his best to sound like he was from New Orleans, but his character was also Cajun so it was kinda of a mix of New Orleans (sometimes called “Yat” as in “where y’at”) and Cajun with some “cher”s thrown in at the end of sentences. It was not the best but at least it was an attempt. The only actor I know who ever tried. So kudos to him.

You would think that in a big budget movie like Benjamin Button that was so overwrought with authenticity, that they would have the main characters, having been born and raised in New Orleans, attempt at least some semblance of our local accent. Alas, none was to be heard.

I guess the big wigs in Hollywood don’t think it’s important but for us to hear some actor try to pass some generic Southern accent off as New Orleans-ese is to us like fingernails scratching a blackboard. Ouch. Stop. It’s better to hear just a generic American accent than to hear that.

Posted in New Orleans Culture, New Orleans Life.

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  • i couldn’t agree more. i do recall “Cat People” had it right.

  • Richard Bienvenu

    I didn’t see Cat People. But praise to any movie company that at least tries.

  • The author of http://www.notesonneworleans.net has written an excellent article. You have made your point and there is not much to argue about. It is like the following universal truth that you can not argue with: Someone, somewhere will always be offended Thanks for the info.



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