"During my work in different parts of the world, I have, in fact, never encountered another population with a more accurate sense of linguistic differentiation or discrimination".

––Wolfgang Wölck on Buffalonians’ "keen sense of linguistic detection".


"Where I come from, we don’t have an accent".

––Kevin Reynolds, Buffalonian, on his first day away at college.





Sources:
Carlock, Elizabeth. "Prosodic Analysis of Two Varieties of Buffalo English". The LACUS forum 5 (1978). 377-382. A description of the procedure used in analyzing the speeches of the Italian-American and Polish-American communities in Buffalo. It is the predecessor of Carlock and Wölck (below).

Carlock, Elizabeth and Wolfgang Wölck. "A Method for Isolating Diagnostic Linguistic Variables: The Buffalo Ethnolects Experiment". Variation Omnibus. Eds. David Sankoff and Henrietta Cedergren. Edmonton: Linguistic Research, 1981. 17-24. In this study, Carlock collaborates with Wolfgang Wolck, the most highly published and competent scholar on Buffalo English (see Wölck below). Recognizing that immigrant languages can have a profound influence on the native speech of a community, Wölck and Carlock, in an experiment, seek to determine Buffalonians’ ability to recognize native English speakers based on their ethnic background. The results show that Buffalonians, in fact, had a high capacity to identify one’s ethnicity based on linguistic characteristics. They also conclude that younger people were more likely to identify a speech pattern with a neighborhood or part of town rather than ethnicity, probably due to recent decentralization of ethnic neighborhoods. This experiment deals only with the three largest non English-speaking European immigrant communities, i.e. it excludes Irish-Americans and other early European immigrant communities, as well as smaller immigrant communities and the black and Latino communities. By the end, the German factor is omitted due to respondents’ recognition of German traits only by a lack of highly identifiable properties, thereby reducing the study to a comparison of Polish and Italian traits in Buffalo English.

Dweik, Bader S. "Lebanese Christians in Buffalo: Language Maintenance and Language Shift". The Arabic Language in America. Ed. Aleya Rouchdy. Detroit : Wayne State UP, 1992. 100-118. Dweik’s article is an overview of the sociological factors that first helped the Christian Lebanese community to maintain its language and culture, and an account of the conditions under which the community eventually assimilated with the greater American society, thereby hastening the loss of the Arabic language among the Lebanese of Buffalo.

Fickett, Joan G. 'Merican: an inner city dialect : aspects of morphemics, syntax, and semology. Taos, NM: 1975. A Ph.D. thesis (UB) from the early ‘70s, this is the first comprehensive study of Black English as spoken in the city of Buffalo. The "Buffalo accent" and the linguistic traits associated with it generally refer to the speech of the white population in Western New York; the speech of the black community is largely considered apart. Fickett’s study is no exception and recognizes, a quarter of a century earlier than the debate on Ebonics became part of the common political domain, the linguistic cohesion of American Black English and its relative autonomy from Standard American English. Many parts of this study are laden with linguistic terminology that non-linguists generally do not understand, but from the sociolinguistic perspective this is an indispensable source for even the non-linguist.

Guitart, Jorge. "Abstract Segments in the Loanword Phonology of Brazilian Portuguese-American English Bilinguals; Seventh Colloquium on Hispanic Lingistics, Albuquerque, New Mexico, July 11-12, 1980". Spanish and Portuguese in Social Context. Eds. John J. Bergen and Garland D. Bills. Washington: Georgetown University Press, 1983. 88-91. Renowned UB linguist Jorge Guitart expands on Raquel Blanco’s study of Azorean Portuguese speakers living in Toronto and Brazilian Portuguese speakers living in Buffalo. Guitart comments on the phonological change in the Portuguese of only the Buffalo group in reference to the speakers’ bilingual proficiency in American English.

Kielbasa, Stanislaw. Dictionary of Polish Obscenities. Buffalo: Kielbasa, 1978. A low-budget publication, the Dictionary is an account of obscene usage in the Polish language both in Poland and in emigrant communities abroad. Many of the informants of the study are Buffalo Poles, but there is no commentary on the linguistic effect that the Polish language has had on general Buffalo English.

Madera, Mónica Maria. "The Role of Language in the Perception of Ethnic Identity: The Case of the Buffalo Hispanic/Latino Community". Diss. SUNY at Buffalo, 1996. A Ph.D. thesis (UB), Madera’s account of the Spanish language usage in Buffalo thoroughly explores its social relevance at both the personal and familial level as well as in the sphere of American society at large. A major portion treats the Spanish language phenomena in the United States in general before referring more specifically to the situation in Buffalo. Unpublished, the thesis is available through UMI (a.k.a. Dissertation Abstracts International), Ann Arbor, MI on microfilm or as a free download.

Mendelius, Cezary. "The Buffalo Polish Community: A Preliminary Profile". Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: An International Review of English Studies 9 (1977): 155-168. Studia Anglica Posnaniensia is a journal published in Poland on issues concerning English language and literature. This article is an outsider’s perspective on the state of the Polish language in Buffalo. Mendelius (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland) makes some interesting observations but also makes some qualitative judgements, seemingly aimed at a Polish audience, on the manner in which the Polish language is maintained in the Polish-American community and passed along from generation to generation. I do not agree with all the observations made here and the author’s English can be unclear at times, but it is most interesting indeed to see the situation of the Polish language in Buffalo from the perspective of those in "the old country".

Tasman, Dan. "A Guide to Buffalo English: Welcome to Buffalo, Where Uppers Aren’t Drugs and Texas Hots are Greek". Worldwide Web site: http://www.verinet.com/~tasman/h_guide_to_buffalo_english.html. Dan P. Tasman, 1991-1999 [N.B. This site has been removed from the Web; however, its contents were re-posted in 1996 on another site: http://www.geocities.com/libmary/bfloslang.htm]. There is reference to Wölck’s studies and a brief description of the Buffalo accent, but most importantly it is an invaluable reference list of terms used exclusively by Buffalonians or that have a certain significance to the region or to its speakers. The first part outlines general geographical descriptions: you wouldn’t say "the South Side" for "South Buffalo", but you would say "the West Side"; on the other hand, it is rare to hear "East Buffalo" for the "East Side", but of course you would hear "North Buffalo" and "South Buffalo". He also sorts out the confusion of the Tonawandas and the different WNY municipality designations that confuse people, such as in the Town of Amherst: "Snyder" (unincorporated hamlet often associated with Eggertsville which together make up the 14226 mailing district and Amherst School District), "Williamsville" (incorporated village on Main Street in the T of A; however, more liberally used to refer to the entire 14221 mailing district which covers the SE Town of Amherst and some of Clarence, as well as the sprawling Williamsville School District which stretches as far north as the Niagara County border), "Amherst" (referring to either the entire town or just the SW corner of it, i.e. 14226 mailing district mentioned with Snyer), etc. Other peculiarities mentioned are the "possessification" of business names (e.g. La Nova Pizzeria is commonly called "La Nova’s") and the use of the article "the" before area limited-access highway route numbers (e.g. "the 290", but "Route 20", which is not a limited-access highway). Then comes "The List", an amusing and valuable catalogue of WNY terms, including Mary on the half shell, a "display of a Virgin Mary statue under a partially buried, upright clawfoot bathtub or similar object. More common in blue collar eastern suburbs (Cheektowaga, Depew, Sloan)"; texas hots, "a style of hot dog known for its hot, spicy sauce. Texas hots originated in the kitchens of Buffalo's many Greek restaurants, not in Texas"; pogeying, "hanging off the bumper of a car and sliding with it along an ice-covered street. This term is mainly used in the Kensington neighborhood"; and the old familiar lawn fete, "an outdoor carnival held at a Roman Catholic church" where you might come across some chiavetta’s, beef on weck, splits of Visniak's pop, and perhaps some guys drinking pounders, "sixteen ounce (530 ml) bottles of Genesee Beer or Cream Ale", and if you’re lucky, for dessert you’ll get a soda.

Willis, Clodius. "Perception of Vowel Phonemes in Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada, and Buffalo, New York: An Application of Synthetic Vowel Categorization Tests to Dialectology". Journal of Speech and Hearing Research 15:2 (June 1972): 246-255. An interesting experiment determining differences between Buffalo speech and Fort Erie speech, this article is designed more for the true linguist than for the linguistic dilettante. Nevertheless, the description of the distinctive nature of each "dialect" despite the cities’ obvious proximity is worth reading; furthermore, the methodology of the experiment and the determination of certain linguistic factors aligns the Buffalo "dialect" with that of Rochester insofar as the affinities between the two Western New York cities further highlight the distance between the speech of Buffalo and that of Fort Erie and Southern Ontario.

Wölck, Wolfgang. "Commmunity Profiles: An alternative Approach to Informant Selection". International Journal of the Sociology of Language 9 (1976). Also in Linguistics: An International Review 177 (1976): 43-57.

----------. "Ethnolects: Between Bilingualism and Urban Dialect". Forthcoming in Li Wei, ed. Berlin-New York: Mouton De Gruyter. 20 years after the publication of "The Buffalo Ethnolects Experiment" (Carlock and Wölck, 1981), Wölck reviews the relevance and subsequent application of the term "ethnolect", first used to describe "the English of the descendants of immigrant families long after their original language is lost". In the last two decades, the city of Buffalo has seen a major loss of population and rapid dissolution of the old ethnic neighborhoods, as many of the one-time "ethnic" inhabitants of the City of Buffalo continue to move to the suburbs and to insert themselves in the greater American social and economic middle classes. Wölck explains that with this transformation, many of the ethnic markers of the speech of Buffalo’s old European immigrant communities have come to characterize the speech of the entire Greater Buffalo/WNY area, largely without reference to specific ethnic distinctions which once characterized Buffalo English. The ethnolect, according to Carlock and Wölck in 1981, described monolingual English speakers whose speech was affected by contact with an ethnic community but by no real contact with the immigrant language itself; Wölck’s more contemporary assessment of the ethnolect also recognizes its evolution into an "urban dialect", which has taken its place in mainstream speech patterns of metropolitan areas whose one-time immigrant and ethnic communities now characterize the entire makeup of largely American-born populations.

----------. "A Sociolilnguistic Survey of Bilingualism in Buffalo". Applied Contrastive Linguistics. Ed. Gerhard Nickel. Heidelberg: Groos, 1974.

----------. "Sounds of a City: Types and Characteristics of the Speech of Buffalo and Its Ethnic Groups". New York Folklore 10.3-4 (Summer-Fall 1984): 7-22. This is the most significant overview of Buffalo's speech to date from the principal exponent in the study of Buffalo English. Wölck divides the major sectors of the Buffalo linguistic communities in the following way:

A. English
A.1. Monolingual English spoken by Anglo-Saxons, Irish-Americans, older immigrant communities in general, and those who have lost any identity with an ethnic neighborhood, etc.
A.2. Native speakers of English who still have an association with an ethnic neighborhood or community or who have some contact with the immigrant language.
A.2.a. Those members of A.2. who still use or have some familiarity with the immigrant language.
A.2.b. Those members of A.2. who have no knowledge of or real contact with the immigrant language but who still resided in an ethnic neighborhood and/or associate largely with people from that same environment.
A.3. What Wölck refers to as "Creolized English", or Black English. He admits that there are so many differing degrees of Black English and that there are those who could be called "bilingual", i.e. with the ability to use differing registers of English depending on the situation (diglossia). This phenomenon warrants its own study and is not particular to Buffalo Black English.
B. Immigrant language
B.1. Immigrants who use both their native tongue and English with a relatively sound proficiency of both.
B.2. Immigrants who use their native tongue exclusively and who have very little knowledge of English.

The latter half of the article deals primarily with group A, native speakers of English, and more specifically A.1 and A.2, recognizing that what has been commonly labeled the "Buffalo accent" is that of Buffalo’s white native speaking population. Although published in 1984 (already 17 years later things are considerably different), many of the figures used in compiling information are from the 1970 census, for the 1980 census was not yet readily available. Aside from the minor changes that took place in the 1970s, the major sector little considered is that of the Hispanic/Latino community that in 1970 probably played a smaller role in the overall makeup of the city, but which by 1984 and certainly by now makes up a greater part of the city’s population and adds a new dimension to its linguistic character (not to mention the largest part of group B in Buffalo). Wölck outlines the most characteristic traits of the "Buffalo accent" and analyzes them on the basis of ethnicity, gender, education, and age. There is very little linguistic jargon in this essay and it seems to be aimed primarily at the non-linguist. There is an interesting (though crude) map illustrating the linguistic communities in Buffalo which from the perspective of the year 2001 shows how much has changed, although some of its designations even in 1984 (or 1970 for that matter) do not seem entirely accurate.





Prepared by Kevin Reynolds, a native of Buffalo, NY and a Ph.D. candidate in Italian Linguistics/Romance Philology and Instructor of Italian language at the University of Toronto. He can be reached at kevin.reynolds@utoronto.ca.


This document is Copyright 2001-2002 by Kevin B. Reynolds, all rights reserved.