What’s it like to live in Pittsburgh and why do the natives “talk funny?” Barbara Johnstone, a Rhetoric and Linguistics professor at Carnegie Mellon University, explains the urban dialect that became reshaped in the late 20th century, words of local identity, and what it’s like to be a Pittsburgher among other key features in Oxford Studies in Social Linguistics’ Speaking Pittsburghese: The Story of a Dialect (Oxford University Press, 2013).
Speaking Pittsburghese is a delightful mix of nostalgia, how several regional terms originated (“yinz,” “n’at,” “reddin’ up,” etc.), and outlining the decades-long rich culture of a large city with a small-town aura, its dialect one of the most recognized in the United States today. Some people still form the opinion of Pittsburghese as being raw and uneducated, while others view it as a cool, hip, and gritty.
While she had previously written many articles on Pittsburghese, Johnstone actually spent 12 years putting together this book, which included conducting interviews with over 200 people in order to decipher how local people actually spoke.
The Pittsburghese dialect became common after World War II by steel workers and labor unions considered not only earning good wages, but also viewed as courageous. The term was first printed in 1967, and even well-educated Pittsburghers embrace the dialect.
Increased interest in cultural elements of Pittsburgh’s past eras – including its language – began after the steel industry began to collapse in the 1980‘s when began identifying with local sports teams and heightened their connections with other Pittsburghers. Over three decades later, curiosity to learn how to speak like a local remains intact.
For visitors who are lost on the art of what we are saying in this part of America, I recommend Speaking Pittsburghese as a great starting point to familiarize themselves with many terms not found anywhere else. However, if you need a crash course, may I suggest Pittsburghese.com?