‘The Jersey Shore’ & Jersey Accents

While in a hotel room the other night, I watched a few episodes of MTV’s The Jersey Shore.  For those living on Mars these past two years, the show follows a group of young ‘Jersey’ layabouts during a raucous summer on the titular coastline.  If ‘The Decline and Fall of the American Empire’ is ever written, this show warrants its own chapter.

By the way, Americans might note an intentional error in the above paragraph: the ‘Jerseyites’ in ‘The Jersey Shore’ are mostly not from New Jersey.  Three out of eight of the original cast members are in fact from Staten Island, a working-class borough of New York City.  Hence, their accents are more traditional New York than contemporary Jersey, exemplified by JS cast member Vinny Guadagnino:

Note Guadagnino’s non-rhotic accent, particularly repeated r-less pronunciations of ‘hair’ (as hɛ:).

Many New Jersey residents take offense to ‘The Jersey Shore,’ particularly as it passes off young New Yorkers as representatives of Jersey culture.  And much of this, I believe, is a matter of speech.

Some New Jersey accents indeed fall into the spectrum of New York City metropolitan English.  However, as I’ve said here before, my impression is that the ‘New York City-accented’ part of New Jersey doesn’t extend much further west than Paterson and much further South than Edison.  And as strongholds of non-rhoticity like Hoboken and Jersey City are becoming increasingly attractive to affluent commuters, such accents are perhaps getting rarer by the day.

So is it possible that the producers of the show hand-picked cast members with accents that conform to stereotypes?  Beyond the three Staten Islanders, the remaining males on the show include a Bronx native and a Rhode Islander (the non-rhotic RI accent is not entirely dissimilar from traditional New York).  Some are perhaps right to take offense; there is only one Jersey accent in the bunch.

In reality, of course, the state has a wonderful variety of accents.  There is the NYC-influenced accent mentioned above, of course.  Accents in the Northwest part of the state, meanwhile, are much more strongly ‘Northern’-sounding (I’ve noted a monopthongal /o/ in GOAT for some speakers), while accents in the rural Pine Barrens almost sound slightly Southern.  So it’s best not to reach conclusions based on what one sees on TV.

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About Ben Trawick-Smith

Ben Trawick-Smith launched his dialect fascination while working in theatre. He has worked as an actor, playwright, director, critic and dialect coach. Other passions include linguistics, urban development, philosophy and film.
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26 Responses to ‘The Jersey Shore’ & Jersey Accents

  1. lan says:

    Interesting. I didn’t know they were mostly not New Jerseyites. Do New Yorkers say “the shore,” “the shoreline,” “the coast,” “the beach,” or “the ocean”?

    Gore Vidal was a few years too early to mention “The Jersey Shore” in his The Decline and Fall of the American Empire (which, of course, isn’t really a history like the Roman one).

    • Charles Sullivan says:

      New Yorkers say ‘the shore’ if it’s the jersey Shore. The say ‘the beach’ if it “Rockaway Beach,”……

    • trawicks says:

      Very unbookish of me, but I had no idea Gore Vidal already wrote that book!

    • Tom says:

      In the South Jersey/Philly area, it’s definitely “the shore”, or, more specifically, “down the shore”.

      Having been brought up in South Jersey (about a half hour east of Philly), I was certainly struck by the abundance of New York-ish accents when I went to Rutgers in New Brunswick, NJ (in the center of the state). Very few students were from the South.

      Depending on which town you visit along the Jersey shore, you encounter strikingly different numbers of speakers with North Jersey/New York accents. I didn’t hear them that much in Ocean City, for example, but I heard them a lot in Seaside Heights. (It’s been a while since I’ve spent any significant time “down the shore”.)

      And no, I’ve never watched that show!

  2. Marc Leavitt says:

    “Jersey Shore” is very popular with some viewers, but the picture it conjures of NJ (where I live) is one more example of the bad rap NJ has had forever. Th state has three major accent areas, conveniently divided for the most part, into north, central and south.
    As one would expect, the NYC accent spills over into the north and the Philadelphia accent in the south; the center? Some aspects of both. Non-rhoticity shows up in words like corner, where the first r is not voiced, but the last r is rhotic, in central NJ – cawner. In the north, it sounds more like cawnuh. There are dialect pockets all over the state which do not fit most of the stereotypes ginned up by the north, central, south paradigm.

    • Charles Sullivan says:

      From what i hear the most southern part of NJ is borderline ‘southern’ accent. the southernmost tip of NJ is on the same latitude as DC (farther south than Baltimore), and then there’s the Delaware accent (which i don’t really know well).

      • trawicks says:

        Delaware strikes me as pretty close to Baltimore and Philly, accent wise. Once you get to the mid-Atlantic, you do encounter some glide deletion, although it’s much more limited in scope than in the South.

      • Josh McNeill says:

        I’m actually from that southern most tip (quite literally). Since moving away from NJ, I’ve had a couple people ask me if I’m from the south while I had never thought of my speech as southern in the slightest, nor that of my 20-30s peers. BUT, my grandmother and her siblings (all lifelong residents) had a clear enough southern tinge that I never noticed the difference between their speech and my grandfather’s from Alabama.

        An aside, Jersey Shore may not be representative of locals but it’s not much more extreme than the behavior of the plethora of rich New Yorkers and Philadelphians that would visit my tourist town every summer to party at the shore.

    • David says:

      Actually, those people in “Central Jersey” (as we call central NJ here in the Garden State) who exhibit non-rhoticity to any extent moved to central New Jersey from either New York City or Hudson County in northern NJ (the New Jersey stronghold of the New York City accent, aka Brooklynese) or as-rhotic-as-non-rhotic (if not slightly more so) Newark (which is located North Jersey’s otherwise-entirely Essex County. And that’s true of the people who live in most areas of North Jersey (themselves rhotic) who exhibit non-rhoticity. (The non-rhoticity in question being the New York City accent, that is.)

      Plus, said transplanted New Yorkers, Hudson County residents and even Newarkers living in Central Jersey/rhotic parts of North Jersey (the vast majority of the latter region) might also pronounce “corner” either with the rhoticity in reverse of how you described it or (especially in the case of Newarkers) entirely rhotic just like the natives of the rhotic areas of the state.

      So, really, accents vary within regions of New Jersey–certainly North and Central Jersey. Central and most of North Jersey, Newark (as opposed to the rest of Essex County), Hudson County–where Jersey City and Hoboken are located (literally the same accent as NYC), and South Jersey (literally the Philadelphia accent, also heard in the central NJ county of Mercer, a suburb of both NYC and Philly, closer proximity to the latter nothwithstanding) are the more accurate divisions of New Jersey accents.

      • David says:

        I meant, “…Newark (which is located in otherwise-entirely rhotic Essex County)…”.

      • David says:

        The above comment should read, “Central and most of North Jersey, and to a certain extent, the (at least somewhat rhotic) North Jersey community of Newark (as opposed to the rest of Essex County) and even South Jersey (literally the Philadelphia accent, also heard in the central NJ county of Mercer (a suburb of both NYC and Philly, closer proximity to the latter notwithstanding) are the more accurate divisions of the New Jersey dialect.)

  3. Rebecca Anderson says:

    One of my roommates has a friend from northwestern New Jersey. She sounds very “Northern” indeed. This is even more the case with my roommate from the Scranton area in northeastern Pennsylvania which borders northwestern New Jersey. She could probably pass as a Chicagoan. She once pointed to pieces of pineapple on a plate in our kitchen and said that her friend “caught the fruit”. In my head there was a wild pineapple with legs hopping around in a forest and her friend hiding in the shadows, waiting for it to fall into his cleverly disguised hole in the forest floor. Maybe you guys can guess what she really said :)

    • trawicks says:

      Scranton can sound very upper-midwestern. I remember having a classmate from there my freshman year in college, and speculating that she might be from Minnesota! (I was not very aware of regional speech differences then). According to William Labov, the area partially participates in the Northern Cities shift, so it’s not surprising there is a bit of a Chicago-like accent in Scranton.

    • ella says:

      haha I had to repeat that aloud in my (probably terrible) fake NJ accent to catch that one.

  4. IVV says:

    I think I mentioned that once a coworker from California had to speak “Joizey” for a moment to be understood by her colleagues at our New Jersey jobs. It was rather embarrassing all around.

    (It involved the Don/Dawn merger.)

  5. Sooryan FM says:

    What a boring show.

  6. Brandon levers says:

    I’m from the jersey shore, born and raised on the mainland of Seaside (where the show “jersey shore” is filmed) yes most people here take offense to the show because its the exact opposite of the way we speak/act “locals” (people who live along the NJ coast line particularly in ocean county call them selves) do in fact have their own accent next to NYC/north jersey and “south jersey/Philly area” it is much more relaxed an infact slightly southern sounding compared to the others. I still near seaside but work in Red Bank (40 miles north) and my coworkers often mock my accent that I didn’t think was that different. Also we don’t say “the shore” unless we’re explaining to someone where from I went to school in manhattan and when people would ask where I’m from I’d say “new jersey.” They’d respond “you don’t sound like your from joisey” I’m from seaside. “Ohhhh DAH shora!! You fist pump!?” No. I don’t.

    • David says:

      Now that you mentioned it, the South Jersey/Philly accent itself has an element or two of the Southern accent.

    • David says:

      THAT’S funny; the Philly accent (which the South Jersey accent really is) ITSELF sounded Southern *the last time* that I **checked**. In fact, the last time that I was in Philadelphia, PA itself this past spring.

  7. David says:

    Plus, there are (actually, *were*, since the show had been off the air for a few months at the time of this posting) *two* people on “Jersey Shore” (not “The Jersey Shore” [the title of the show, that is] with rhotic accents, the other such accent being a lower (that is, southern part of) Upstate New York accent. The “Jersey Shore” housemate with that accent is Nicole Polizzi, who grew up just outside of the New York City exurb of Poughkeepsie (pronounced “po-KIP-see”), NY.

  8. Bobby says:

    Im from salem county (southwestern nj ) an some of us have slightly southern accents

  9. Bobby says:

    And also countries longest running weekly rodeo

  10. How about Atlantic City accent. Is it more like the one in Philly?

  11. Alessio Ventura says:

    The north-jersey accent is definitely still present and always will be, even with the yuppie invasion of Hoboken. Those “Jerseyans” who are offended by the representation of NJ speakers on “Jersey Shore” have probably never been north of the Driscoll Bridge. All of my relatives speak like they just came off the set of “The Sopranos”, and most of them were born and raised in Essex or Hudson counties, a few from Brooklyn, and of ourse we all landed here in NJ from Italy.

    So really, NJ accents are a mix of NY and Phla slangs, but also include dialects from villages in Italy, as there were many Ialian immigrants who came directly to Port Newark or Ellis Island. So even though some of the caset from Jersey Shore is from Staten Island, they have a dialect reflective of NJ slang depending on where you are from.

    Those of you in NJ who never heard these slangs from your fellow Jerseyans must have been sleeping for a long time.

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