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.