Katrina altering landscape of language, too

NEW ORLEANS – In this city of so many linguistic influences, Hurricane Katrina is the latest to reshape the colorful local tongue.

You hear it all over town. For instance: At a supermarket, where two friends were reunited like thousands of others after exile in whatever city Katrina blew them to.

“How’s ya’ house?” Walter Thompson inquired cautiously of buddy Mark Smith.

Thompson was speaking what’s become the new, oft-repeated greeting in this city of wrecked homes and dislocated people.

“How’s ya’ house?” has replaced the more cheerful “Where y’at?” as the unofficial salutation.

The latest conversation starter is laden with the deep love residents hold for their houses, many of them more than a century old and built in styles unique to the area – and many lost to the hurricane and flooding. (Thompson and Smith were lucky; neither had extensive damage.)

It’s also appropriate for a city rich with distinct colloquialisms.

Around here, people go to the market to “make groceries,” not buy them.

They go “by your house,” instead of to it.

Once they get there, they may decide to “stay over.”

New arrivals coming to New Orleans to join in the rebuilding may spice this linguistic recipe with new flavors.

“One thing about the dialect of New Orleans is it has the characteristics of other urban areas that developed by immigration,” said Connie Eble, a New Orleans native and professor of English at the University of North Carolina.

When many locals have questions, they “ax” them.

They have “kitchen zinks.” They put “earl” in the engines of their cars.

Though “Y’ats’ take the way they talk for granted, they still recognize that it’s distinctive, said Benny Grunch, whose CD, “The 12 Yats of Christmas,” is a perennial hit locally.

“It’s not just the accent, it’s the way we talk,” Grunch said. “Don’t nobody here say, ‘Big Easy.’ Don’t nobody say ‘New Orleens’ either. We say ‘Nu Orlans.’ And don’t nobody say ‘beignets.’ That’s touristy. You just say French Market doughnuts.”


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