Sometimes, it’s nice to laugh at yourself.

I grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and the local dialect has long been a source of fascination for me. My grandmother’s linguistic idiosyncrasies, from “heyna” to “up the line,” were always a curiosity and sometimes an embarrassment (I thought green peppers were “mangoes” until I went to college, and even then one could still find a “mangoes” sign above the green peppers at a South Scranton supermarket.)

Thus, I was greatly amused when a friend sent me the link for “Heynabonics” on YouTube. According to an article in the Times Leader, the video was created by Chris O’Donnell. It has received nearly 90,000 hits as of this writing.

Some people get upset by teasing about the local dialect. I revel in it. The NEPA dialect is no more insulting than that of Philadelphia, Boston, New York or dozens of other places. Instead, it’s a sign of character.

It’s a sign of history. When the local newspaper carries a headline about officials who “sprag” construction, as it did a few years back, the writers themselves may not realize that the word is a largely local one hearkening back to the wooden planks that miners would use as friction brakes on a coal car.

It’s also a sign of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s ethnic heritage, with words and accents deriving from a blend of the Polish, Irish and Italian immigrants who built Scranton and surrounding communities. For example “three” becomes “tree” thanks to the influence of Polish and other Slavic immigrants, according to an article on answers.com.

For a more comprehensive listing, try the Coalspeak Dictionary over at coalregion.com.

As someone who grew up playing in the “column banks” (actually “culm banks”) even though my grandma said I “dursn’t” (dare not) do such a thing, it takes me back. Like many dialects, this one is fading and a part of me will be very sad to see it go.

(Edit: Heh, I just realized that my next door neighbor, John Puskar-Pasciewicz is actually in the video. He’s the one doodling in class, which is ironic given that his wife, Margaret, is a college professor.)

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This blog is maintained by Dr. Matthew M. Reavy as a service to journalism students at the University of Scranton.



November 2007
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