May 04, 2005

Queens, but

Responding to recent posts on phrase-final particles like eh, ne, yo and hey, Cameron Majidi wrote in with something new to me: English dialects in parts of New York City where this role is played by but.

I've never heard the Broolynese hey that you find attested in Krazy Kat, but there is a similar usage I've heard among working class white New Yorkers, not from Brooklyn, but from Queens. In certain neighborhoods of Queens there is a distinctive accent that also preserves some weird usages that you don't normally run into anywhere else. I'm thinking primarily of places like Ridgewood and Maspeth. One of the characteristics of that accent is a sentence-final "but."

As in: "You can't park over by the pump, but." (A "pump" in this context is what most people call a fire hydrant - in places like Ridgewood you'll sometimes hear the longer form, "johnny pump".)

I've often compared this sentence-final "but" to the "what" that you find in representations of upper-class English speech from the early 20th century (cf. Wodehouse, etc.) But the "but" is generally not voiced to sound anything like a question. It's a very short syllable, almost a grunt, and the final /t/ tends to vanish into a glottal stop.

"I gotta stop off, pick up some breakfix, but."

Posted by Mark Liberman at May 4, 2005 12:30 PM