Katrina Adds to Patois of 'Nu Orlans'

By Mary Foster
Associated Press
Saturday, November 12, 2005

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 has 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."

People are likely to ask "How's your mom an' them?" to inquire about family.

"Only now, that's probably 'Where's your mom an' them?' " Thompson quipped.

And in the Big Easy, it's not only the saying itself that piques visitors' interest. It's also the way it is spoken.

Sure, there's a touch of the South, but the New Orleans accent tends to be less Scarlett O'Hara and more Godfather.

That's probably because of the numerous linguistic influences. Founded by the French, New Orleans also was ruled by the Spanish. Along the way, the Cajuns came through with a tongue far from today's Parisian version. Add immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Italy and England, and slaves who spoke many African languages, and you have ingredients as varied as a pot of gumbo.

The city's "y'at" dialect, in fact, sounds similar to one traditionally heard in Brooklyn, N.Y., with its "dem," "dese" and "dose." For example, if you win praise from a friend, you're likely to hear "Dere ya' go!"

"It's not just the accent, it's the way we talk," said Benny Grunch, whose album "The 12 Yats of Christmas" is a local hit. "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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