Native New Yorker and film-maker sets out to chronicle the many accents of New York

The twang of a New York accent is familiar to many around the world through Hollywood films. But with many believing it is now in decline, one woman is on a quest to record its full variety for posterity.

Heather Quinlan, a native New Yorker and film-maker, is preparing her first documentary– If These Knishes Could Talk. The film, part comedic banter and part serious discussion, will not only bring a taste of the NY accent to audiences, but also examine how it’s changed as the city has changed.

“I have one grandfather who was a speech teacher and another grandfather who was a truck driver, and both are New Yorkers. And I feel like this film kind of bridges the gap between those two worlds a little bit,” Quinlan explains.

“It’s a bit of a way of honouring them – I miss hearing their accents. So it’s sort of a way of preserving what I can of that speech before it goes away completely.”

Linguists for decades struggled with the question of whether a city’s accent could be defined, but Prof William Labov, who is the leading sociolinguist on New York dialects, has done just that. According to Prof Labov, the NY accent originates from London.