In Bergen County, New Jersey, you feel about as culturally far from the cast of Jersey Shore as one can get. The accents are relatively neutral, in fact, almost no one I have ever met from this state speaks as if they should be partying at the beach with Snooki on a regular basis. However, the rest of the country often expects that people from New Jersey should speak with the heavy, comical, and obnoxious accent they’ve come to associate the state with from television. The expected New Jersey accent and dialect is supposedly a mix of the typical New York City gruffness and that of the idiotic partier still too hungover to properly string together a sentence. While I will concede that many New Jersey residents tend to speak in a hurried, concise way, I do not think that ‘Jersey Shore speak’ has found its way into our dialect at all. People’s expectations about what the New Jersey speaker should sound like—not what they actually sound like—have influenced the entire country’s perception about the state, stigmatizing it and its residents.
There is not a true dialect of English that one could attribute to the Garden State. We have borrowed from surrounding states and cultures. It is not entirely our own. However, people have neglected this, attributing pre-existing negative feelings about the state to something that is not even necessarily real. The New Jersey accent that so many claim to hate, frankly, is not as common as reality TV would lead you to believe. People have fabricated and blown the Jersey accent completely out of proportion. In reality, what they so strongly affiliate with what some to believe to be the worst state is simply a matter of fiction. There is no true accent that is uniquely New Jersey. It is borrowed from New York, Pennsylvania, and other neighboring states. We are a linguistic melting pot, not the waste dump that popular culture would lead people to believe.
Northern New Jersey (the area that I am from) is a mix of the Hudson Valley and New York City dialects. The rest of the state has Pennsylvania German-English dominating its manner of speaking. These dialects are not unique to New Jersey, in fact, they span several states, including New York, Pennsylvania, as well as others. There is no strict “New Jersey” dialect that can be identified as a larger trend. We speak in a similar fashion to those in states around us, yet, no one ever mocks the way someone from upstate New York or Pennsylvania speaks. New Jersey is considered to be a wasteland geographically and linguistically, and people allow their preconceived notions regarding these things to influence what they hear and how they interact with New Jersey residents.
The expected New Jersey accent is tainted by partiers on the shoreline and our ties to the mob. We “aks” (or ax) you a question. We speak in a rude manner that would suggest that we really don’t care about the person we’re talking to. We’re in a hurry. We’re short and to the point. We don’t beat around the bush. We are direct. We are loud. Yet, we are also air headed, say “like” too frequently, and are all around unpleasant to speak to. To outsiders, particularly those who already have a low tolerance for the Garden State, this variety of American English can be very difficult to listen to, which is what makes it so fitting for a state as ‘awful’ as New Jersey.
The cultural stigma against the Jersey accent is so pervasive that even state residents find themselves questioning whether or not they speak with an accent, and are ashamed if they believe that they do. In New Jersey, its more difficult to tie language to identity. Upon learning where I’m from, many people initially react by exclaiming, “Oh, but you certainly don’t sound like you’re from New Jersey!” I do, in fact, sound like I’m from New Jersey. I have lived in the state my entire life. I speak like its residents. I do not, however, speak like people’s stereotypical New Jersey resident, and therein lies the problem. If I don’t ‘sound Jersey enough,’ how else can I tie my identity to my home? New Yorkers are proud of the way they speak, as are most people from areas of strong and clear dialect.
There are certainly pockets of populations who have a more distinct accent. These people tend to be very proud of their state and their accent. A heavy ‘Jersey’ accent is also usually correlated to a different socioeconomic status. These people tend to be working class individuals who have remained in the same geographic region for a long time. Dialects can emerge from geographic and social isolation. These groups of people with heavier accents are outliers and do not represent the entire state. There is great linguistic variance throughout New Jersey, and there is no way to pinpoint exactly one way in which all residents speak.
People don’t like New Jersey. Their dislike causes them to perceive that hate everything about the state: its geography, traffic, people, and manner of speaking. The “Jersey Accent” is a scapegoat. Very few residents actually speak in the way that people from outside the state expect them to. Pop culture and popular thought have misled the population about New Jersey. The Jersey Shore cast isn’t even from New Jersey, they’re Long Islanders who just like to party at our beaches. People are so vehement in their expectations about what a resident of the Garden State should and should not be like, they feel compelled to overlook actual fact. If you visit New Jersey, there will hardly be any noticeable speech pattern that is out of the ordinary. People speak like the residents of surrounding states, with few exceptions. Anyone who says otherwise? Fuhgetaboutit.