Pittsburgh Dialect

Beverly Flanigan flanigan at OAK.CATS.OHIOU.EDU
Thu Oct 19 16:51:36 UTC 2000

At 11:15 AM 10/19/00 -0400, you wrote:
>>Do Pittsburghers also use "mamaw" and "papaw" for grandmother and
>>grandfather?  These are common in SE Ohio (in all age groups), and I'm
>>curious to know how far east/northeast they go.
>I don't recall hearing them. 'Grandpa' and 'grandma' are common, as is 'pap'.
>Are 'mamaw' and 'papaw' used in all contexts? They sound like infantilisms
>to me. I recall similar words used by adults in my family in Detroit,
>1950's -- approx. 'mammaw', 'bappaw' (I may not remember precisely) -- but
>these were jocular imitations of baby-talk and not used seriously. The
>corresponding word for 'father' would have been (not 'dad', 'pop', 'papa',
>or even 'daddy') something like 'dah-dah'.
A bit more on these terms:  Yes, they are used in all contexts, and
completely without self-consciousness or register shifting.  They also
appear in obituary memorial notices, like one I clipped a few years
ago:  "In loving memory of Papaw, who died ...."  The terms are not "baby
talk," nor do informants feel foolish when they cite them in an interview
format.  BTW, some change the pronunciation slightly (and spelling,
presumably, though I've never seen the variant written) when they refer to
great-grandparents:  [maemaw] (i.e., ash plus backward C) becomes [mawmaw]
(both backward Cs); and the same goes for "papaw."  Has anyone else found
this distinction?

>>"Needs fixed/cleaned/done" is common in southern Ohio but also
>>stretches westward at least to Kansas; see several articles on related
>>forms in _American Speech_.
>I've seen something to this effect. I also encountered the usage myself in
>Columbus OH (where I once lived) -- but not with anything like the
>prevalence or full acceptance which I've observed in Pittsburgh.
>A quick Web search suggests currency throughout most of southern and
>western PA and contiguous parts of OH, WV, MD. I saw an item from York PA
>stating that the usage is common there (although the Pittsburgh plural
>pronoun "you-uns" is less common there than the eastern "youse").
>This usage is also employed in Scotland and in Ulster, apparently.
>I also note that in elliptical writing -- brief notes, classified ads, etc.
>-- this usage is very widespread: I find this on the Web at a quick glance
>in material from TX, OK, FL, OR, IN, IA, etc. Here I'm talking about
>something like: "Car for sale. Good condition. Needs cleaned." Or: "School
>Inspection Report: ... [many brief items] ... Tile needs replaced. ...
>[More items] ... Storage area needs cleaned. ..." This is different from
>free use in normal conversation, of course -- still I am a little surprised.
This "elliptical" writing reflects real speech; there is no print vs.
speech distinction here, or westward, as far as I know.  If people think
the form is "hillbilly" or uneducated, they may switch for your (or another
listener's) benefit, of course.

>Somebody inquired on another list (a year ago) about the comparable
>construction with 'like', e.g., "the baby likes held", "the cat likes
>petted". I did a quick poll among Pittsburghers, with inconclusive
>'borderline' results: three responses like "No way; unacceptable!", three
>responses like "Well, I've heard it occasionally; I guess it's OK." The
>construction with 'like' must be uncommon; I'm not sure that I've ever
>heard it, and I can't find it in a brief Web search.
>-- Doug Wilson

Again, see the articles done over several years by Tom Murray and Beth
Simon, on "needs/wants/likes + past participle."  I've collected a lot of
data on these forms too, and they (esp. the first) are widespread
throughout Ohio.  Peter Trudgill and others have documented their use in
the British Isles.

Beverly Olson Flanigan         Department of Linguistics
Ohio University                     Athens, OH  45701
Ph.: (740) 593-4568              Fax: (740) 593-2967

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