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What is a Yat

The characters Yat refers to a unique collection of dialects of English spoken in New Orleans, Louisiana. The term also refers to those people who speak with a Yat accent. The name comes from the common use amongst said people of the greeting, "Where y'at?" (Where you at?), which is a way of asking, "How are you?" The Yat dialect sounds similar to that of Brooklyn, New York, natives, with influences from Louisiana Creole French and Southern American English, particularly Older Southern American English. While the term Yat is usually reserved specifically for the strongest varieties of the New Orleans dialect within the city, the term often refers specifically to speakers of Yat, outside of the city proper, and around the rest of Louisiana.

The origins of the accent are described in A. J. Liebling's book, The Earl of Louisiana, in a passage that was used as a foreword to John Kennedy Toole's well-known posthumous novel about New Orleans, A Confederacy of Dunces:"There is a New Orleans city accent . . . associated with downtown New Orleans, particularly with the German and Irish Third Ward, that is hard to distinguish from the accent of Hoboken, Jersey City, and Astoria, Long Island, where the Al Smith inflection, extinct in Manhattan, has taken refuge. The reason, as you might expect, is that the same stocks that brought the accent to Manhattan imposed it on New Orleans."

The quote above is a little dated, because large parts of the Third Ward of New Orleans are no longer German and Irish, but now African-American, due to white flight, as with most of the city of New Orleans. But with white flight the accent was taken to the suburbs.

Historically, the city of New Orleans was home to people of French and Spanish heritage, as well as those of African heritage, which led to the creation of the Louisiana Creole language. The city came under U.S. rule in the Louisiana Purchase, and over the course of the 19th century, the dominant language of New Orleans gradually became non-rhotic English. An influx of Irish, Italian - particularly Sicilian - and German immigrants during the 19th century, along with the city's geographic isolation, led to the creation of a new local dialect.

A misconception in other parts of the US has it that the local dialect of New Orleans is Cajun. The city's cultural and linguistic traditions are distinct from that of the predominantly rural Acadiana, an area spanning across South Louisiana. While there has been an influx of Cajuns into the city since the oil boom of the later 20th century and while there are some similarities due to shared roots, Cajun culture has had relatively little influence upon Creole and thus Yat culture. The confusion of Cajun culture with the Creole culture is largely due to the confusion of these French cultures by the tourism and entertainment industries; sometimes deliberately as "Cajun" was discovered to be a potentially lucrative marketing term.

A Yat accent is considered an identity marker of a person born and raised in the greater New Orleans area. Speakers with a New Orleans accent often find a sense of pride in having a local accent. When locals meet other locals with a noticeable accent, it is often paired by the seemingly personal questions of "What school [i.e. high school] did you go to?" and "Are you Catholic?"

This dialect is closely associated with the white population of the New Orleans metropolitan area. This distinctive accent is dying out generation by generation in the city as white flight to the suburbs in the surrounding parishes has led to the city becoming more African-American.



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