... And it is also a helluva time to learn an authentic New York accent. Why, you may ask? Because there is such a broad range of what constitutes a "New York" sound! While your first instinct may be to look at the different boroughs for divisions in sound, in fact the New York accent is most distinct along racial, ethnic, class, and increasingly generational lines. So a Jewish grandmother in Park Slope may sound decidedly distinct from her young black neighbor born and raised just down the road in Flatbush. Yet they both may have what we would call a "New York accent".
Like Chicago, the New York accent is a veritable combination of its immigrants -- Irish, Italians, Eastern Europeans, Jews, Caribbeans, Latinos, Asians, not to mention the northern migration of African Americans during the late 19th & 20th centuries.
So defining this accent is hard -- really hard. But it's one of those accents that once you've mastered it is incredibly fun to do. Sadly, the accent's features tend to be much softer in the younger generation. Still, that classic New York sound can still be heard throughout the city on a daily basis.
So, without further ado, a few tips to mastering a true New York accent:
1. Get Acquainted With Your Jaw: The New York accent is certainly not a shy one, so you won't come across a stiff upper lip, as in Standard British, or lips spread into a smile, as in many Midwestern accents. Instead, New Yorkers let the sounds collect in and be propelled by their lower jaw. So allow yourself to find the sounds in this area.
2. Think: Rounded. While the General American accent tends to make sounds in a wide and open mouth position, New York has to go and be all New York by doing the opposite. So don't be afraid of a bit of lip rounding on words such as water, talk, taught, all, and loss.
3. But then again ... Don't think rounded! Yet again bucking trend, New Yorkers go the opposite way on the rounded GenAm sound "or", as in orange or horrible. In this case, allow your mouth to open wide in an AH as in FATHER in order to pronounce the first syllable in those. Note: this doesn't necessarily apply in pronouncing the place "New York". I know, this is hard.
4. Rs do exist ... until they don't. The classic stereotype is that New Yorkers don't pronounce their Rs. However, in contemporary speakers, Rs typically will be pronounced in words such as bird, heard, and work. However, many Rs, particularly at the ends of words, do drop off, as in mother and water.
5. Punch Everything + A Sense of Urgency is Your Friend: Over 8 million people live in New York City, and the daily fight for space can get daunting. After being in New York for a few months, I too felt myself becoming more aggressive in order to claim my own territory. Allow this sense to transfer into the rhythm & intonation of the accent, as you punch and clip the words in order to get your point across. However, important to remember that while a New Yorker may sound tough, I've found the city to be made up of incredibly real and complex humans.
There are many other 'rules' that I haven't begun to touch on here, not to mention further specificity in Jewish vs. Italian vs. African American vs. Latino New York and beyond! But the basics tend to spread throughout the five boroughs. So get to practicing! And as always, happy voicing :)
For more information about accents & dialects, check out ...
Chicago Accent 101
The General American Accent ... Taught by a real, live, general American!
The Tricky Bits: American Accent 2.0
Hints to Mastering Any Accent
4 "Fs" of Accent Work: Find, Figure, Focus, and Freedom