Harrison Apple and Dani Stuchel, co-organizers of the Pittsburgh Queer History Project (PQHP), will present the early stages of their collaborative research in Linguistics and Queer Cultural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Their presentation will demonstrate how the most intensive studies of the regional dialect “Pittsburgh English” also called “Pittsburghese” has been overdetermined by assumptions about the typical speaker (white, blue-collor, heterosexual), and may benefit from an extended study of the dialect in the Pittsburgh Queer History Project's archive of nightclub videos.
Since the early 1980s, “Pittsburgh English” has been marketed by the City as a part of broader cultural revitalization projects (including moralistic and racist policing of the city) under the name “Renaissance II.” Dr. Barbara Johnstone of the Carnegie Mellon University Department of English and Rhetoric refers to “Pittsburghese” as an “enregistered” variation which can be used to signify authenticity, localness, and nativism. However the only academic book-length investigation of “Pittsburgh English” Yinz: Speaking Pittsburghese openly describes the typical speaker as a white heterosexual working-class Pittsburgher, calling upon the image of a white male steelworker.
This atavistic image of assumed white heterosexual and gender normative working men and women has been the background to the branding of Pittsburgh English and the city itself. The local dialect was made iconic in 1982 when Sam McCool published the first edition of “How to Talk Like a Pittsburgher” through Goodwill Press. This text circulated unique features including the plural second person pronoun “Yinz” (sometimes Younz), the pronunciation of Dahn-tahn for “Downtown,” Worsh for “wash,” and the removal of infinitives for verbs, as in “the car needs worshed.”
Given the openness from Johnstone that her “archive” does not provide adequate resources to include non-normative subjects, we have elected to use the Pittsburgh Queer History Project Archives as a tool for initial investigation of Pittsburgh English used in after-hours queer night clubs. The archive’s video collection holds recordings of hundreds of queer Pittsburghers using the same features of Pittsburgh English for vastly different economies. Please join us for a brief discussion of Pittsburgh English, a screening of examples from the PQHP Archive, and a Q&A on how to proceed.