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WASHINGTON — You know a native New Yorker when you hear one, but what about someone who grew up in D.C.?
Researchers say the city does have its own language, and a study of it is ongoing.
D.C. native and WTOP commentator Clinton Yates says there are three unique words in particular that people who grew up in the city use.
The first is “bama,” a name for a person who is unstylish or unsophisticated.
“The word ‘jont,’ which means pretty much anything you want it to — it’s a catchall word. And then ‘cised,’ which means ‘excited.’ It’s more synonymous with the word ‘psyched,'” said Yates.
Thursday night at The Coupe, Yates moderated a panel discussion called “D.C. Speak: How Washingtonians Talk.”
It was presented by the Humanities Council of Washington, D.C. as part of its “Humanitini” program series.
“It’s also about how we pronounce words,” said panelist Dr. Natalie Schilling. “So, do you say ‘Muralind’ or Maryland? That’s a big indicator.”
She leads the Language and Communications in Washington, D.C. research project at Georgetown University, a project that has continued since 2006.
“Every way of talking, every standard dialect, every non-standard dialect, every vernacular, every use of slang — all of this is valid language, despite often having some kind of negative connotations,” Schilling said.
She says language has a lot to do with people’s identity.
“It’s a very very important part of who we are. Just like how we look, how we dress, how we talk is just a big part. It’s your family; it’s your culture; it’s your people; it’s your neighborhood,” said Schilling.
Georgetown doctoral student Minnie Annan, project coordinator of the LCDC, says in D.C., the high school you attend is part of who you are, and that’s why language even differs from school to school.
“When I was talking to some kids, it’s really about, ‘Oh, this is how we talk at my high school.’
“I think with gentrification, with the transient nature of D.C., I think that being rooted in D.C. and from D.C. is really, really important to Washingtonians. And I think language is one thing that they use to show that. To show it’s important,” Annan added.
“It’s not broken English. It’s not bad English. It’s just different,” Annan said.
“Let’s say I go to the grocery store and some girl says, ‘Y’all you trippin.’ You need to give me my change.’ That’s a different reaction than ‘Excuse me, I think you gave me the wrong amount back.’ I think that that’s one of the reasons why all this work is important, is because understanding people is critical to being able to get along,” says Yates, who was born in the 1980s and grew up in the ’90s.
“Although it was rooted in black culture, in terms of the way the D.C. area worked, this (language) was not something that was specifically limited to black kids or black adults, not by any stretch of the imagination. That’s what made it so interesting, is that you’d go to the mall, or you’d go to a high school game, you’d go to anything like that, and you could see how much it had really permeated all of society. You go to Gaithersburg High School, you go to Bowie, you go to, I don’t know, Yorktown. It didn’t really matter what your socio-economic group was per se. If you were cool on a certain level you talked a certain way,” said Yates.
Get more information about Schilling and the LCDC project here.