San Francisco has an accent, but itsa fading away

SF Muni's F car. LA Observed photo.

It wasn't until I was in the Army (my gap year before college — actually two years) that this Los Angeles native realized that Angelenos and Northern Californians spoke and generally dressed differently from each other. To the people I met from the South, the Northeast and other regions, we were all just from California. But once I came to see and hear the difference, it was pretty easy to spot in a barracks or a bar those from LA or those from the Bay Area. I'm not sure I believe it's true anymore, so I was interested in a wonderfully local story today in the San Francisco Chronicle. Native Carl Nolte identifies there is a distinct San Francisco pattern of speech, an accent of sorts that varies some by neighborhood, and as fewer and fewer locals are old timers, it is going away. From Nolte's column:

Many people - a lotta people, a hella lot - don't believe there is such a thing as a San Francisco accent. But there is one. Or there was.

Let me tellya about it. For one thing, San Franciscans talk fast and run their words together. They say "Dontcha" instead of "Don't you?" They say, "Youra" instead of "You are," and "I'm" instead of "I am," and "gonna" for "going to."

There are three different pronunciations for Portola, a neighborhood, a street and a Spanish explorer. There are two ways to pronounce Greenwich Street in North Beach. The big town to the south is called Sannazay, and even if it has close to a million people, it's not a city. There's only one....

I talked to the best linguist I know, Tom McGarvey, who used to own Red's Java House, back in the days when McGarvey's hair was red and the waterfront was full of tough guys.

He and his family grew up on Potrero Hill - which he calls "Potrera Hill" - when people raised chickens in the backyard, the streets were unpaved and everybody knew everybody.


He was a merchant sailor for years. "People usta ask me, hey, what parta New Yawk you from?" The San Francisco accent sounded like New York to them.

carl-nolte-sfchron-kepka.jpgNolte writes the weekly Native Son column for the Chronicle, and I've been meaning to mention some of his pieces about neighborhoods and local history that aren't just rehashes of what's in the pulp histories that every city has now. He totally surprised me with a recent column on the city's Little Hollywood, "possibly San Francisco's smallest and least-known neighborhood."

Little Hollywood, less than a square mile in area and with a population of just under 1,000 people, is tucked between Bayshore Boulevard and the Bayshore Freeway, on the southeastern edge of the city.

It's shaped like a piece of pie, and the short end is the triangle where Bayshore Boulevard passes under the freeway. The south end of the neighborhood is the city's recycling facility - the city dump....

It is called Little Hollywood because it was built in the late '20s and early '30s, and many of the houses look like they belong in Southern California - the Hollywood Hills in particular.

Last year Nolte did a series I kept noticing and planning to mention on how the bay itself has changed through the decades. He did it as a crowdsourcing event with readers and local institutions. As he explained with the stories:

2013 is the Year of the Bay. To celebrate, we’re opening up the Chronicle photography archives to an innovative crowdsourcing project at //, designed at Stanford University with nonprofit social technology partner Historypin. We’ll post the pics, but we need your help. We need you to tell us anything you know about the who, what, when, where of the scenes in these photos. You can do that here, or by going to

The Year of the Bay project is a collaboration with the Chronicle, local museums, libraries, archives, historial societies around the Bay Area, and hopefully, you. Help our collective understanding of Bay Area history by adding your knowledge and, if you’d like, adding your own photographs and memories to the project too. Together, we’re writing a new, richer, more diverse history of the San Francisco Bay.

Photo of Nolte in 2008: Mike Kepka/San Francisco Chroncle

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