In a year in which the country faced the prospect of a presidential debate between a Brooklyn native and a Queens native, a book about New York English seems more than timely. But one of the first things you learn in E. J. White’s new book You Talkin’ to Me?: The Unruly History of New York English is that New York is a single linguistic community, a claim that seems to fly in the face of the lived experience of native New Yorkers. At least among my acquaintances at a recent dinner party, the consensus was that Bernie Sanders’s Brooklyn accent was as easily distinguishable from Donald Trump’s Queens accent as their respective politics. And yet, as White remarks, a distinguished linguistics expert told The New Yorker in 2005, “The fact is—but don’t write this, because it will enrage...


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