Multi-American

How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

So Cal accents: 'L.A. Armenian' holds a place in regional lingo, too

Revelers at an Armenian-American wedding in Los Angeles.
Revelers at an Armenian-American wedding in Los Angeles.

English, as spoken in Southern California, is a fascinating thing. Sure, there's Valley-speak and surfer-dude. But also heard is the influence of languages that immigrants have brought from different parts of the world. As they have raised children, and those offspring have raised their own, their lilts, clips, and other linguistic quirks have seeped into the ways English is spoken here. 

These accents are typically tied to areas where immigrants have settled, perhaps most famously the Eastside, home to what's known as the East L.A. accent. Its roots are in Mexico, but as anyone who grew up on the Eastside will tell you, its distinctive drawn-out vowels are pure L.A. Wait, make that "Al Lay."

The list goes on. There's Asian-influenced speech in the San Gabriel Valley, a so-called Koreatown accent, and what Multi-American contributor and comic actress Lory Tatoulian calls the "L.A.-Armenian" accent, which she traces geographically:

Ever since I started working as a theater teacher with Armenian-American students in public and private Armenian schools, I’ve noticed there is a specific L.A.-Armenian accent.

It’s not the typical immigrant accent where the “R's” are rolled and sentences are broken up by uh’s and eh’s. To me, the L.A-Armenian accent is a cocktail of Valley Girl meets Armenian, with a hint of Latin and Russian. If it really were a cocktail, it would taste like a martini: gin, vermouth, lemon, with a lot of old world olive.

It's an accent I've only heard spoken by L.A. natives who are second- or third-generation Armenian. Other fellow Armenian-Americans I know, people who live in other cities and whose parents or grandparents are immigrants, speak the standard laundry-detergent-commercial English. This is different. 

I’m not a linguist, but if I were to trace its roots, I’d say the accent started in the 1970s and grew somewhere out of White Oaks Avenue in Reseda, and simultaneously on Allen Avenue in Pasadena, and branched out right where the 134 and 101 merge.

What makes the L.A.-Armenian accent stand out most is how the ‘"th" sound is replaced with the "d" sound. Even though the Armenian language has every single phonetic sound imaginable, we skipped out on the “th” sound. The "o" sound is also more rounded, and there's added stress on the  first and last consonants of each word. For example:

the boy = de böy

the dog = de dög

In Armenian, the second syllable in two-syllable words is stressed, and this carries over to the L.A.-Armenian accent: 

going = gö-eeng

party = par-dee

thank you = tank-yoo

There's also intonation and attitude. Sentences in L.A.-Armenian English are stretched out in a sing-song way, and the last word seems to dip an octave lower. And there's a bit of an air to it: think self-confidence, a cool L.A. disposition that's redolent of luxury car leather, the Beverly Center, melted tar on a warm night and cologne. Kind of like this:

Bro, did you heaaaaarrrrr? My parents gottt a houssse to renttt in Palm Sprrrrriiiiiiiiinnnggggs.” (Drop an octave down on last word.)

And my personal favorite:

Standard: Relax mom and dad, I got accepted into UCLA Law School.

L.A.-Armenian: Relaaaxxx bro, I god accepted into UCLA Löw Schooooooool.

Then there's the confluence-of-too-many-cultures-at-once L.A.-Armenian accent. Like the one spoken by my cousins who arrived from Beirut in the 1980s, started attending John Muir High School in Pasadena, and learned to speak English with an L.A.-African-American-Armenian accent.

Standard: Hey, yo girl, that’s a cute dog.

L.A.-Armenian: Hey, yo girl, dat’s a cute dooouuuug.

Then there's me. My journey with English started in elementary school in the San Joaquin Valley, where I was put in an ESL class where everyone else only spoke Spanish, and only I spoke Armenian. My English began sounding Latino. For example, my “L” sound was more of an “Al,” like the way Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa says “Al Lay” instead of “L.A.”

That slowly faded away after I settled in Los Angeles, where I now find myself saying “Bro, I’ll be there in the valley in like 45 minutes, this traffic is sooooo stoooooopid.”

Read more about California accents and listen to a few examples here. And feel free to tell us about yours.

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