Baldamor, Curry, and Dug

“Baldamor, Curry, and Dug': Language Variation, Culture, and Identity among African American Baltimoreans”

by Inte’a DeShields

Click on this audio player to listen to my podcast “‘Baldamor, Curry, and Dug': Language Variation, Culture, and Identity among African American Baltimoreans” (40 minutes, 8 seconds; copyright 2011).

As a native Baltimorean, I have a longstanding interest in the language and culture of Baltimore city. There are many accents within the urban landscape of Baltimore, with Appalachian, African American, Chesapeake, and Eastern Shore influences, among others.  In this podcast, I investigate accents among African Americans in Baltimore. What are some salient linguistic characteristics of the speech of these native Baltimoreans, and how do they compare to those of Baltimore transplants?

In this podcast, I explore three main linguistic features in three parts:  (1) The pronunciation of the name Baltimore as “Baldamor,” (2) The pronunciation of the vowel sound “urr” in which words like carry are pronounced as curry, and (3) The pronunciation of dog as “dug.” I interview a variety of Baltimore natives, including several members of a family that has lived in the city for four generations, as well as Baltimore transplants, some of whom have begun to adopt the local pronunciations they have heard here. I also interview linguists Dr. Walt Wolfram, Dr. Renee Blake, and doctoral student Cara Shousterman about these topics, and there is even some evidence to be gleaned from the tradition of Baltimore club music.

The voices featured in this podcast provide first-hand accounts of how language is a central part of culture and identity, in Baltimore and beyond.  These speakers explain how language variations are natural, comfortable, and meaningful, although they can sometimes be a source of tension when they aren’t valued by others, as some individuals reveal.  But above all, we’ll learn that language adds flavor to our cities and neighborhoods and to our own identities.  

I hope you enjoy this podcast and our journey together through one of the many linguistic landscapes of Baltimore.  

-Inte’a

You can also listen on YouTube to the two songs that were featured in my podcast:

Nina Simone’s cover of Randy Newman’s song, “Baltimore”

-

Miss Tony’s song, “How You Wanna Carry It”

19 responses to “Baldamor, Curry, and Dug

  1. Angelique Kearney

    Good. You forgot the strong sound of “ewww” when saying words like “two” and “you”. In addition, bruva, fava, muva for brother, father and mother. I am married to a Baltimorian:)

  2. I’m from northern Anne Arundel County and I always like to explain to transplants that, yes, Baltimore has its own dialect, but that there’s a difference between the speech of blacks and whites. I happen to say “Baldamor” unless I’m talking to out-of-towners. That’s when I enunciate the name of the city. :-) You see the same thing with the Anne Arundel city of Odenton. It’s pronounced “OH-ding-tin” or “OH-den-tun.” Ms. DeShields, even though you’re speaking “proper English” for the podcast, you def have an accent. Must be the vowels!

    I code-switch myself depending on the audience. Language is a funny thing. I’m biracial (Black & Asian). I was raised in MD growing up with predominantly black and white. My classmates were mostly white, but during high school, I gravitated more towards the African-American subculture. I have white people who think I talk “black” and black people who say I talk “proper.” It’s amusing. Once, some college students from Chicago selling magazines door-to-door told me I sounded like I was from DC and a friend from CT said I sounded “country.” Then I had a guy in Philly tell me I talked “white.” *sigh* In my own mind, I like to think I have no accent!

    And I don’t like when people think of MD as a southern state. Go figure! lol

    (BTW, I graduated from UMBC, MLL ’01!)

  3. Hi Sheena. Thanks for listening! Your experiences ring true for many people when it comes to language, region, and accent identification. I have not received the critique “country”, unless I intentionally offer a southern inflection, but I have heard some of the other observations you mentioned. :-) I definitely have an accent, but I think when it comes to what is known as a “Baldamor” accent it is a little less pronounced than what is heard from Baltimoreans that are linguistically identifiable as havning the Baltimore vowels or twang.

    Dr. Wolfram even talks about the idea of a natural relaxation in speech when people become comfortable with certain words that causes people, regardless of regional identity, to pronounce words in the ways that are most comfortable for them and according to their environment. Sometimes people listen according to what they see. This also leads to associations of ethnic linguistic labeling. You sound…

    Language is a funny and fickle thing especially when it comes to how we hear it, listen to it, and interpret it. All the more reason for us to continue listening and analyzing these linguistic experiences. It can tell us a lot about both the people that speak, as well as how we react to what we hear.

  4. Hi Sheena. Thanks for listening! Your experiences ring true for many people when it comes to language, region, and accent identification. I have not received the critique “country”, unless I intentionally offer a southern inflection, but I have heard some of the other observations you mentioned. :-) I definitely have an accent, but I think when it comes to what is known as a “Baldamor” accent it is a little less pronounced than what is heard from Baltimoreans that are linguistically identifiable as havning the Baltimore vowels or twang.

    Dr. Wolfram even talks about the idea of a natural relaxation in speech when people become comfortable with certain words that causes people, regardless of regional identity, to pronounce words in the ways that are most comfortable for them and according to their environment. Sometimes people listen according to what they see. This also leads to associations of ethnic linguistic labeling. You sound…

    Language is a funny and fickle thing especially when it comes to how we hear it, listen to it, and interpret it. All the more reason for us to continue listening and analyzing these linguistic experiences. It can tell us a lot about both the people that speak, as well as how we react to what we hear.

  5. E. Nicholas Genovese

    I truly enjoyed this, especially because I’m familiar more with the white than the black Baltimore dialect. I was born and raised in North Baltimore but have lived in Ohio and California most of my life. Since being confronted by Midwestern roommates in college I’ve tried to adopt the Received Pronunciation, but when I hear myself recorded, the dialect lurks. I noticed despite your own similar efforts the following nativisms: cinter (center) and whoot (what). I noticed also general non-Baltimorisms: inFLUences (INfluences), processees (processes), and graduating high school (graduating from high school).

  6. Yes!!! The “uuuuu” !!! Baltimore is like that candlestick/face optical illusion – if you look at it one way, it’s a southern city, and if you look at it another way, it’s northern. It’s both.

  7. I’ve often thought of this, but do you think that the accent spoken among the working-class African American community in D.C. differs greatly from that of those in Baltimore? Why do you think that accent used by the working-class, white population in Baltimore didn’t extend down to D.C., when it’s only, literally, down the road?

  8. Good question, Christy! Often language can vary across locations, even across closely neighboring communities, because people have different social/family networks, social mobility, residential patterns, school histories, etc., and therefore grow up speaking in different ways. There’s also the factor of different patterns of migration to/from an area. For instance, in the past, migrants from West Virginia and other parts of Appalachia came to the Baltimore area to work in manufacturing and sometimes they settled here long-term (often in and around what’s now Hampden). As a result, Appalachian language patterns have influenced the language patterns of the white working class community in Baltimore in a way that didn’t really happen in DC. So, while we can’t know for sure why some communities show different language patterns even though they’re very close by, these are probably some of the important explanatory factors. Thanks for visiting this site!

  9. Greetings!
    I am absolutely thrillled Miss DeShields decided to research this topic. I am a African American female born and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania and relocated to Columbia, Maryland in 2004. I am a Registered Nurse and have worked in several home care agencies around Central Maryland. I started out in Pasadena, MD in Anne Arundel County and that is when I noticed some of my coworkers pronounce Baltimore as “Bal-di-more”. I also had offices in Towson and Columbia and did not really encounter any other variations. In 2008, I changed fields and began working for a DDA agency as a Nurse Case Manager. It was then I hit the “mother load” of what I call “local linguistic variations”. I was exposed to more Baltimore City natives than I had ever been in the past. That’s when I first heard “dog” as “dug”, the “urrr” and one that was not mentioned by Miss DeShields that still baffles me is the pronunciation of “r” as “arr-ra”. I have conducted my own mini research studies and have really enjoyed some of my findings. I have found in some cases that the level of education has not influenced changes in these variances. For instance, I have worked with Health Care Practioners and other professionals that quite honestly to my surprise have spoken these local variations. I think initially in my mind I equated these linguistic variations to the less educated. Any who…Thanks again for researching this topic and know that it is a hot topic discussed by transplants at the watering hole.

  10. This works as long as out-of-towners are listening to it. But as a native Baltimorean, I talk like we talk. I do agree that it depends on whether you’re white or black and which side of the city you were raised…it also matters where your parents or grandparents are from. I know people who were born and raised in Baltimore, but have a North Carolina accent or a New York accent because their parents are not natives. I also know people who grew up in Jamaican homes or Spanish homes, yet they have a Baltimore accent. It’s very interesting.

    Someone from NYC once asked me to read “carry” and I naturally said “curry”…it was funny to her, but she pronounced it as “care-ree” which was funny to me. Language is just funny sometimes.

  11. I grew up in Hampden, which has, through marketing, become known as the home of stereotypical “Balwmerese”. It seems in my experience that there’s a divide between what is portrayed in the media as our way of speaking versus modern colloquial Baltimore speech. For all this talk of “Bawlmer”, when I first heard the word “Bawlmer”, I found myself looking it up on Google, since I didn’t know what “Bawlmer” was. (As far back as I can remember, I pronounced Baltimore as “Baldamor” or “Baltamor”.) When I hear thick “Bawlmerese” portrayed in the media, it just comes of as very fake and nasal-sounding with drawn-out vowels. Some of the vocabulary rings true, such as “wooder” and “warsh”, but I cringe when I hear local radio stations play “Crabs for Christmas” because it sounds so much unlike how we really speak.

    There is a difference between white and black speech in Baltimore, though the lines have blurred somewhat since the end of segregation meant that there’s more cross-cultural contact. For example, in my neighborhood, we used to use “you all” or “youse” as a third-person plural, but now “ya’ll” is more common, to the point where I barely hear “youse” anymore, and I barely use it myself either. Likewise, among the lower-class whites (myself included), the use of singular forms of “to be” with plural pronouns isn’t uncommon anymore. (I.e., “we was”, “we is”.) Local whites do use the stressed and unstressed “been” like the black folks do, and I never even knew that it was considered unique to black English until I began reading on dialects. Like my black friends, I code switch when I’m in more formal company. So while I might say “wooder” and “ya’ll” amongst friends, it might become “water” if I’m around non-Baltimoreans who speak more standardized English. I can only hide it so much, though – I was told once during an audition for a play to tone down my accent (by a British woman, ironically) because I was “mashing my consonants together”.

  12. Great in detail research. I’ve always noticed how other people said certain words and often times attributed to certain environment, but never noticed how often I say certain things the same way. Often times I try to be mindful of things I say, but without effort it just comes out.

  13. Charles Perry

    A college roommate of mine, who hailed from Catonsville, assured me that the cool people always pronounced it as “Ballmer” or even “Bawmer.”

  14. Kathleen Franks

    I was born and raised in Baltimore. One thing left out is pronouncing sink as “zink”

  15. Love this podcast. This was very informative and scholarly. And a native Baltimorean, I’m impressed with the contrasts.

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