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Towson University

Native Tongue
by Christine Hansen
For BaltimoreStories.com

“It's Ballmer, Hon”

When most tourists visit Baltimore, they hit the Inner Harbor, maybe attend an Orioles game, visit the fish at the aquarium and call it a day. Although these places are tourist havens, a true “tour” of Baltimore isn't complete without visiting the local neighborhoods like Hampden, Charles Village, Canton, Federal Hill and Fells Point. It is in neighborhoods like these that the real Baltimore is shown–and heard. Striking up conversations with the natives--the ones who have been here for a long time--will bring the Baltimore personality to life. The Baltimore tongue, or “Balmorese,” is distinctive and unique. The accent echoes the dialect of north and south, with a slight emphasis on the south.

Mike Ellis, 42, author of Slanguage: A Cool, Fresh, Phat, and Shagadelic Guide to All Kinds of Slang Philly and FUN-tics: Yuze Ken Speak Philadelphian, says that the Baltimore language is a lot like Philadelphia , but with a southern twang. Perhaps it's the location. Is Maryland (or shall we say “Merlin”) considered a northern or southern state? It's debatable, which perhaps explains why the sound is a general mix of north and south.

“Baltimoreans say ‘wooder' and ‘hon' and you pronounce your O's funny. There's a teeny bit of southern in the sound. It's not a real drawl, but it has a twang to it,” Ellis said.

Ellis, a self-proclaimed “semi-pro linguist” (semi-pro because amateur sounds so underrated) is actually an acknowledged expert in the linguistic field, and has consulted for television networks and corporations offering his expertise on language. He is currently a graphic designer and manages a Web site that, much like his books, takes a light-hearted look at all different dialects around the globe. He gets his content from thousands of people all over who e-mail him their home's particular “slang.” The site governs itself, because as Ellis put it, “If it's off or a little off, a lot of people will complain real fast.”

“After I published my book, people immediately went crazy over it, so in 1996, I launched my ‘slanguage' site because I wanted to know how language differs all over the world,” he said.

On the Baltimore page of the site, Ellis accurately describes the language of the Baltimoreans. Baltimoreans live in “Ballmer, Merlin” off the coast of the “Chest Peak ” bay, not too far from the capital “Nap Lis.” When they are thirsty, they want some “wooder” or “Natie Bow.” Their baseball team, the “O-reos” play at “Moral Stadium” and when they want to go to the beach they go “Downey Owe Shin” and eat crabs that taste like Old Bay.

“People not from the area immediately notice the accent, but if you are a native, you don't notice the accent at all…they all claim that they don't have an accent,” Ellis explains.

Tourists who visit the local neighborhoods will get a good feel for the Baltimore tongue. One of the best places to go, Ellis says, is a diner. Usually the waitresses provide the strongest accents, especially if they've lived in the area for all or the majority of their lives.

So in order for tourists and non-natives to get the real “feel” of Baltimore , visiting the local neighborhoods will do the trick. Neighborhoods like Hampden provide authentic glimpses of the Baltimore tongue. So, next time you are in the area, pull up a chair, sit down with a local, and learn more about what makes the language of Baltimore so unique.

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