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Bernie Sanders: a linguistic analysis

Joss Fong is a founding member of the Vox video team and a producer focused on science and tech. She holds a master's degree in science, health, and environmental reporting from NYU.

Bernie Sanders's accent is a linguistic fossil from a very particular place and time. In this video we explain how the features of his speech reflect not only his hometown and his generation, but also his family's socioeconomic status and ethnicity.

This year, there are two major presidential candidates — Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump — who speak with a New York City accent. And Queens College linguist Michael Newman thinks it might be good for their brand.

Writing in the New York Times, he said, "Americans have come to associate New Yorkers, and so New York accents, with saying what you mean, intense emotional talk and not worrying too much about whom you offend."

We might not agree with what they say, but we believe they mean it. But the larger pattern outside this year's presidential race is that the New York City accent is stigmatized, and its most distinctive features are fading.

That's why Bernie Sanders provides such an interesting case study. He was born in 1941 and raised in a lower-middle-class household in a Jewish part of Brooklyn. Even though he's now spent more of his life in Vermont than in New York, his voice tells a story of his past and the past of our nation's greatest city.

For an explanation of the features of Sanders's accent, watch the video above.


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