A New York curiosity

Even though I know nothing about phonology, I enjoy reading phonoloblog. I e-mailed the proprietor with a question that's been bugging me, especially since I'm going to be moving to the Lower East Side sometime during the next few months.

I live in New York City, and there's a street on the Lower East Side called East Broadway. (This is not the same as the more famous Broadway, where "the neon lights are bright," etc.) I have noticed that most native Lower East Siders pronunce the name East BroadWAY, that is, with the accent on the second syllable of Broadway, while they pronounce the name of the Great White Way this way: BROADway, with the accent on the first syllable. Do you have any guesses why this might be so? Thanks.
I got the following prompt response:

Hi Zackary,

The word "broadway" is a two-syllable compound composed of a one-syllable adjective ("broad") and a one-syllable noun ("way"). Compounds like this are always accented on the first syllable in English, and this is one of the ways in which they are distinguished from regular adjective-noun combinations. For example, the phrase "black board" is accented more on the second word "board", and can refer to any board so long as it is black in color. The compound "blackboard", on the other hand, is accented more on the first syllable "black", and refers to a special type of board (the kind that you write on with chalk), and it may be of any color -- there are also green blackboards, for instance.

If the distinction between "East BroadWAY" and "BROADway" by Lower East Siders really is as consistent as you say, these speakers may just be using this as a way to clearly distinguish the two street names in their speech, since one is better known to them and the other is better known to most other people. I would think the extra word "East" would be sufficient to do that, but perhaps not.

That's just a guess. It's an interesting question, and probably one that is best answered by a Lower East Sider.

-- Eric

So how about it? Any LESers past or present want to chip in with agreements, disagreements, or folk etymologies?


By the way, I have another piece in the Forward, a short profile of Aaron Lansky on the occasion of his new book.

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