Many Pittsburghers are proud of being from Da Burgh, and they show this by participating in (or talking about) things which set Pittsburgh apart from other places. Along with food (pierogies), drink (Ahrn City), sports (Dem Stillers), ways of speaking that sound Pittsburghy have become symbols of Pittsburgh identity. Also, in the face of globalization, mass migration, and explosions in communication technology, holding on to unique aspects of speech demonstrates a resistance to change, drawing upon local traditions in confronting national and international incursions into individuals' daily life.
There's not so much a difference in accents from neighborhood to neighborhood as there is a difference in the frequency and degree of the Pittsburgh accent. Traditionally working-class neighborhoods with older, long-time residents are more likely to contain speakers with a Pittsburgh accent, whereas neighborhoods with newer residents and more recent immigrants are less likely to have as many Pittsburghese speakers.
Not really. Our research shows that African-American Pittsburghers generally think of Pittsburghese as "white speech", and, in conjunction with the assertion of their own African-American identity, they are far less likely to speak with a Pittsburgh accent than with a more Southern-sounding accent. This is not to say that some Pittsburgh African-Americans don't use some of the same local words and phrases as white Pittsburghers do, though, including "nebby," and "needs washed." African Americans have their own regional variations in the way they speak.
Because the word "yinz" has not become a standardized part of the English language, there is no standardized spelling. When it's written, it's most often spelled "yinz,", but because it is a visual representation of a primarily spoken word, any arrangement which approximates the way the word sounds will probably work.
Generally, older, long-time residents of Pittsburgh use Pittsburgh speech the most. Also, men are generally more likely to speak with a local accent than are women, possibly because of a stronger interest in displaying local identity, and because speaking "correctly" is often more important to women in the workplace than it is to men, who may need to speak more like the other people they work with.
If an individual is surrounded by speakers with a distinct accent, it's certainly possible for the individual to adopt certain elements of that accent, and many outsiders pick up local words like "yinz," at least for fun. It is also normal for such a person to "switch back" to their original accent when having conversations with people who share that same original accent. In general, people's accents are fairly resistant to change; you tend to sound like the people you were around when you were a child.
Anyone who is aware of the way they speak should be able to alter their Pittsburgh accent, although the process would probably be easier if the individual is surrounded by speakers of a different regional accent. There are even therapists who help people lose the accent – check the Yellow Pages or the internet.
There are a few major indicators of Pittsburgh speech. Monophthongization of the "aw" sound is one, which is just a linguistic way of describing a particular vowel pronunciation. So, you might be pronouncing a word like "down" as "dahn", or "towels" as "tahls".
Another feature associated Pittsburgh speech is the grammatical construction in which, instead of saying "the car needs to be washed", a speaker might say "the car needs washed." This grammatical form appears to be unique to this region of the country – but only if you are thinking about a pretty large region. People use this construction throughout the midwest, and it has spread further west, too.
A third thing that may give you away as a Pittsburgh speaker are some of the words you're using. Lexical items like "gumband" (for rubber band) and "redd up" (for clean up) are more prevalent in Pittsburgh speech than other regional styles—although someone listening to you would have to have some sort of experience through which to associate these words with Pittsburgh speech.
But the thing that's most likely to give you away is something you probably can't even hear: the way you pronounce the vowel sound in words like "not," "Connie," or "top." Many Americans pronounce this sound as more of an "aah", but Pittsburghers tend to pronounce it more like "aaw". But since "aah" and "aaw" sound the same to most Pittsburghers, you may not even know what we're talking about! One person claims she was identified as a Pittsburgher by a single syllable she said in a restaurant: "Non-," in answer to the greeter's question about her smoking preference.
"Jeet jet" (Did you eat yet) isn't unique to Pittsburgh speech; it's how a person with any sort of accent would sound if they were speaking quickly.
Yes. People usually have a number of linguistic resources available to them, and can (as sociolinguists put it) switch registers depending their audience. For example, a longtime Pittsburgh resident may use "yinz" and other indicators of Pittsburgh speech when watching a Steelers game at their neighborhood bar, but switch to a more professional-sounding register when speaking with clients in the workplace. Such an ability requires an awareness of one's own speech and how it may be perceived by others.
Using elements of Pittsburgh speech can provide an individual with the authority to talk to others about Pittsburgh. Employing Pittsburgh speech in a discussion about Pittsburgh (whether being positive, negative, or neither) demonstrates specific knowledge of the city, and can work to give more credence to the opinions and assertions that follow.