Janet Yellen’s Accent

Posted on July 19, 2014 by

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is quickly mastering “fedspeak,” a language all its own, designed to explain yet obscure our nation’s monetary policy.  Each phrase uttered during congressional committee testimony is carefully crafted and articulated to avoid “spooking the markets.”

But when I watch Yellen, I hear more than a report on “labor market participation” and “core inflation” from the nation’s top central banker.

Instead, my mind drifts to Bensonhurst, Brooklyn with my Aunt Sadie offering me another piece of pound cake for dessert or my Cousin Evelyn complaining about the crowds at the latest sale at A & S.

An accomplished economist with degrees from Brown and Yale (and teaching props from Harvard and Berkeley) Yellen nevertheless achieves a perfect Brooklyn Jewish-lady accent [Click here for sample]. Though five years older than me, the daughter of a doctor (my dad was a taxi driver) and from neighboring Bay Ridge, Janet (may I call you Janet) touches a soft spot in my memory.

The sweet, generous, hard-working (and slightly bitter) second-generation, Eastern-European Jewish moms calling out the front window of the apartment houses on 20th Avenue for their kids to come home for supper.  Or talking for a minute in the dry cleaners about their oldest who just got into City College.  These are the voices of my past; the pathos and possibilities of working-class Brooklyn, well before the borough was “hippified.”

At a recent hearing, New York’s U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (from Sheepshead Bay) told the Fed Chair that she “makes Brooklyn proud.”

Janet Yellen’s decisions on the federal funds rate and the money supply – and what she says and how she says it – can affect the Gross Domestic Product and our lives.  I hope she shows as much sense as those discerning shoppers who knew exactly what to look for when picking peaches from the outdoor fruit stands on 86th Street.

Comments (4)


  1. Ethel says:

    Yes, Yellen tries hard to sound “American” but her Brooklyn roots come through. When I came to California, losing my accent became one of my goals so that I would fit in. But when I taught college, students got a kick out of my speaking “New York” and thought it was very funny.

    Thanks for sharing your memories of Bensonhurst from which we both came — at different times.

  2. Who are we without accents? Brooklyn or Texas ( I’m Texan) it gives us color and character. When I hear an accent it tells me that person likes who they are and where they are from.

  3. Lucia in CO says:

    To me Janet has always sounded more like Toby Radloff “the original nerd”. He is from Cleveland.


  4. Lucia in CO says:

    My mistake, he’s a “genuine nerd”. Both Janet and Toby are gen-u-ine.

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