pre-thesis week 2

Welp, my anxiety didn’t exactly improve this week. Sharing ideas in the class and our exercise in question-asking was helpful to some extent, but it’s clear I should narrow down on a more specific topic and I’m just not sure which. I mulled over my ideas and continued doing some base-level research to see if anything would spark. Out of the notes I jotted down, these three topics so far have stood out as most promising — here are my thoughts after researching/reflecting on them over the course of the week:

the bodega cat

I’ve gotten very interested in this idea after reading the Wikipedia page, especially the part about how bodega owners risk a $200 to $350 fine for having a cat, but also risk a $300 fine for rodent infestations. I love the slight transgression of it — knowingly risk getting in trouble because it can help solve a different problem that would also get you in trouble. I think it’s a pretty narrow topic, and if anything I’d worry about running out of things to learn. Also not sure what to create out of it in my interest areas.


  • When did the “practice” originate?
  • Is it prevalent in other places?
  • Why is it “a beloved tradition?”
  • What does it say about New York?

the Bowery’s “sordid past”

This is more geographically narrow, but not temporally. This topic has fascinated me since my senior year of undergrad, when I lived right off of the Bowery and learned about its “slide from respectability.” I’m interested in the period between the 1800s basically until the current day, because the tension between the present gentrification and this seedy “suicide hall” hotspot is really interesting and the changes were gradual. I can see this being a really interesting dissertation, but am also not entirely sure what I’d create out of it (maybe a little more confident than in the bodega cat case).


  • What factors contributed to this “slide”? Why this location?
  • What did people think about it then? How did people talk about the Bowery? What proposals were there to fix it?
  • How did it get “cleaned up”?

NYC accent/dialect

I’d love to go deep into linguistics for this — like the Bowery, this interest dates back to my undergrad, this time in my junior year when I took a Science of Language course. The topic is probably not quite narrow enough just yet, but I could see a lot of narrowing potential coming over the course of the research process — like focusing on specific parts of the sound system (particular vowels, or phoneme mergers or shifts) or its influences (Yiddish, Italian, AAVE, etc). Vocabulary could also be interesting (in my reading, I learned that stoop comes from the Dutch stoep — no wonder stoops feel so iconically New York). As far as the end result, I think it has an obvious potential for a multimedia project, but not sure I’d want to go that route — I also see potential for interesting visuals using IPA symbols. 


  • What are the distinctive markers? What immigration flows affected it?
  • How did/does the media frame this accent? Who in New York talks like that? What stereotypes does it accompany?
  • Is it dwindling? Or shifting? Will new markers emerge?
  • Do its speakers attach emotion to it? Is there pride, or shame? Has there always been? Why?