The term “Yat” likely comes from the phrase “Where y’at?”, which does not mean "Where are you?" but "How are you?" The word itself denotes a certain circle of New Orleans natives as well as in its neighboring areas, or Parishes. A Yat is to a native here what a hick or redneck might be to other areas of the country that, while, centered in a city as a hub, is surrounded by more rural areas (often called “the sticks,” but since we are near the swamp, it is referred to as “the bayou” in the generic sense). The one difference may be that Yats are as much a part of the Bayou as they are in the upper class, their presence spanning across every socioeconomic barrier.
The first obvious sign of a Yat is speech. As many that have visited or moved to the New Orleans note, many people who have grown up here sound like they’re from Jersey or the Bronx. This may have more to do with New Orleans being a port city and less to do with its rich and confusing heritage of French (Creole and Cajun), Spanish, African American and Haitian roots, since the speech likely comes from the many Irish and Italian immigrants that founded many of the now dwindling boroughs of the Crescent City. I don’t see a need to break down the different sounds, as there are more than enough examples in Boston, Baltimore, and other cities lining the Northern and New England states. (As an aside, despite what visitors are led to believe, most locals do not attach the words “darlin” or “cher” at the end of statements made to people ranging from close relatives to complete strangers asking for directions to Bourbon Street. From my experience, these terms are only used to fulfill stereotypes, usually in tour groups or “local cuisine” restaurants. The term “boo” (likely a mutation of “beau”) is, by contrast, typically and frequently used by Yats.)
Another sign is location, or environment. Due to its odd position between the Mississippi River and Lake Ponchartrain and its foundations being little more than slim bedrock and silt, New Orleans itself cannot sprawl, but the areas around it that are higher up and further inland have taken the cue from much supposed white flight and are bursting at the seams with suburbia. This is typically the breeding ground for Yats. Each area has its own reasons for its sprawl. Chalmette (shal-met), Michaud (mee-shoo), Arabi (air-uh-bee), and Violet (actually pronounced right, like the color), while already thriving in St. Bernard parish for generations, gained another bonus upon the construction and sprawl of various metal refinery plants. Most people that live in these areas, from my experience, live there because either their family has always lived there or because one or more members of the family works at one of the nearby plants. Being an industrial area, these places are often affiliated with a low brow section of society, most of which carry the Yat standard of speech and a derogatory stamp of disapproval by most New Orleans residents, hence the less than desirable terms “Chalmation” and “Violation.” Like most suburban areas, these areas are mostly outfitted in short, squat one-level houses with boats, cars, and/or motorcycles in the front/back yard, most of which are in some state of home-repair. One of my older local friends is herself a Chalmation (but not a Yat; she is cool) and lives in a house at the end of the street that runs right up against the canal between it and a nearby plant. During a heavy rain (which is more than typical here), the run off from this plant pollutes the drinking water, rendering it milky and undrinkable for days. Sadly, these types of environmental and health risks only further stereotype the Yat as being uncultured and indifferent.
Within this environment, the Yat takes on many of the stereotypes of suburban life, taking from popular culture the trends of modern consumerism. Most Yats own the newest cars, the newest clothes and listen to the newest music being over-played on the standard “alternative” radio stations. This is camouflage for the Yat, as it renders him in likeness to be like everyone else. There is, among most Yats and non-Yats, a division due to location. Most people who live in the city itself are either too poor to move into the suburban areas or choose to live there to be where the action is. Yats tend to live outside the city, citing safety and higher quality of life as their main reasons. This continues to be a point of contention for the two sides; Yats seemingly sacrifice living in an area with deep history, variety, and high activity for the gated community American Dream, while city dwellers feel that this sort of sacrifice is foolish and not conducive to their desired lifestyles. The motives of both parties to live where they do indicates how each finds their identity from their environments. This is why most transplants do not choose to live outside the city, as they don't see they point in moving here if they cannot be where things are always happening.
Now, while this has seemed so far to be a slander for the Yat, I want to clarify here that despite their speech, location, or purchasing power, Yats are not dumb, embarrassing, or uncultured. They simply bear the burden of a tenacious speech preservation and/or mutation that is fairly commonplace in a city like this that never, really, seems to change. While this burden can cause problems for the Yat, it seldom denies him access to the best education and jobs, if he so chooses. This area is his home after all, and his home will never deny him. It is only the transplants that have the potential to make him feel awkward or out of place, transplants like myself.
Yats are good people, in general, salt of the earth people. They remind you that the world doesn't need to be so big or so modern that old fashioned ways can't work. But, as others with back woods roots can tell you, if you want to be taken seriously (if you want to leave the area, at least), you will need to shed some of your Yat ways. I have seen this from my college years in Virginia, where many of my drama major friends worked endlessly to shed their accents in order to get the roles in the school musicals that they wanted, so that they can be taken seriously. One of the things that makes Yat speech hard to get rid of is that is so addictive for the non-Yat, at least for this non-Yat. Talking to a Yat causes me to mirror their speech, altering it to fit the audience. It is at these moments that I realize how social and communal speech difference are and how, when you are labeled (as I am) to have no accent at all, you soak up accents you hear like a sponge.
Sadly, and as it is common to say, terms like "Yat" are at once degrading and revering, all in one breath.