Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Great Lakes Accent

She was ready for his voice by that time, too: the flat, metallic nasal sound of the Great Lakes with its clear hard r’s and its absence of theatricality. Dull normal. The speech of her people.”

My people, too. That line comes from Hairball, a short story by Canadian author Margret Atwood. I never thought of such a thing as a Great Lakes accent, yet Atwood described what people from Buffalo to Chicago to Green Bay, Wisconsin sound like. I’ve lived a few places other than the Midwest so my accent is not quite that bad, but when I was growing up in Buffalo I had friends who went to the baynk, said thaynk you and ate cayandy. I had a dog but some of my friends had kyats.

I googled “regional accents in the US” and learned indeed there is such as thing as a Great Lakes accent. Phonologists define the accent as Inland North dialect of American English. It is essentially "standard Midwestern" speech. According to Wikipedia, if you speak that way, you are in the company of some notable personalities including Jim Belushi, Dennis Franz, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Suze Orman, Bob Seger and my brother-in-law Jerry.

When I was younger, my Canadian cousins would tease me about my “American” accent. They, like Atwood, are from southeastern Ontario, also in the Great Lakes. But I guess Canadians have their own sub-variety of the accent. It’s usually pretty easy to tell a Canadian by the way they talk, eh?

You can learn a lot more about the accent, including its Northern cities vowel shift if you are interested. For me, I will just say I know a Great Lakes accent when I hear it, thanyk you very much. It’s not exactly music to my ear but it does feel like home.

Happy Thaynksgiving to all. I am thaynkful for friends, family, food, and many other things, including diversity. Life would be boring if we all sounded the same.


Gerry Sell said...

Well that was an interesting little frolicking detour through phonology. I remember Gerald Ford's first speech after he became President - I found it comforting somehow that he sounded very like my grandfather, who spent much of his life in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. After a number of years in other places, I've been back in the Freshwater Nation long enough now that I probably sound that way again myself. The absence of theatricality can be such a relief sometimes!

lakelover said...

So funny! A friend of mine (from Chicago, ironically) laughs at the northern Wisconsin accent with its excessive diphthongs ("add a vowel whenever possible"). Another from Boston loves the way my mother says to-ah-ost (toast). My brother used to travel a lot internationally for work, and was frequently asked if he was Canadian. That used to happen to me a lot, but living in the mid-Atlantic region for a total of 8 years, plus having a college roommate from Utah, made me more aware of it and I've learned to mediate it a bit. But I hear it creeping back the longer I live here!

Great post!

Susan said...

Thanks. My husband added the following comment to me off-line.I had forgotten this about his mother.

Just to toss my 2 cents worth in, my Buffalonian mother pronounced the numbers 5, 9 and 12 with two syllables each: fi-uv, ni-un and tway-ulv. My Canadian in-laws pronounce Detroit with three syllables: Dee-troy-it.

Renee said...

Just found this great post off of google. I'm from Eagle River, WI, which is about 30 minutes north of Rhinelander. I went to college in Houghton, MI for a year and then in Oshkosh, WI for four years. It's neat how about five hours of distance can find people speaking slightly differently. Personally, I sound more like a Yooper than I do like a Wisconsinite and it shows for a while everytime I visit my family.

On a different note, my husband and I have now been living in Salt Lake City for two months now and I now know what it feels like to have what is considered to be a highly exotic accent. I went to a poker game hosted by my husband's friend's husband's sister, and the sister's husband absolutely loved my accent and kept asking me to say stuff. I never realized how much I elongate my long "a"s and how sharp and long my "o"s are (like when I say "soooda"). I always thought my accent was super boring but now I appreciate it and cherish it because I understand how unique it is. Most people down here can pinpoint where I'm from to either Canada, Michigan, Minnesota, or Wisconsin when they hear my voice. It's a piece of home I brought with me and will always have.

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Anonymous said...

When I return to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, I can return to Yooper-speak after decades away. Most of my family speak like American Detroiters now, really more Northeastern city speak asI learned in linguistics, quite Standard American English.

When I lived in Central Kentucky I was told that I spoke with a nasal sound; although, Southern country singers sing with a nasal sound.

Every so often, I'm told, I end a sentence with 'eh.'

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Anonymous said...

I'm British and I speak with a very strong south of England accent, personally I dislike my own accent intensley, this is a very intersting post about peoples differnt English speaking accent from around the globe