Us have an accent? You betcha

WILLMAR -- Ask any true Midwestern native, and they'll tell you that they don't have an accent. Most Midwesterners would say that the dialects used in movies like "Fargo" and "Miracle"are purely exaggerated.

WILLMAR -- Ask any true Midwestern native, and they'll tell you that they don't have an accent. Most Midwesterners would say that the dialects used in movies like "Fargo" and "Miracle"are purely exaggerated.

But just like the rest of the country, the Midwest has its own set of characteristics linguistically. Meaning we as Minnesotans do have accents, there's no ifs, ands or uff das about it.

So how do we sound in the Midwest?

California native Nancy Stenson said she did notice a difference in language when she moved to Minnesota. Although not as prominent as those featured in "Fargo," Minnesotans do speak with an accent, she said.

As a professor of linguistics at the University of Minnesota, Stenson said a Midwestern dialect is particularly noticeable in the use of vowels "o" and "a." In other parts of the country, she said "[the two vowels] are somewhat drawn out and end with a "w"-like sound."


In Minnesota, and other parts of the Midwest, those "o" and "a" vowels have a more straight sound without the "w"- or "y"-like ending. Stenson said she thinks the vowel pronunciation is characteristic of the more pure sounding vowels of other languages; especially the Norwegian, Swedish and German languages native to this area's founders.

Ann Black, who co-owns the Norwegian-oriented Kultur Hus in Sunburg, said she thinks the combination of languages that were used in this area added to the dialect. "It's a matter what of the ear hears," she said.

"It gets flavored with Norwegian and Norwegian accent," Black continued, adding that German and Swedish languages spiced up the English language as well.

Proof today that languages often meld together is the common usage of the word uff da. Uff da is a Norwegian exclamation much like the words oops or ouch in English.

However, the Midwestern English dialect has been defined by more than a few stray words from other languages.

Benjamin Munson, an assistant professor in the department of speech-language-hearing sciences at the U of M, said a recent study at the University of Pennsylvania classified Minnesota in the north central dialect. The dialect area includes Minnesota, northern Iowa, western Wisconsin and the eastern Dakotas.

"It's not just Minnesota English," he said.

Munson said the dialects are derived from the influences of other languages spoken by immigrant groups. He also noted that dialects are always changing and are influenced by people from other parts of the country.


"Sound change is natural in all languages," Munson said.

A native to Buffalo, N.Y., Munson said he found the north central dialect very noticeable when he began working at the U of M. However, he also noted that "this is my business," referring to his teaching career.

Along with the flat pronunciation of the "o" and "a" sounds in the Midwest, Munson also elaborated on another characteristic. He said many people from Minnesota put an upward lilt on words like "oh," differing from the straight "o" used in other parts of the country.

And this trait is noticible to more than professors who focus on speech.

"It's almost musical the way people speak," said New Jersey native Mary Lou Ridler.

Ridler lived in New Jersey for 25 years before getting married and moving to the Willmar area two years ago. She said speech here is drawn out and enunciated clearly, whereas Jersey speak is spoken quickly and not as clearly.

"Everything is so rushed and crowded," she said.

Ridler joked around about the different pronunciations of words like dog -- or as she says "dawg" -- and Italian -- or in Jersey speak "it-alian" -- and cat.


"I've even been practicing the way you say cat," she said smiling. "I walk around the house practicing."

As Ridler experimented with other differences in Midwestern words versus New Jersey words, she said she commended Midwesterners for their enunciation skills and the general warmth of the people here.

"I wouldn't move back to New Jersey if you paid me," she said, quickly noting that she does miss Jersey food.

Yet, Ridler held proudly the fact that in two years she has still not used the word "pop" to refer to soda. Which, in a way, implies there may be more differences than simple "o"s and "a"s that make Midwestern speak different from everyone else.

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