In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Another Technical Note
  2. La Ligne Maginot
  3. Actress Notes
  4. Technical Day
  5. Peripheral Explanation
  6. More Immigration Links
  7. Another Graphic Detournement
  8. Peripheral Artists (5): Mikhail Vrubel
  9. Illegal Update

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

« High Pitched Voices | Main | Greats I Don't Get »

November 20, 2003

Back-Home Accents


Have you ever tried to summarize what makes the accent of your home town unique? Since my ear for such things is terrible, I've never been able to do it, just as I've never managed to blend in with the locals even when on extended sojourns in other parts of the English-speaking world, whether that has been London or Southern Californa. When pressed (particularly by the British, who seemed to find my accent hilarious) I had to fall back on the old dodge of explaining to people that the speech patterns of the Upper Midwest are the foundations of "standard educated American English." (Hey, say something with a straight face and you'd be surprised what nonsense you can get people to believe.)

Well, someone else has finally accomplished what I could not: they have provided the world with a "how-to" manual for talking like me:

A little bit Fargo, a little bit Nasal Chicago, and a little bit Canadian, the Michigan Accent was derived from a lot of the linguistic influences of its early settlers: Irish, Finnish, Welsh and Dutch. In some areas, particularly around blue collar parts of Detroit, hordes of poor Southerners who came up the Dixie Highway to work on the assembly lines in the early-to-mid 1900's have also injected a bit of Southern twang into our Northern European heritage. The resulting mix is similar to a pirate with a head cold... something my friends give me a hard time about quite frequently.

Here are some tips ta help ya soun' like yer from the Moder Ciddy.

You can read the full discussion, which is pretty funny, here.

You have some facility with languages (unlike me). Do you try to adjust your accent to your surroundings, or like what?



posted by Friedrich at November 20, 2003


I remember hearing that there's a standard version of British English that all the BBC journalists are supposed to have. But is there an "unaccented" American English? I understand that a fairly large number of TV and radio news personalities are from the Pacific Northwest because the English spoken there is free of detectable ethnicity or regional influence. I'm from there too, and no one has ever figured that our based on how I talk.

Posted by: Michael C on November 20, 2003 01:14 PM

I've got the opposite problem when it comes to accents. I tend to pick them up without spotting it. At least an inflection. There was one time I was mistaken for a Brit (I was watching Blakes 7 on a regular basis at the time.)

'Bout the only accent I can do deliberately is Yiddish.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on November 20, 2003 01:33 PM

That Upper-midwest accent of yours is pretty funny. I wonder how many manage to shake it once they've got it. Very few, I'd think. Curious about Michael C's observation about non-accents from the northwest. I thought many northwesterners came from the upper-midwest. I wonder if they lost their accents along the way.

Western NY state, where I come from, has a pretty hardcore accent of its own. The most distinctive characteristic is the sharp "a" sound. The "a" in words like "Nevada" is so acute it can pop an eardrum. Back in the days of the Vietnam war, this drove me crazy. My family had its pretences and moved to the region when I was 5, so we brought our own accent along with us. To us, it was the "Viet-nahm" war; to all our neighbors, it was the "Viet-naaaam" war. Otherwise, it's also very nasal -- not all that different than your Motor Cityspeak, though for some reason I can tell them apart.

Thanks for accusing me of having a gift for languages, which in fact I don't. As a student, I liked studying them, and had a semi-knack for picking up how to read and write them. But my accent was always horrible. A source of a lot of embarassment to me during my schoolyear in France, too, given how appalled the French can get when their language is badly pronounced. Years later, a little more confident, I revisisted France and decided ahead of time, the hell with it, instead of doing my lame best to sound vaguely French, I'm just going to speak French with the world's absolute worst American accent and let 'em deal with it. The typical reaction was pretty funny. Bugging eyes, aghast looks, jokes about my lousy accent -- and then a resigned shrug and on into the conversation. Much less wear and tear on me, thank heavens. Only wish I'd either come up with approach as a kid or had the sense to spend my year abroad in a friendlier country ...

Where's Henry Higgins when we need him, by the way? There must be someone out there with an amazing knowledge of and ear for American accents...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 20, 2003 01:59 PM

Well, I'm from Connecticut, and we don't have an accent. My theory is that the Nu Yawk and Bahstin accents met there and fought each other to a standstill...

Posted by: jimbo on November 20, 2003 02:15 PM

'Tis true, the South claims me for a Northerner, and the North for a Southerner, but I am neither.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on November 20, 2003 03:02 PM

"Here are some tips ta help ya soun' like yer from the Moder Ciddy." Perfect! I am familiar with the Moder Ciddy ack-sent and they've nailed it. But what are the other tips?

Posted by: annette on November 20, 2003 04:09 PM

Growing up in Texas I started out with a serious twang. But most of my friends ended up being transplanted Yankees (New York and Ohio), so I ended up muting my accent so they could understand me. Which left me sounding vaguely Midwestern.

Now I live in New York and can even say "on line" and "you guys" without thinking about it.

However, when I call home I have to reactivate my twang or my mom doesn't understand me.

I would love to read a good book on how dialects and accents develop. Any suggestions?

Posted by: emjaybee on November 20, 2003 04:20 PM

I can do a received pronouncation, but it wouldn't fool a Brit, so I only use it to impress Americans. In Britain I put on my own vaguely mid-Atlantic twang, so they tend to think I'm a Canadian there. I have no trouble whatsoever picking up accents, which according to a linguist I know has more to do with musical ability than anything else. In which case I maybe should pick up in instrument sometime.

My real accent in English is Frisian though, which is such a minority language nobody has ever met enough native speakers to recognize the undertones.

Posted by: ijsbrand on November 20, 2003 04:24 PM

I took an intro linguistics class (it was fascinating) a while back and the prof said that Johnny Carson's speech was an example of the American equivalent of BBC English. Johnny was from Omaha, I think. (You can tell how long ago that class was -- we all knew how Johnny Carson talks.)

Posted by: ANR on November 20, 2003 04:27 PM

I would love to read a good book on how dialects and accents develop. Any suggestions?

H.L. Mencken's classic "The American Language"?

Posted by: ijsbrand on November 20, 2003 05:11 PM

Just a few from good ole DEEtroit--says (as in "so, then I says")go and goes (as in "So I go... then he goes--fill in the rest of the conversation here), sangwhich (sandwich), deevorce, just to name a few. Some of the pronunciation of these words may even be attributed to the "east side of Detroit' as opposed to the 'west side" (anything West of Woodward)--so I've been told-- signed, a former (albeit linguistically informed) East Sider.

Posted by: iris on November 20, 2003 10:51 PM

Maybe you had to come from the Motor City, but I don't think anything I've read about Michigan has taken me back to the old days quite as well as this piece. The following is almost mythical in its ability to evoke the true Michigan spirit:

"Night-meer": Nightmare. "I hadda nightmeer I wuz out in the wuds near Grayling, with no ammo and completely outta Stroh's."

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on November 21, 2003 12:47 AM

Stroh's--yes. But Iris is right---nobody west of Woodward says Deee-troit.

Posted by: annette on November 21, 2003 02:38 AM

I'm a Marylander. Three phrases will get you through most conversations with guys from the Mid-Atlantic States:

"Izzat right?"
"I tell you what!"
"Yeah, buddy!"

Posted by: Charlie on November 21, 2003 09:09 AM

I was once visiting relatives in Tennessee and one of them commented "Y'all talk faster than Ah kin think." I laughed fit to bust a gut.

And while in New Zealand, everyone pegged me as Canadian based on my accent, so either Wisconsin speaks like our Northern neighbor or the differences are too small to detect to a non-native.

Posted by: Deb on November 21, 2003 09:47 AM

I know exactly enough about this sort of thing to get it all wrong.

Posted by: j.c. on November 21, 2003 10:13 AM

I too am like silly putty when around english speakers with a different accent. I'm also pretty good at impressions.

A week and a half in Toronto once and the immigration person looked at me a little weird, because I sounded Canadian!

Posted by: David Mercer on November 22, 2003 05:38 AM

Well, I'm from Connecticut, and we don't have an accent. My theory is that the Nu Yawk and Bahstin accents met there and fought each other to a standstill...

Like Baltimorans (sorry), my Connecticut friends do indeed have an accent, and a strangely mutated one at that. Ask yourself, Jimbo, how you say "comfortable" for example. It probably sounds like "cufTAbul." Where I'm from we switch the R and T around, creating "comfTERbul."

No wonder the Brits think we're two nations divided by a common language... :)

Posted by: Zombie on November 22, 2003 03:09 PM

Ever since My flight from an ignoble background, I've had informal diction and pronunciation lessons. Now Americans think I'm from England, Brits think I have a phony ELS-BBC accents, and my Mom thinks I'm nutter.
Affecting an accent has another one effect. It forces you to think before you speak, a habit most should get into.

Side Note: Nothing in the world sounds better then British English out of an Indian Accent. They seem to add a whole new layer of decorum to an already frilly and doily language.

Posted by: JL on November 22, 2003 10:58 PM

Philadelphian accents can be sort of horrifying. We do pronounce R's, which is unique among Northeastern Seaboard cities. But the "ow" sounds like somebody stepping on a cat. The "uh" sound replaces most vowels. One time, I was in Vermont, and i wanted to find the ferry crossing. I stopped a kid to ask directions. He thought I said "Which way to the furry?" and responded, aghast, "The furry *what*""? "Oh, you mean the *fairy"! (relieved).

Posted by: Pam on November 24, 2003 10:16 AM

JL makes a good point. For a language so widespread and of about moderate difficulty (to learn, that is), the original English accent is ever a mouthful. Leave it to Indians and Pakistanis (like myself, though i speak American) to clip the r's with ferocity, pronounce 'paa' (power) and 'kulla' (color) in their unique way, and throw in appropriate Americanisms to confuse you all over again.

Posted by: Fayez on November 27, 2003 11:31 AM


Posted by: FREE PORN on May 29, 2004 07:11 PM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?