about midwestern accents

Curious   Tue Jan 16, 2007 8:15 pm GMT
Hi!

I would be interested to know how people living in the midwestern states of the USA sound like. Of course there is a lot of social and regional variation but can we even talk about midwestern accent(s) with distinctive features that would set them apart from other American accents? I know some people from southern states as well as those living in the very north can often be identified fairly easily on the basis of their accents, but how is that in the case of midwesterners? Or do most of them just speak Standard American?

Thanks for all resposnes!
Brennus   Wed Jan 17, 2007 9:39 am GMT
Curious,

Most people in the American Midwest speak what would be called Standard or General American English. I live in Washington State. However, most people who live here have Midwestern origins, coming from an area roughly between Colorado and Iowa (latitudinally) and Kansas and South Dakota (longituninally), and definitely sound General American.

North Dakota sounds a little more like neighboring Minnesota but these accents are only slightly different from General American. Recently, I heard a man from North Dakota say "Ar fæmli" for "Aur fæm@li" (Our family) without the diphthong or the schwa sounds of General American pronunciation but this is still a trivial difference.

In Missouri, General American predominates along a line running roughly from St. Louis to Kansas City. South of that line, the accent sounds more like the Southern Midlands accents of western Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky. This accent extends into Oklahoma but is being gradually replaced there by General American.
Lazar   Wed Jan 17, 2007 4:08 pm GMT
<<Recently, I heard a man from North Dakota say "Ar fæmli" for "Aur fæm@li" (Our family) without the diphthong or the schwa sounds of General American pronunciation but this is still a trivial difference.>>

No, it's not a "difference" of any sort. The pronunciation of "our" as [Ar\], and the reduction of schwa sounds in words like "family", "general", etc., are extremely common (probably predominant) in all regions, and I see absolutely no reason why they would not be considered part of General American. The Merriam-Webster dictionary ( http://m-w.com/ )actually lists both of these supposedly "non-General American" pronunciations as the *primary* pronunciations.

<<However, most people who live here have Midwestern origins, coming from an area roughly between Colorado and Iowa (latitudinally) and Kansas and South Dakota (longituninally), and definitely sound General American.>>

You're completely omitting such states as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan, which arguably lie within the core of the Midwest. (In other words, you're conflating the Midwest with the Great Plains.) These states tend to be affected by the Northern Cities Vowel Shift, and the dialects there tend to sound markedly different from what would be considered "neutral General American" pronunciation.
Travis   Wed Jan 17, 2007 6:08 pm GMT
>><<However, most people who live here have Midwestern origins, coming from an area roughly between Colorado and Iowa (latitudinally) and Kansas and South Dakota (longituninally), and definitely sound General American.>>

You're completely omitting such states as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan, which arguably lie within the core of the Midwest. (In other words, you're conflating the Midwest with the Great Plains.) These states tend to be affected by the Northern Cities Vowel Shift, and the dialects there tend to sound markedly different from what would be considered "neutral General American" pronunciation. <<

I would go further and say that much of the area Brennus speaks of as the "Midwest" is not actually Midwestern at all except in the generic catchall sense that many non-Midwesterners seem to use. Additionally, I would go and say that the aforementioned states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan) along with a few others such as Iowa, North Dakota, Indiana, and Ohio are *the* Midwest (aside from the Midwesterness of even southern Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio being a bit doubtful), and would exclude the rest of the US altogether from such.

That said, the area I have outlined above is largely under the influence of the NCVS, with only parts of its peripheries, such as parts of North Dakota, not being consistently affected by such. Furthermore, it is significantly affected by things such as Canadian Raising (especially for /aI/, even though even in some ostenably non-/aU/-raising areas there may actually be a lesser degree of /aU/ raising as well). Additionally, dialects in the region are often affected by things such as various substratum features (particularly in northern Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and the Upper Peninsula) which often take the form of things such as interdental hardening and word-final devoicing (especially of sibilants). All in all, (many of) the dialects in this region are much further from General American than, say, many western dialects, which often are relatively close to such aside from being cot-caught-merged.
Brennus   Wed Jan 17, 2007 6:55 pm GMT
Travis,

Re: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan:

I know where your coming from and you are not alone in including them as Midwestern. However, I belong to the school of thought which says that these states are part of the Great Lakes region along with Ohio and upstate New York. This theory holds that Kentucky stradles the border between the Great Lakes Region and the South. Some people would be even less generous and say that they are now Eastern States for all practical purposes.

To me, the Midwest is basically the states that lie west of the Missisippi River up to the Rocky Mountains. I was tired of hearing people on the news refer to former U.S. president, Gerald Ford, as a Midwesterner or "a man who grew up with Midwestern values." He was from Michigan which is really too far east, too industrialized and too cosmopolitan to qualify as Midwestern. On the other hand, Dwight D. Eisenhower definitely was Midwestern, maybe Harry Truman too.

This classification is not just a linguistic one but a geographic, demographic and economic one too.
zzz   Wed Jan 17, 2007 9:01 pm GMT
Why not just go with Labov's regions? He dispenses with the term "Midwestern" altogether and uses the terms North (including Inland North), North Central, and Midlands.

>> Of course there is a lot of social and regional variation but can we even talk about midwestern accent(s) with distinctive features that would set them apart from other American accents? <<

Well, the North, especially the Inland North, has the Northern Cities Vowel shift. It really seems to be the case that women often have a much stronger accent than men. I've almost always noticed a strong Northern cities shift in women from the North--usually they can say one sentence, and I can hear their accent. It takes me a longer time to detect a Northern accent in men though. I usually have to listen for a while and hear if they make a distinction between words like "cot" and words like "caught". Another interesting thing I've noticed is that women tend to have a noticeble "a" sound in "cat", whereas men tend to have a more noticible accent in words like "mom"--they say "mom" just a little bit funny. People here in the West, tend to have a more rounded sound to it.
zzz   Wed Jan 17, 2007 9:07 pm GMT
>> However, I belong to the school of thought which says that these states are part of the Great Lakes region along with Ohio and upstate New York. <<

Well, these regions aren't really official or anything. Each person has sort of a different way of classifying areas into regions. The same could be said of the Pacific Northwest, for example. Most people define it as Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia. Some people think that Idaho should be considered part of it; others think that Montana should be included as well; others think that at least part of Alaska should be part of it; others think British Columbia and Alaska should be excluded; some think Northern California should be included, etc. As you can see, no one really can agree. Some people even argue that Washington, Oregon, and California should not be considered part of the West! Also, is Texas part of the South, or the West, or should it get it's own region?
Sho   Thu Jan 18, 2007 3:29 am GMT
I wouldn't pronounce 'out family' with a diphthong or a schwa unless I'm trying to be extremely careful with my pronunciation.
Normally I just say /Ar f{mli/.
zzz   Thu Jan 18, 2007 3:40 am GMT
>> I wouldn't pronounce 'out family' with a diphthong or a schwa unless I'm trying to be extremely careful with my pronunciation.
Normally I just say /Ar f{mli/.<<

Yeah, so would I
Llorenna   Thu Jan 18, 2007 3:42 pm GMT
Meg Ryan used Midwestern accent in the movie ''Against the Ropes'' .
So Midwestern accent is not accentless at all.

I believe that WesternUSA English more accentless than current Midwestern English (CotCaught merger is much less regional-sounding than Northern Cities shift)
zzz   Thu Jan 18, 2007 3:45 pm GMT
>> I believe that WesternUSA English more accentless than current Midwestern English (CotCaught merger is much less regional-sounding than Northern Cities shift) <<

Exactly. In fact, I'd wager that most people, don't even notice it.
Llorenna   Thu Jan 18, 2007 3:50 pm GMT
''another terrific performance by Ryan (even with her spotty attempt at a midwest accent that fades in and out like a cool FM rock station you try to keep tuned on a long road trip).

Dutton's penetrating performance easily upstages the rest of his assembled ensemble, especially Ryan who substitutes a Midwest accent and an assortment of tight outfits for acting.

Not to denegrate Ryan, but I might have preferred someone like Sharon Stone in the title role. Ryan seems a bit too petite and "girlie". They seemed to have done some electronic adjustment to give her a low, raspy voice. She does handle the midwest accent very well though.''


So, I think, Midwestern accent is nothing like General American.
It can be heard and learned ;)
poor Meg Ryan, I think Valley Girl accent would suite her better
Travis   Fri Jan 19, 2007 11:35 pm GMT
>>Why not just go with Labov's regions? He dispenses with the term "Midwestern" altogether and uses the terms North (including Inland North), North Central, and Midlands. <<

The thing is that while "North" might be geographically accurate and that the term "Midwest" may be incorrect in a literal sense, the term "Midwest" refers to more than simply the physical location of the region within the US, but rather refers to things such as the culture and history of the region. One could speak of a much wider portion of the US as being "northern", but they are not necessarily *midwestern*. Similarly, the reasons why I include North Dakota as part of the Midwest but exclude, say, South Dakota have nothing to do with their particular locations but rather have to do with North Dakota having much closer cultural ties with Minnesota than South Dakota, and thus warranting its inclusion despite its peripheral physical location.

>>Another interesting thing I've noticed is that women tend to have a noticeble "a" sound in "cat", whereas men tend to have a more noticible accent in words like "mom"--they say "mom" just a little bit funny. People here in the West, tend to have a more rounded sound to it.<<

I do have to agree, as I myself at least often perceive the /A/ in more western dialects and especially more southwestern dialects as being almost more like [Q] in nature than just being purely unrounded [A].

>>I believe that WesternUSA English more accentless than current Midwestern English (CotCaught merger is much less regional-sounding than Northern Cities shift) <<

If you take General American to be "accentless", I would definitely agree there.
Nyla   Sun Jun 03, 2007 6:24 pm GMT
Im from central ill, and even though i dont think i have any accent, from a lot of people around us, appearently we do! Weird.. lol anyways, we definently have an "r" problem. haha. if i say "car" it sounds more like carrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, and its that way with everyone around here. Some people have somewhat of a southern accent mixed in with it, but its hardly noticable unless you're really listening for it. We could really probably be called "general american" to some degree, but there is definently an accent there, though its small. And i never noticed the "a" thing like in 'cat' but now that i think about it, we really do that too. Weird. LOL. Either way, the accent is there, but its next to unnoticable, unless you're lookin for it. :)
Jasper   Mon Jun 04, 2007 5:27 pm GMT
Curious:

Depends upon what part of the Midwest you're from.

I'll quote a lady friend, whose husband is from Iowa:

"My husband doesn't have an accent, but when you get further north, say in Minnesota or Wisconsin, they speak with a definite one; I can hear it right away."

There's a lot of vowel raising going on in the areas surrounding the Great Lakes.