Special Report: You Must Be From Michigan
The Michigan Accent
There’s a good chance you think people from Michigan have no discernible accent. The standard, or broadcast dialect was based partly on how people in our region of the country speak… So there can’t be an accent… Right? Wrong, says Edward McLelland, author of “How To Speak Midwestern.” He says people will say, “‘We don’t have an accent’, using a raised A that’s a real signature of Michigan. There’s been a change in Midwestern speech that’s really made it distinctive from the rest of the country, and it’s called the northern cities vowel shift.”
“Oh Michigan definetly has an accent. There’s like this really twangy prarie type accent that i’ve noticed since moving back to Michigan,” says Thaddius Gommeson, a native Michigander. McLelland says, “You know Michigan speech tends to be nasal. Someone says it sounds like a pirate with a head cold.”
We went out in search of the Michigan accent… Asking people to read a list of words McLelland says are pure michigan giveaways. “There’s that raised A sound where they say “can”. Then there’s the drawn-out O sound, “can of pop.”
Geographically, we tend to change the names of some Michigan cities. “You don’t say Grand Rapids, it’s Granrapids.” And what happened to the “T” in Pontiac?
And there’s something kinda funny we do with certain business names too. You may have noticed it. You may have even heard it at Meijers. “That supposedly comes from Ford. You didn’t work at Ford. You worked at Mr. Ford’s. So then it became a Michigan habit to add a possessive to institutions that didn’t have it.” Thus Meijer, with an “S” on the end.
Of course there’s the distinctive and famous Upper Peninsula sound. McClelland says, “I think one reason the UP talks so differently is … because it’s a remote area…. and it was settled by Fins who came to work in the mines and Fins speak a language completely unrelated to English. They do that Dose, Dem, and Dese thing up there and that’s a function of the fact that Finnish doesn’t have the TH sound.”
You learn something new everyday, Eh? “Eh usage is very important if you go to the UP. It’s what you call a tag question. Used either to elicit a response or make sure someone is listening like ‘I was in my tree stand, eh?'”
So no matter what part of Michigan you’re from, how you speak can give you away.
And if you don’t like the way we sound… just wait. “Accents are always changing. Every generation has its own sound, its own accent. Just like every generation has its own music and slang. You don’t talk like your parents talk, and they don’t talk like your grandparents talk.”