Accents have always fascinated me.  When my family moved back to the states and I discovered that I was not Italian (you mean I’ve been an American this whole time?), we found ourselves in the wilds of Upper Michigan, a place thick with snowmobiles, deer hunters, and the Yooper accent.  I mean, Da Yooper accent.  I’m not quite sure if I brought to America any kind of accent from Italy, but I can take credit for introducing lots of neighbors to the joy and wonder that is Nutella.  That’s really the coolest thing I ever accomplished by the age of eight. However, as a product of the millions-strong military family, I also brought with me a handy-dandy adaptability and a heavy desire to fit in with my peers. So, naturally, I began to sound like the rest of Upper Michigan.

If you listen closely, you’ll hear the narrator really expand on his oh sounds.  Maybe you won’t even need to listen all that closely.  It’s certainly there, this Yooper accent:

(On a totally unrelated note, only once in my five years as a student in Marquette County do I remember schools being closed for bad weather.  It wasn’t even because of the snow.  The wind chill was reaching close to -60 degrees – yes, negative 60 degrees – and the county just didn’t want any of the little kiddies freezing to death at the bus stop. Tough breed of people, dem der Yoopers.)

So I pay attention to the way people speak.  I’m sure it has everything to do with my geographic displacement in life and a constant exposure to my mother’s Northern Wisconsin accent.  You might be asking yourself right now, “A Yooper accent and a Northern Wisconsin accent are different?”  Yes, they certainly are.  For one, there is no eh at the end of a sentence in Northern Wisconsin.  And secondly, I also thought there was a certain Fargo-the movie quality to a Northern Wisconsin accent.  But that’s just me. Yoopers descend from a long history of Finnish immigrant miners.  Northern Wisconsinites are more of the German/Polish stock.

Some people like to point out that I talk…funny.  Well, it’s funny to you, North Florida.  I know when my mouth is forming the word bowl that I mean to say bowl, not bull.  To you, it sounds the same. To me, and almost every other Yooper/Northern Wisconsinite in the land, the two words couldn’t sound more different.  My best friend in Milwaukee pointed out that the word sausage is pronounced sassage…but I know what she’s saying and it has nothing to do with any diva-like qualities and no reference to my daughter’s pain-in-the-ass mood I like to call Sassysquatch.  It’s a sausage, by golly. 

My grandfather was born and raised in Northern Wisconsin.  He’s a Beaber…the Americanized spelling of the German/Polish Bieber.  Are we related to the squeal-worthy charmer known as Justin?  I’m sure in someone’s dark, deep www.ancestry.com file, there’s a connection.  But Grandpa carries a thick accent, so much so that I’ve had to translate once or twice for my friends.  I don’t think he speaks German or Polish, but if you heard him you might think English was his second language.  That’s only because of his Northern Wisconsin accent, though. 

(Note: I’ve suggested t-shirts for our next family reunion – they should read The Original Beaber Fever. And we can all wear skinny jeans and roll our leather jacket sleeves up to our elbows and flip our heads to seductively throw our bangs from our eyes.  But most of us are older than 16 and all that head-flipping could result in neck strains and muscle spasms.  It’s probably best we stick with the t-shirts and call it a day.)

Here in Florida, I don’t notice a southern accent.  At least, it’s not as rampant as those from other parts of the country might suspect.  Does Florida have an accent?  If so, has it been diluted by the millions of snowbirds who have wintered here since the beginning of time?  Maybe that’s why it isn’t so noticeable.  One thing is for sure: I can point out an accent from the Great Lakes region in no time.  Other people might be able to as well, but I bet they don’t get as excited as I do when I come across someone I consider to be of my own kind.

And when I meet one, well…move over, rest of the world.  I’ve got someone to talk shop with.  Subjects of discussion include: shoveling driveways for money as a kid, smelt fishing, at least one terrifying experience being buried in the snow, pasties (a like in apple), the Great Peshtigo Fire (the Great Chicago Fire stole our thunder), how Northern Michigan refers to the northern portion of the Lower Peninsula (because the Upper Peninsula is so far up north, it scares people), and the way the Yooper accent is mockingly compared to the Canadian accent.

For the record, I cannot ever recall a time in my life when I spoke aboot things, like going oot for the evening while wearing a bedazzled bloose.  That’s Canadian. (translation: aboot – about, oot – out, bloose – blouse).

Because that just sounds silly.

However, I have been in the South long enough to catch myself saying y’all. I do not say fixin’ and I hold steadfast in my desire to never allow that word to roll off my tongue and pass my lips, unless I am making fun of my brother who now says it himself. 

My contributions to the southern language?  You guys (the northern equivalent of y’all) and yah (yes). A coke means a soda, a bubbler is a water fountain, and nearly every word containing the oh sound gets special recognition from me. 

We Yoopers like our oh sounds.


About Dena

I'm a suburban Clevelander by way of Oklahoma City, by way of North Florida, by way of Southern Maryland, by way of Upper Michigan, by way of Northern Italy, by way of Lower Michigan, by way of Texas. Because of living in so many places, I have something in common with almost everyone I meet. I love reading, writing, and American history (especially reading or writing about American history). I'm interested in culture of place, historical trauma, and writing about the kinds of histories most people don't know about.
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2 Responses to Oh!

  1. Debbie says:

    FYI, Accents change every 50 miles. I heard that on NPR!

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