Like Christina Applegate’s character Veronica Corningstone in the comedy flick Anchorman, I’ve long credited myself for having a non-regional dialect. That’s saying something for someone who lived in Minnesota for six years. The stereotypical Minnesotan accent with the ohs and yas, drawn out vowel sounds and the ‘G’ chopped of ‘-ing’ suffixes is a real thing. That’s how they, er, we talk.
I used to think the Minnesotan accent was shameful. New York and Boston accents get glorified in the movies, but the Minnesotan accent is used for characters from the Upper Midwest portrayed as simpletons or well-to-do small-town folk with basic lives and seriously flawed fashion sense.
No one ever wants to hear, “Hey, you sort of sound like Sarah Palin!”
A few of the students I work with (by phone) live in Minnesota, and I usually spare a few minutes in our discussions for Minnesota-related banter — weather, the Vikings, fishing, hockey. Minnesota stuff.
Yesterday, I caught myself slipping into the Minnesota dialect like it was my most comfortable pair of blue jeans. Not only did I catch myself doing it, but I did so on purpose. And you know what? It felt fantastic. It felt like the most natural thing I’ve ever done. Is that so wrong?
My natural dialect, again, sounds non-regional. I’ve had co-workers peg me for a Colorado native. (Thanks?) There were a few times in college I’d catch myself calling hockey “hawkey” or saying Oh, jeez in reaction to anything bad. Surrounded by a bunch of tobacco-chewing, Budweiser-swilling, camouflage-wearing at the bar I where I used to tend, I’m sure there were times I took on the dialect in full force.
In college, I took a linguistics course which hit on how dialects are utilized by groups of people throughout the country. We spent time talking about the ethics involved. Back in the 1990s, Madonna caught hell for moving to London and acquiring an English accent. The thought was she was a poser for doing so. What if Madonna had moved to Madrid and was forced to speak Spanish? Would she have received the same criticism? No, because you would reason that’s the language Spaniards speak. She had to adapt.
In class, we concluded the same of regional dialects. The Minnesotan dialect may not be an altogether foreign language, but it’s a vocabulary and a set of sounds a large group of people in the region use to communicate. So many argue — however, falsely — if you’re coming to America, you better speak English, because we’re not learning your language. The same principle should apply to regional dialects, then. If you’re moving to Brooklyn or South Boston or even Los Angeles, you better learn the lingo as if you were going to a foreign country.
You know what people from Portland sound like? “Blah blah organic blah sustainable blah blah gluten-free blah blah blah high fructose corn syrup killed my family blah blah vegan.”
What am I saying? Let me bring it on home like this: When I move back to Minnesota, I’m no longer avoiding the dialect. Don’t ‘cha know I’m going to speak like my fellow Minna-soh-tens without a care aboot what others think.