Tag Archives: Wisconsin

Accent on Indiana

6 Dec


Like most Midwesterners, I always thought that only  other people had funny accents.  I imagined that I  sounded   like  Walter Cronkite. Growing up near St. Louis,  it took a long time before I realized that I pronounced “fork” as “fark” and that our first president was not George “Warshington”. Someone  once  said that all those “r’s”  they drop in Boston (where they say “paak yaa  caa ”  instead of  “park your  car” ) migrated  southwest  and are alive and well in Southern Illinois. 

According to Dennis Baron, a University of Illinois professor of  linguistics, our speech is the most important thing that people judge us on,  aside from physical appearance.  Accents are those noticeable  differences in speech sounds,  rhythm, stress, and emphasis.   Dialect refers to  broader variations   including things such as vocabulary,  syntax, and grammar. Both are related to  where we come from, our primary social group, native language, and social-economic status.  

A study in the  Journal of Employment Counseling  found that speakers with accents or dialects were routinely given  lower employability ratings by a panel of human resource  professionals.

Experts  disagree about just how many dialects there are in theUnited States. Typical estimates range  from 3 to over 24,  depending on what you consider to be a “language community”. Language communities  are   groups that share a common dialect and some radical scholars contend that there may be  thousands of  dialects  inAmerica.

On dialect maps,  Southern Indiana usually  falls in the  South Midlandregion. Dominated by Appalachia,  common speaking  conventions include   pronouncing  “th” as “f’  ( It’s my birfday”),   leaving out the word  “are”,   and placing  an  “a”  in front of words ending in “ing” and dropping the “g” (“I’m a-goin to town”). This  region has also  retained  a large number of words from the Elizabethan English  spoken at the time  of Shakespeare,  such as “reckon”,  “sorry”  (meaning inferior) , “trash”, “well” (meaning healthy),  and “guess” (meaning suppose).

According to Matt Campbell at East Central Oklahoma University,  about 59%  of Hoosiers routinely use the word “pop” as the generic name for a  soft drink, but there are some significant regional differences. Northern Indiana uses “pop” almost exclusively,    but in  Indianapolis and  Southern Indianathe more southern term,  “coke”, is often used. When I worked in Mississippi  I frequently  heard people refer  to Seven Up®  as “white coke”.

I noticed that  St. Louis and Eastern Wisconsin, where my wife Diane grew up,    both use the word, “soda”—  maybe that’s why we are compatible. But don’t ever ask Diane  where she is from,  unless you are prepared  to hear her formal presentation,  which includes the use of her hand as a visual aid to understanding the geography  of Wisconsin. The  base  of the thumb is Green Bay,  the thumb itself is  “DoorCounty” and she is from a knuckle.   When we visit the knuckle,  Diane’s accent changes abruptly and I have trouble following it when she and her brother start talking. I can discriminate  Wisconsinfrom   Minnesotabut I am still fooled by a U.P. Michiganaccent.        

At PBS’s Do you Speak American website(http://www.pbs.org/speak/), linguistics professor  Dennis R. Preston  (who once taught  at  IUS)  reports that Americans believe  that some regions speak better English than others. He found that while some areas favor  their own speech and others  don’t, there is wide consensus that New York City and  the South are on the bottom of the barrel.

When we lived inFloridathere  was a jumble of accents because of all the transplants, although we always found the native southern accent charming. When our middle son was in kindergarten,  we moved and he unfortunately  was assigned  to a teacher fromNew Yorkat his new school. Her voice must have sounded harsh and demanding in comparison to the dulcet tones of his previous sweet southern teacher.  Her speech somehow communicated an urgency that put him under tremendous pressure. Before we were able to rescue him,  he pathetically kept bringing home stacks of pictures to color.  He felt like he had to work all night, just  to  keep up in the rat race that was his kindergarten class.

Professor Preston had Southern Indiana residents rate  all the states for  both  speech correctness and pleasantness. Southern Indiana residents ranked the state  of Indiana on top for  pleasantness  and ranked New York, Arkansas, and New Mexicoas the least pleasant.  However, for speech correctness,   curiously Southern  Indiana residents rankedWashingtonState  on top, with a score of  8 out of 10. I have no idea how they even talk out there.  Indiana was in the middle  with  6 out of 10,  and the southern states (except for Florida) were  rated  lowest with scores of 2  out of 10.

Southerners  don’t do very well on international  comparisons either.  A paper  presented  the International Communication Association  described a study  in which   Northeastern American  college students rated speakers from England, India, Jamaica, Russia, and the southern United States. They were rated  for attractiveness, friendliness, and intelligence. The posh-accented British speaker  ranked  highest in  all three categories. The American Southerner ranked lowest in both intelligence and attractiveness.  Despite some evidence that Southern speech patterns are spreading nationally, there still seems to be considerable prejudice.

Some career counselors even recommend that people  with “maximally perceived” accents or dialects, undergo accent  and dialect modification therapy in order to be more  competitive in the job market.  While it’s  very important to be able  to communicate effectively, this homogenization of our language  somehow just seems wrong. We need the color and spice of diversity.  Maybe we should be teaching tolerance instead of pronunciation.

  Well I reckon that’s all. H’it’s time to be a’goin for a coke, I guess.  And when youse go to bed tonight don’t be a’ forgetin to pull up the kivvers to keep warm.

Based on a News Tribune column.




Chili Dog Gone it, Wish I was a Pumpkin Ice Cream Cone Eater

15 Nov


                           After dropping our boat off at its second home— the repair shop for the rest of the year,  my wife Diane and I stopped at a roadside drive-in,  where she had some  birthday cake ice cream (which  apparently is vanilla with blue and white icing mixed into it) and I made my customary mistake  of getting a very messy foot-long chili cheese dog. She  didn’t care much for the flavor, but I was envious— I could smell sugar.   In recent years I’ve  become  partial to sugar-free pumpkin  frozen yoghurt, but you seldom see it around  until Harvest Homecoming time.

                   Ever since we moved here, I have  been impressed by how much Hoosiers like  their ice cream.Indiana is the nation’s second largest producer, followin gCalifornia  and about 9% of all the milk produced is used for ice cream. Seasonal  ice cream places, like Zestos and Polly’s Freeze,  always have  long lines  and    Dairy Queens seem  to do a brisk year-round business.   

                  I grew up  near St. Louis and my father never told me that the St. Louis  produced almost  two dozen Nobel Prize winners,  But being a man with his priorities straight, he must have told me a thousand  times that the ice cream cone was invented  there in  1904 at the  World’s Fair.  

                        As a kid I was crazy about ice cream, until I was about seven years old. That’s when my older brother,Norman,  asked me if I knew why the ice cream cones at Baxter’s  Confectionary (my favorite place)  tasted so good. I admitted I didn’t know and Norman proceeded to tell me in graphic detail  how crotchety old man  Baxter, who  constantly smoked a pipe, drooled on every cone, as he made them.  Although I closely observed  the suspect Mr. Baxter I personally  never witnessed any such act.  Just the same,  that image  put me off ice cream until I graduated from college, when inexplicably I started smoking a pipe.  It’s funny how a mental picture  can have such an impact in your life, even if it’s not true.

                      Norman’s vivid stories of food atrocities also  convinced me not to eat, eggs,  mustard,  andClarkbars throughout most of my childhood.  There are also several brands of soft drinks I still won’t  touch,  because of the fellow who fell into the vat  at the bottling plant and drowned and then  the acid in the soda –  well you get the picture. Today urban legends on the internet have picked up where Norman left off. For example chocolate  milk  was ruined for me when I read  a  bogus report that claimed that they make chocolate milk  out of milk  that has been tainted with blood and appears pink.

                       Surveys show that 91% of adults and 98% of children enjoy ice-cream.   However, as a youngster,  Diane was notorious in her family for actually disliking ice-cream. Such a thing was simply unheard of in Wisconsin.   To add to the irony, she comes from  Two Rivers which  is one of the claimants for being  the “home of ice cream sundae”. Diane  never cared much for cheese either– another “Dairy State” blasphemy. They must have thought she was from the planet Remulak. She eventually had to leave the state.  

                         But I suppose Diane came by her dairy mutiny, legitimately. When the Wisconsin legislature banned the sale of oleomargarine, her  father would drive to Michiganjust to buy it,  instead of butter. And instead of wholesome natural Wisconsin cheddar,  her  mother preferred to serve Velveeta— which according to dubious Wisconsinlore was swept up  from the leftovers on the floor, after they made the real cheese. 

                       I remember when the first ice cream trucks came to our neighborhood. Children have a special radar and can  hear that ice cream truck music ten miles away.  Some kids followed those  trucks  around on their  bikes all day. They were  like remora attached to  sharks. They were the same ones who  would trail the city jeep, when it  sprayed the alleys for mosquitoes. I think they got  a little intoxicated  from inhaling that white cloud of insecticide and were addicted. I’m not sure which  had  the most negative heath effects, consuming the chemically saturated artificial ice cream or breathing all that toxic  bug killer.  


                                 Over  20%  of Americans admit to binging on ice cream  in the middle of the night and about 10% say they actually lick  the bowl clean.  Once  we were shoveling ice cream into our eighteen-month old granddaughter,  when  suddenly she  balled up her little fists and pressed  them against  her temples. This was the youngest example of  an “ice cream headache”, I‘ve witnessed and we all felt a little guilty.

                    There is a   nerve center  in the back of the mouth and when it’s  rapidly cooled   the blood vessels constrict,  causing  pain receptors to overload and refer the discomfort to the head.  Sort of like a governor on a motor, that won’t   allow it to run faster than a designated speed, this mechanism punishes us, if we get greedy and eat our ice-cream too fast.    I don’t know why they don’t teach this in school, but   scientists claim that you   relieve “brain freeze” by rubbing your tongue or sucking hard on the roof of your mouth to warm it up.   

                    About one in twenty  people  report they share their ice cream with pets  and I’ve noticed that many stores sell frozen novelties designed for animals. They look pretty tasty,  but in this economy, do dogs really need ice-cream sandwiches?   

                    But  we love our pets and  nothing symbolizes indulgence better than ice-cream. Like pie alamode, it’s  that extra treat,  literally  on top of another treat. We recently took our grandchildren to the Newport Aquarium, which they found somewhat entertaining, especially the gift shop, where we spent most of the time.  On the way home we stopped at an ice cream shop. There were  way too many flavors to choose from and the busy shopkeeper grew highly impatient and annoyed at all the indecision.  I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t make up my mind, they didn’t have  sugar-free pumpkin or chili cheese dogs.