Dialect death? 

My guest post on the University of Wisconsin Press blog:

The remote and isolated location of the Upper Peninsula, along with language contact between English and other languages have shaped Yooper talk over the past 150 years and have helped it to remain fairly distinct from other varieties of American English. In addition, several social and cultural processes have affected the development and longevity of regional dialects. Processes that have specifically shaped Yooper talk include tourism and, more broadly, economics, the sociolinguistic history of the Upper Peninsula, research on regional varieties, awareness about language variation, and how speakers claim identity with language.

To continue reading, click here: Oh yah, that’s Yooper Talk


Accent as a Political Statement in "Elysium"

Although Elysium sounds like a movie I don’t want to see (post-earth apocalypse one more time), I’m curious about the film for two reasons–how (and if) it addresses real-world problems and its use of accents. According to Sharlto Copley, who plays a maniacal South African assassin, the film  takes on real-world problems, in part by using accent as a political statement. He’s quoted in an article in today’s New York Times, “Trying to Spice a Recipe for Cinematic Popcorn”: “Our movie is a political statement,” Mr. Copley added. “It doesn’t shy away from controversial ideas. No studio person was saying, ‘Oh, people won’t understand that accent you’re doing, so you had better do half of that.’ Or if there was, we didn’t listen.” I’m also curious as to how someone does “half” an accent.

Glottal Stopping Trending?

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “The Way They Talk II,” by Ben Yagoda, discusses glottal stopping. Yagoda describes the feature and explains what he perceives to be a new trend among students in New Jersey. I don’t doubt that it might be new to his ears, but it’s not a new feature, especially to speakers from parts of the Midwest, the dialect region that Carver (1987) labels as “Lower North.” I am one of those speakers, hailing from central Ohio. For example, I pronounce mitten as [mɪʔən] (mih-en) and didn’t as [dɪən] (dih-ent). So, I wonder if this is in fact a “new feature,” and instead is a trending feature. I am guessing here (someone does need to follow this up with research!) but, it seems that the trend is a result of dialect contact between the East Coast varieties that Yagoda is hearing and Midwestern (Lower North) varieties, which are often perceived as more “standard” than East Coast varieties. As a result of this perceived prestige and standardness, coupled with the prestige of media personalities who have helped to spread the feature, glottalization is spreading. My anecdotal data and that reflected in the comments to Yagoda’s article support the idea that glottalization is spreading from the Midwest and Manha-en to New Jersey.

Carver, Craig M.. 1987. American Regional Dialects: A Word Geography. Ann Arbor: U. of Michigan Press.