[PODCAST] “Yah, you bet” it’s time to listen for the “Minesooota” accent

I’m Sam Hanson, and this podcast will be focused around the famous *maybe infamous* Minnesota accent. The music you just heard was the theme of the TV series Fargo, which, along with the Coen Brothers’ movie, brought the Minnesotan accent to its extreme.

The “Minnesota Nice” accent is not just a sign of geographical origin, however, it also conveys social and cultural backgrounds. In a sense, accents are part of one’s larger identity.

The long “o” sound is prominent in the Fargo accent, such as “Minesoooota.” In linguistics, this sound is called a monophthongal vowel. The accent is also characterized by flat a’s, nasal tone, and a singsong cadence. Scandinavian phrases are also borrowed, such as “uff da” and “alrighty then.” However, because of the popularity of the Fargo movie and tv show, the accent mainly seems to be used in a sarcastic, or ironic, context.

However, it is important to acknowledge the other dialects that exist in Minnesota, such as the Hmong population in the Twin Cities. The U.S. Census Bureau even found that more than 100 different languages are spoken in Minnesotan homes.

The main reason dialects occur is an imperfect learning of English. In the Minnesota Iron Range, immigrants from Croatia, England, Slovenia, and Finland came to work in iron ore mines, resulting in a blend of cultures and language. In this particular dialect, the “j” sounds sound more like “ch” consonant (an example is “judge”), which is a feature called “devoicing” — also, the “z” can sound like an “s,” and “g” like a “k”

I talked to juniors Annika Findlay and Sonja Henze, and asked them to identify how they pronounced different words, and then compared this to the state data.

Sam: Do you pronounce the word “caught”—as in to catch—and “cot”—as in the thing you sleep in—the same or differently?     

Annika: The same

Sonja: I caught it, versus cot?

Sonja: I think I say it a little differently.

Annika: I say cot and cot. Like c-a-t but not like “cat”—long, no, short “a.” Whatever [laughs].

Sam: This phenomenon is actually known as the “Cot-caught merger”—the loss of distinction between vowel sounds in two words which sound the same. This vowel shift is most prominent in Northern cities. However, a dialect survey reports that the state is split nearly 50-50 between “different” and “same.”

Sam: What about “coupon,” as in “coopon” or “cyoopon.”

Sonja: “Coopon”—no.

Annika: It’s a “cyoopon.”

Sam: “Coopon,” it turns out, has the majority with 60%.

Sam: What about “pecan.” There are many different ways you can say it.

Sonja: I say “pee-khan.”

Annika: I say “pee-can.”

Sonja: It’s not a “pee-can”

Annika: It’s not a “pee-can” but it’s also not—whatever you said.

Sonja: “Pee-CANT.” [laughter].

Sam: The pronunciation is split between stress on the first syllable versus the second syllable, but “pee-khan” is the most popular, with 36%.

Sam: What about “car-ml” versus “carra-mel.”

Sonja: “Car-ml.”

Annika: “Car-ml,” unless I want to be really fancy, then I say “carra-mel.”

Sam: An overwhelming 66% percent disregards the vowel—interestingly, the three-syllable pronunciation almost disappears once you go west of the Ohio River.   

Sam: Have you ever been self-conscious about your Minnesota accent outside of the state?

Sonja: I didn’t really realize it until I went to Georgia, and then all the sudden I was like “Wow, I really do have a Minnesota accent.” But other than that I haven’t really thought about it.

Annika: My aunt points it out all the time, because I say “Oh, jeez” all the time, and so she’s like “You’re so Minnesotan, sometimes I feel sad.”

Sonja: I say “oop” a lot. “Oop.”

Annika: “Oop”

Sam: Do you think you’ve been “losing” your accent as you progress through high school, or have you keep your Minnesota accent?

Sonja: I think I’ve definitely kept it.

Annika: I think I’ve gotten worse.

Sonja: Me too, I think it’s gotten stronger.

This concludes the podcast. Thank you for listening.