“Normal” Midwest English

Lots of people seem to think that the Midwest is the land of accentless English.  This is simply not true.  If you speak a language, you speak a variety of that language.  It doesn’t matter where you live.

In fact, many parts of this country that are traditionally considered to be midwest are undergoing radical changes in their vowel systems.  Research by big-name sociolinguists (Dennis Preston, William Labov, and others) on the Northern Cities Shift (NCS) in Michigan has shown complete reversal of the vowel sounds in bed and bad, for example.  Meanwhile, several of us who studied under Dr. Preston have shown that this shift, which was thought to only affect White speakers, can be documented among Mexican Americans (e.g. research by Becky Roeder  and I), among African Americans (e.g. research by Jamilla Jones), and by Lebanese Americans (e.g. research by Jon Bakos) and Polish Americans.

Here’s a link to research in neighboring Ohio, where PhD candidate David Durian is looking at a different set of changes in the vowel systems in Columbus.  Among others, he suggests that the vowel in boat is being produced with the tongue further front in the mouth than we might otherwise expect, particularly among the younger women in his study.  


A Century of Language Change in Columbus, OH | Work in progress from my forthcoming dissertation on language change in the Columbus dialect over the course of the 20th Century. By David Durian, OSU.


About LingEducator

Dr. Jaclyn Ocumpaugh received a PhD for her dissertation on regional variation in the acoustics of Mexican American English (Michigan State University, East Lansing). Before that, she received an MA in English/Linguistics from North Carolina State University for her work on the acoustics of /r/--a sound which is highly variable in the English language. Her passion, however, has always been to understand the social implications of language variation. In addition to her work in acoustic sociophonetics, she has worked with rape trial analysis, developed cognitive methods for understanding discourse level variation between men and women, and created sophisticated tools for teaching future educators about the kinds of dialect variation they will find in the classroom. She has taught classes in English, Linguistics, and Education at Old Dominion University, William & Mary, the University of Mary Washington, and Virginia Wesleyan College. She is currently a Post Doctoral Fellow of Learning Sciences and Technologies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where she is helping to develop models of student engagement in the classroom. She also consults in the private sector.
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