North-Central American English

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North-Central American English
Region Upper Midwest
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog None

North-Central American English (also known as the Upper Midwest or North Central dialect in the United States) is an American English dialect native to the Upper Midwestern United States, an area that somewhat overlaps with speakers of the separate, Inland North dialect.[1] The North Central dialect, often popularly though stereotypically recognized as a Minnesota accent, most strongly stretches from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to eastern Montana, including between these the northern tip of Wisconsin, the whole northern half of Minnesota, some of northern South Dakota, and most of North Dakota;[2] however, many speakers of the dialect are also found throughout Minnesota, the Dakotas, and Wisconsin (except for metropolitan Milwaukee), as well as in the northern half of Iowa.[3]

The North Central dialect is considered to have developed in a residual dialect region, distinct from the neighboring dialect regions of the American West, the North, and Canada.[4] A sub-dialect is spoken in Southcentral Alaska's Matanuska-Susitna Valley, which was settled in the 1930s by Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin immigrants.[5] Another sub-dialect is local to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, largely influenced by the immigration of Finnish speakers to that area at the turn of the nineteenth century.


The sounds of the North Central dialect follow a General American pronunciation system, except for these distinctions:

  • Listeni// (the vowel in the word boot) and Listeni// (the vowel in boat) are conservatively formed in the back of the mouth, when compared to General American (in which the tongue is typically more fronted). // and // (the vowel in bait) may even lose their glide-like quality, moving towards a "glideless" (monophthongal) [o~oː] and [e~eː], respectively. /oʊ/ is more commonly pronounced as a monophthong than /eɪ/, and a monophthong is more common in coat than in ago or road, which indicates phonological conditioning.[clarification needed] Monophthongs are more common in the northernmost states like Minnesota and the Dakotas than in Iowa and Nebraska.[1]
  • Universal /æ/ tensing: the "short a" sound Listeni/æ/ (as in had, bag, past, etc.) is slightly raised and lengthened to approximately [ɛː] (as in head, beg, pest, etc.), or even diphthongized to [ɛə].
    • /æ/ tensing especially before /ɡ/ and /ŋ/: The near-close vowel /æ/ is strongly tensed before voiced velars /ɡ/ (as in bag, rag, etc.) and /ŋ/ (as in bang, rang, etc.) to open-mid [ɛ] or even close-mid [e], or to the diphthong [eɪ]; thus, the bag /bæg/ and magazine /ˈmægəzin/, for instance, sounds very similar to beg [bɛg] and mega-zeen [ˈmɛgəzin], or even higher in the mouth, like the vowel in the first syllable of bagel or pagan: thus bag and magazine as [be(ɪ)g] and [ˈme(ɪ)gəzin]. The "short a" vowels of flag, lag, sag, tag, dragon, agriculture, etc. often shift so that their stressed syllables rhyme with plague or vague.[4]
  • Both variants of Canadian raising: For the first element in the diphthongs /aɪ/ (as in pie) and /aʊ/ (as in pow), the tongue is raised to the sound [ɐ~ə] in certain words—the sound change in these two diphthongs are considered two variants of a phenomenon known as "Canadian raising" that is spreading throughout North America. Raising of /aɪ/ is more common than raising of /aʊ/.[6] Raising mostly occurs before voiceless consonants, but sometimes before voiced consonants, in particular words like fire, tiger, and spider.[7] Canadian raising causes a distinction, for example, between rider [ˈɹaɪɾɚ] and writer [ˈɹɐɪɾɚ], and in the vowels of bowed [baʊd] versus bout [bɐʊt]). Raising of /aʊ/ may result in a diphthong like [oʊ] (so that bout may almost sound like boat).
    • Unraised /aʊ/[ɑʊ]: The diphthong /aʊ/, when not subject to raising, often starts with a back vowel, [ɑʊ].
  • The vowels of roof /ruf/ and root /rut/, usually pronounced with the same vowel as boot, are sometimes shortened with [ʊ], the same vowel as foot.
  • Traces of a pitch accent: As in Norwegian, a pitch accent may persist in some areas of heavy Norwegian or Swedish settlement, and among people who grew up in those areas, some of whom are not of Scandinavian descent.[citation needed]
  • Cot–caught merger:[4] The vowel /ɔː/ as in ought and /ɒ/ as in odd (as well as historical /ɑː/ as in ah) are merged to a centrally-located, unrounded, open-mouth vowel sound [ä].
  • Mary–marry–merry merger: Words like perish, parish, and the name Parrish all become homophones, because all three of their vowel sounds merge into [ɛ] before any r sound. This is a common phenomenon throughout the United States, including in many General American accents.

History and geography[edit]

The appearance of monophthongs in this region is sometimes explained as a consequence of the high degree of Scandinavian and German immigration to these northern states in the late 1800s. Linguist Erik R. Thomas argues that these monophthongs are the product of language contact and notes that other areas where they occur are places where speakers of other languages have had an influence such as the Pennsylvania "Dutch" region.[8] An alternative account posits that these monophthongal variants represent historical retentions, since diphthongization of the mid vowels seems to have been a relatively recent phenomenon in the history of the English language, appearing within the last few centuries, and did not affect all dialects in the U.K. The monophthongs heard in this region may stem from the influence of Scots-Irish or other British dialects that maintain such forms. The fact that the monophthongs also appear in Canadian English may lend support to this account since Scots-Irish speech is known as an important influence in Canada.

Ethnic makeup of the US in 2000; the western part of Michigan's Upper Peninsula is the only region in the U.S. where Finnish Americans (medium light green) form the plurality. Likewise, Norwegian Americans (very light green) uniquely form the plurality in parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, and northeastern-most Montana.

People living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (whose demonym, and sometimes sub-dialect, is known as "Yooper," deriving from the acronym "U.P." for "Upper Peninsula"), many northern areas of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, and in Northeast Wisconsin are largely of Finnish, French Canadian, Cornish, Scandinavian, German, and/or Native American descent. The North Central dialect is so strongly influenced by these areas' languages and Canada that speakers from other areas may have difficulty understanding it. Almost half the Finnish immigrants to the U.S. settled in the Upper Peninsula, some joining Scandinavians who moved on to Minnesota. Another sub-dialect is spoken in Southcentral Alaska's Matanuska-Susitna Valley, because it was settled in the 1930s (during the Great Depression) by immigrants from the North Central dialect region.[5][9]


In this dialect, the preposition with is used without an object as an adverb in phrases like come with, as in Do you want to come with? for standard Do you want to come with me? or with us?. In standard English, other prepositions can be used as adverbs, like go down (down as adverb) for go down the stairs (down as preposition). With is not typically used in this way in standard English (particularly in British and its clone Irish English because of being distinguished as the original form of the English language), and this feature likely came from languages spoken by some immigrants, such as Scandinavian (Danish, Swedish, Norwegian), German (includes Austrian), or Dutch (includes Flemish and Luxembourgish, all of which have this construction, like Swedish kom med.[10][11]

Also, sometimes the comparative form of adjectives are used in place of the root form of the adjective.[citation needed]


Notable lifelong native speakers[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

The Upper Midwestern accent is made conspicuous, often to the point of parody or near-parody, in the film Fargo (especially as displayed by Frances McDormand's character Marge Gunderson) and the radio program A Prairie Home Companion (as displayed by many minor characters, especially those voiced by Sue Scott, with whom lead characters, most frequently male roles voiced by Garrison Keillor.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Allen, Harold B. (1973). The Linguistic Atlas of the Upper Midwest. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0-8166-0686-2. 
  2. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 148
  3. ^ Phonological Atlas of North America: Nation Map
  4. ^ a b c Labov, William; Sharon Ash; Charles Boberg (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-016746-8. 
  5. ^ a b c Purnell, T., Raimy, E., & Salmons, J. (2009). "Defining dialect, perceiving dialect and new dialect formation: Sarah Palin's speech." Journal of English Linguistics 37 (pp. 331–355). pp. 346, 349.
  6. ^ Kurath, Hans; Raven I. McDavid (1961). The Pronunciation of English in the Atlantic States. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-8173-0129-1. 
  7. ^ Vance, Timothy J. (1987). "'Canadian Raising' in Some Dialects of the Northern United States". American Speech. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 62 (3): 195–210. doi:10.2307/454805. JSTOR 454805. 
  8. ^ Thomas, Erik R. (2001). An Acoustic Analysis of Vowel Variation in New World English. Publication of the American Dialect Society. Durham: Duke University Press. p. 85. ISBN 0-8223-6494-8. 
  9. ^ a b Pinker, Steven (October 4, 2008). "Everything You Heard is Wrong". The New York Times. p. A19. 
  10. ^ Spartz, John M (2008). Do you want to come with?: A cross-dialectal, multi-field, variationist investigation of with as particle selected by motion verbs in the Minnesota dialect of English (Ph.D. thesis). Purdue University. 
  11. ^ Stevens, Heidi (December 8, 2010). "What's with 'come with'? Investigating the origins (and proper use) of this and other Midwesternisms". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved September 14, 2013. 
  12. ^ Smith, Candace (2016). "Seth Meyers forced back to work in hilarious ‘Making a Murderer’ spoof." New York Daily News.
  13. ^ Weigel, David (2011). "Michele Bachmann for President!" GQ. Condé Nast.