“Da Bears”: Humor from the Inland North dialect

Whenever I visit my brother, we inevitably end up discussing Minnesotan and Canadian accents. While he isn’t a linguist, but an engineer, he has always picked up on some of those subtle phonological differences. When two new roundabouts were constructed nearby, we talked all [əbʌʊt] the [ɹʌʊndəbʌʊts] (for those who are unfamiliar with IPA: that’s “about” and “roundabout” with some Canadian raising sprinkled in).

When we watch a hockey game, we laugh and call the opposing team a [bʌntʃ ə hozɚs] (“bunch of hosers”), which is Minnesota- and Canadian-speak for “losers.” The lexical item supposedly comes from outdoor hockey, where you have to “ice” a pond/lake (that means add a layer of water to it) after you play to make the ice smooth again to skate on. Traditionally, the losers do this, so if you’re hosing down a sheet of ice, you’re a hoser, AKA a loser.

This Thanksgiving, we had our fair share of [o ja ju betʃə] (“Oh yeah, you betcha”) jokes as always, but we also had a new addition of Chicago-speak. Our family happened to be talking about old SNL skits when the subject of “Bill Swerski’s Super Fans” came up. This was a recurring sketch over 20 years ago, in which four Chicago sports fans talk obsessively about the Bears, the Bulls, and the Cubs, essentially pretending to be analysts (although their predictions were nearly always absurd). Their show takes place “in the heart of Chicago” in Mike Ditka’s Sports Bar (Ditka was the coach of the Bears at the time, and he was their idol), where the four drink copious amounts of beer and eat a lot of meat and fried food. You can see an example of this in the video below.

While some of the humor is derived from their wildly inaccurate predictions and obsessive love of Mike Ditka, a majority of the laughs come from their speech. The actors portray an exaggerated Chicagoan accent, which falls within the Inland North in Labov and colleague’s Atlas of North American English (2006). It also happens to be a part of the Northern Cities Vowel Shift, which is evident in how they say a lot of their /æ/ and /a/ vowels. Notice the /æ/ in how they pronounce “attack,” “fans,” “Pat,” and “basketball,” with the vowel nearly becoming [eə]. Also pay attention to their /a/ vowels in “Bob,” “Todd,” and “-hicag-“, which sound much more like [æ].

It’s not just the vowels that they impersonate – they also have word-final plural [s] where other dialects have [z], such as in “boys” [bɔɪs] and “seas” [sis]. They also focus on the fortition of /θ/ and /ð/ becoming [t] and [d], for example “the” being pronounced as “da.” We know that Labov (2006) studied this in the speech of New Yorkers, but it’s not confined to that city – in fact, it’s another characteristic of the Inland North. This is one of the main bits of humor from this sketch, as the most memorable and often-repeated line is their toast to “da Bears” [da: bers].

Since this sketch was recurring and wildly popular, I wonder if it had any effect of linguistic awareness. Did people in the Inland North become more aware of these characteristics in their speech? Did people embrace their uses of “da” for “the,” plural morpheme /z/ devoicing, and fronted vowels in attempt to solidify their identity as Chicagoan? Or did some people consciously try to change the way they spoke since their accent was mocked on national television? I don’t have answers for these questions, but I think it’d be interesting to hear Chicagoans’ opinions on their speech, these videos, and the links to their identity – both now and 20 years ago. I know that I myself embrace my Minnesotan accent when in the Midwest, but as soon as I’m back in DC I try to flip a switch, trading my monophthongs [e] and [o] for diphthongs [eɪ] and [oʊ], and abandoning lexical items like “hoser” and “icing” a rink. Maybe they do the same, maybe the don’t – that will also depend on the identity of their interlocutor and what kind of identity they want to portray to them.

I anticipate more discussions on Midwestern speech when I visit family again in a couple of weeks. Maybe this time, though, I can introduce my brother to the California Vowel Shift, just to broaden our horizons a bit, dude [dʉd].



Labov, W. (2006). The social stratification of English in New York City, Second Edition. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Labov, W., Ash, S., & Boberg, C. (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin, Germany: Mouton-de Gruyter.

This is going to sound really weird

Everyone knows what baby talk is. When people see a baby, they have the tendency to slip into baby talk. They raise their pitch and start to sing aaaAAAAaalllLLL theeeiiiirrr woooOORrrdsss. Gross, right? Well, I thought so. Until I realized that I, an staunch opponent of baby talk (Just talk to them like regular kids!), have my own baby talk…but for my dog. Granted, I do call my dog my son (NOT FURBABY). But why would I use this baby talk if I hate it so much? Obviously, this baby talk exists for a very specific audience, but why only dogs?

In my quest to solve my crisis, I found this nifty article.


In the article, it mentions that as humans, we respond to certain baby features that better our bonding. In the case of puppies, their exaggerated features mirror that of human babies, prompting us to employ our baby talk. So, we are using what we know about humans to bond with dogs!


For “my” baby talk, my voice raises as it would for common baby talk, but then I do something weird: I put on a random (read: unknown) accent. WHY AM I LIKE THIS? Could it be that this accent is meant to create a better dog person persona? I must admit that I do not think such is the case. (THIS SOUNDS SO BIZARRE BUT HEAR ME OUT) I have noticed that my baby talk accent is the same accent that I use when voicing dogs. Instead, I think it might be my way of attempting to create bonds with dogs. After realizing this, I think I have less aversion to using baby talk with babies, as I believe it is used for the same reason I use it with dogs.


I’ve spent the last semester working at a preschool, bouncing between the 18mo-2.5yo class, the 2.5-3.5yo class, and the 3.5-5yo class. Obviously these kids run the full range of language development due to the age differences during this rapid period of growth, but it seems as though the minute they begin to speak in intelligible words, they are already becoming susceptible to the influence of their peers. The youngest class is still working on making basic words. They will look you dead in the eye and speak with very serious expressions and inflection, but say basically no words.

The middle class has a lot of different things going on depending on the individual child. There are three bilingual children in this class. Two are twins with one of their parents speaking Spanish and one speaking English. Before attending the center where I work, the kids went to a Spanish immersion preschool. They like speaking Spanish in class, to the teachers, and singing songs in Spanish. The third bilingual in this class speaks only Spanish with his parents and English at school. He has a hard time with rhotics and consonant blends so it’s hard to tell if the Spanish has any generalizable phonological influence on his English. The only thing I’ve noticed so far is that he says, “Batman!” with more a Spanish-like vowel than the /æ/ that would be expected in English. He also refuses to speak Spanish with the Spanish-fluent teachers at school. For example, other bilinguals in the school will respond in English to Spanish questions from their parents or teachers, but this child will say “No! Stop!” if any Spanish-fluent individuals talk to him in Spanish at school. Interestingly though, he will speak Spanish with me, translating colors and objects around the classroom one at a time.

The oldest class has a lot more going on linguistically. These children can definitely speak in full sentences and honestly never stop talking. They are able to tell somewhat convoluted stories and they’ve moved into teasing, heckling, and inappropriate language use. They are fully capable of encouraging (inappropriate language, specifically) and discouraging certain terms, phrases, or pronunciations. For example, the other day, a child came in with a new jacket. The other kids in the class were ogling his new jacket and one of them commented, “Hey! You’re lookin’ sharp!” Immediately, all of the children turned away from the new shiny object towards this new shiny phrase. They asked him, “What did you say?” and he responded, “Oh, he looks cool.” The child had tried out something new hoping it would be easily integrated into his peers’ developing lexicons, but instead attention was brought to it and he dropped the term. Almost immediately after the incident, I asked him about what he said and he wouldn’t tell me, probably because he thought I would reprimand him as his peers had. I repeated what I had heard him say and asked for confirmation of the phrase, which was given. I asked where he had learned it and he responded the he’d picked it up from his father. He hasn’t tried to use the phrase since this instance, instead opting again for ‘cool.’ This firsthand experience of the pressures of social development exemplified how early peers might influence the way someone talks.

Working at a preschool has really shown me how suddenly language develops and how quickly peers and social pressures influence the way people speak.

Adventures at the Grocery Store

I work at a grocery store as a part-time cashier, and in the past couple of months, have encountered numerous circumstances that I found intriguing, especially from a variation standpoint.

For one, when I talk to customers, my pitch goes up as I attempt to sound more friendly and pleasant. Despite what I may actually be feeling, or my inner thoughts, I am not only able to plaster on a smile, but keep my voice up and “upbeat,” portraying the happy and pleasant worker customers most like to see.

Second, I also tend to use the alveolar (IN) instead of the velar (ING). Just as a higher pitch indexes “happy” and “pleasant,” I hypothesize I use this to index “friendly,” and “hospitable.”

Third, I have started hyper-articulating my t’s when giving instructions to customers. When they checkout I have to ask for their rewards card, and if they don’t have it, I instruct them to press “alt(h) ID.” Here, I am trying to be clear and articulate, and thus make it so the customer’s are more willing to listen and comprehend what I am saying.

Fourth, I have actually slipped into a southern accent once or twice, namely monophthongs during words like “night.” I don’t speak a southern dialect, though I did move to one when I was 11. Still, I’ll often slip in a [nat], trying to index again “friendliness” and “southern hospitality.” (I do, however, almost unilaterally choose to use y’all for second person plural, though I occasionally will say you, and even rarer say we).

On occasion, someone will also ask for a “brown bag.” The problem with that statement is that our plastic bags are brown as well. While I understand that brown bag refers to paper bags, since they are most often brown in color, it still throws me a little each time I hear it. Mainly because I think of brown bags as small paper bags you use for lunch (brown bagging it) and not the large bags we use. I wouldn’t be surprised if another cashier hearing brown bag would start putting the groceries in plastic, especially if brown bag isn’t part of their dialect.

Which brings me to my last little tidbit. Once, someone walked up to me (while I was checking another customer out) and asked where our pæsta was. Besides this odd pronunciation, he sounded like a native English speaker, but every time he said pæsta, my mind just kept blanking. I knew he was asking for pasta, but I just couldn’t get over the weird way he was pronouncing it, since I have never heard (or heard of) anyone pronouncing it that way. In fact, because of the weird way he was saying it, I directed him to the deli; since my brain had no exemplars of his pronunciation, for some reason my brain decided his pæsta meant pasta salad, and couldn’t even think of relating it to raw past like penne and spaghetti.

What this experience taught me was that indexicality and variation has meaning to the listener only when the listener has access to the variant; if this man’s pæsta meant anything (like where he was from or what identity he was constructing) I would never know, since for me, that vowel is invariant.

These are just a few of the things I have noticed while working. Since most of my interactions with customers are scripted, it is easy to pick up on how I talk differently from one interaction to the next. And due to this class, I doubt I’ll ever be able to stop monitoring what I’m saying while working, and then wondering why I said it that way while checking out their groceries. It passes the time.

So I might be a poser…

“Why do you talk so funny?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like that! Why do you sound like that?”

Many might think that was an exchange I had with someone in DC, as if they were questioning my accent. But surprise! It was actually an exchange I had with an ex-boyfriend from home. We were driving around and talking casually, you know, as couples do. The topic of school came up, and in the middle of my story, that exchange happened. I was caught off-guard. My mind started racing and my palms were sweating (ONTO HIS PALMS OH GOD).

Did I pronounce something incorrectly?

Did I say something stupid?


Those anxieties were put to rest when he explained that he meant that I sounded “New York-ish. Like you’re from up north or something.” Noted. No need to stealthily apply more deodorant.

Living in DC for a couple years had finally rubbed off on me. I had begun to acquire a “standard” American accent. Yet, this accent was not always present. As I mentioned previously, we were discussing school, and this was the only time he had pointed the accent out to me. So I must ask myself, do I, too, associate a “standard” American accent with intellect and education? If so, does it make me inauthentic when I present myself as an educated kid from the swamp?

Y’all, do I have an accent?

For the majority of my life, I constantly refused to believe that I had an accent. Well, a Cajun accent. I had decided early on that there was no way that I, a worldly tween, could talk like the people who were always the butt of jokes.

If you are not familiar with a Cajun accent, I suggest a YouTube search of ‘Edwin Edwards’ for a taste. His is not as intense as what I am accustomed to, but I think it will get my point across well enough.

I recall likening the accent to sounding “loose.” Consonants are dropped and vowels can do a number of things. For someone unfamiliar with the accent, it might sound like a Southerner slurring words with less twang…or I could be lying. I am so used to the accent that I doubt even that comparison is justified.

In my younger days (since going on 22 is SO old), my sister and I liked to make fun of our older brother and sister’s accent. Multiple /o/s became /ə/s, a common occurrence for the truth: our “foil” and “boil” were also “fall” and “ball.” Our life had been a sham! We had accents! How would we ever live?! Of course, we made it through that rough time, and now we notice that our accents really show themselves when we talk to each other, and we think it is funny. Neither of us live in our hometown anymore (living up to our tween worldliness, duh), but our Cajun still slips out every so often.

From Bourgeois to Bourgie, Bougie, and Boujee

I found it quite surprising to learn that the term bougie can mean different things depending on how it is spelt. I’d say I often use the term while talking and texting but I never really questioned how my spelling of the term might affect the meaning. I’ve only questioned my spelling of bougie when autocorrect tells me it’s not a word. The three terms bourgie, bougie, and boujee can apparently have three different meanings. All three are derivatives of the French term bourgeois meaning middle class.

Bourgie describes a certain upper class and is rather synonymous with uppity and pretentious. Bougie on the other hand refers to aspirational black middle class. In this article, the author makes the distinction between bourgie and bougie as bougie black people having a relationship with the hood while the former may just be from the hood but does not maintain a connection and would feel out place if they visited the hood. The last variant boujee has been popularized by Migos’ hit song “Bad and Boujee”. Boujee describes the type of nouveau/hood rich inspired by this idea of southern fabulousness.

How do people in social practice demonstrate their intended meaning when using the word, since bougie and boujee are both phonologically pronounced the same? Eckert (2008) explains that variables gain meaning in the social context in which the language is embedded. This allows for variation of social meanings for a given term. For me personally, I would only use the boujee variant when referring to the Migos song. This probably has largely to do with the fact that boujee is what I would need to type when trying to play the song on Spotify. In any other scenario, I would use the bougie variant. If we were to follow Eckert’s (2008) concept of the indexical field for each variant, we would see and overlap amongst what each term is indexing. All three variants maintain the same underlying concept of upper class. Variables do not have static meanings but rather general meanings that become more specific in the context of styles. (Eckert, 2008) The variant a speaker may choose to orthographically write will suggest different indexical meanings whether it’s the southern hood elite or black upper class with an advanced education, etc.


Eckert, P. (2008). Variation and the indexical field. Journal of Sociolinguistics. 12(4). (453-476)

Young, D. (2017, Jan. 18). The difference between bougie, boujee, and bourgie/bourgeois, explained. Retrieved from http://verysmartbrothas.com/the-difference-between-bougie-boujee-and-bourgiebourgeois-explained/

Ashkenazi vs. Sephardic Words and Phonology

Growing up in an Ashkenazi Jewish household, I wondered why my grandparents and other older people pronounced some words differently than I was taught in Hebrew School (e.g., Shabbos vs. Shabbat) and why there are multiple words referring to the same things (e.g., yarmulke vs. kippah).

The answer is, of course, there is more than one way of talking about and doing Jewish things. The two major cultural groups of Jews/streams of Judaism in the United States are the Ashkenazi (European) and Sephardic (Spanish/Portuguese/North African/Arabian) Jews (there are also other groups, like Beta Israel, or Ethiopian Jews, and Mizrahi, or Iranian, Jews). Because these two group did not interact very much until more recent centuries, they developed different traditions and even different words.

Here is a video of some very religious Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews trying to guess words in each other’s Jewish lexicons:

This is the origin of words like yarmulke and kippah, which refer to the small round skullcaps worn by some religious men. Nowadays in the United States, it is not uncommon to hear people in the same community using these two words alternately. I personally say both “yarmulke” or “kippah,” and I sometimes lean towards using “kippah” because it is shorter even though I am Ashkenazi and mostly heard “yarmulke” as a child.

Pronunciation is a bit of a different story. My older Jewish relatives pronounce those words with an “s” at the end instead (as “Shabbos” and “tallis”). This is the traditional Ashkenazi Hebrew pronunciation, which is often used in concert with Yiddishisms like “schul” instead of “synagogue” or “temple”. Unfortunately, this pronunciation is slowly dying out. When I went to Hebrew School, I was taught to say the Hebrew words “Shabbat,” “tallit,” and others, with a “t” at the end, which is what I still use. This pronunciation is from the Sephardic tradition and is even the official pronunciation of Israeli Hebrew, so there is less impetus for Ashkenazi Jews in Israel and less-religious Ashkenazi Jews in the United States to learn their traditional pronunciations.

Interestingly, at least one Rabbi says that when you pray in a synagogue of a different sect of Judaism, you should follow their customs in anything that is read aloud, but you should pray using your own text and pronunciation in any silent prayers.

This blog post is really just a brief overview of a few differences. There’s really a lot more out there! Jewish languages are always fun to learn about, and it’s nice to know about all the cultural and linguistic differences that can exist even within a relatively small group. Do you guys know of any lexical or phonological differences between sects/groups in your religions/larger cultural groups?


Ashkenazi-Sefardi Pronunciation: Prayer – General Response on Ask the Rabbi. (n.d.). Retrieved December 05, 2017, from http://www.aish.com/atr/Ashkenazi-Sefardi_Pronunciation.html

I say “Shabbat,” You say “Shabbos…” But Let’s Not Call Anything Off! (2013, January 28). Retrieved December 05, 2017, from https://coffeeshoprabbi.com/2013/01/28/i-say-shabbat-you-say-shabbos-but-lets-not-call-anything-off/

Ashkenazi Hebrew. (2017, November 25). Retrieved December 05, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashkenazi_Hebrew#Influence_on_modern_Hebrew

Schleifer, E. (1995). Current Trends of Liturgical Music in the Ashkenazi Synagogue. The World of Music, 37(1), 59-72. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/43562849

“I love you, man”

The movie, “I Love You, Man” (2009), uses the stereotypical plotline of the romantic comedy genre to illustrate the development of a male-male friendship, which (SPOILERS) culminates in the commitment of a three hour Vespa scooter ride to send off the protagonist, Peter, to marriage. Video below:

LINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmjuq3z62w8&feature=youtu.be

For reference:

P: I love you, man.

S: I love you too, bud.

P: I love you, dude.

S: I love you, Bro Montana.

P: I love you, homes.

S: I love you Broseph Goebbels.

P: I love you, muchacha.

S: I love you, Tycho Brohe.

The hilarious scene is a perfect example of the Kiesling (2004) ‘dude’ argument of cool solidarity. It uses the affectionate phrase, “I love you,” but tags the additional terms on to create a separation between romantic ‘love’ and the man/bud/dude/etc ‘love’ they share. The difference highlighted here points to the cool solidarity associated with the hegemonic (and homophobic) masculinity of Western culture; it’s not acceptable to be affectionate or to love in male-male friendships without the qualifier that you’re still a man/bud/dude/etc. through the intimacy. The whole movie kind of outlines various nonlinguistic strategies that are used to develop and achieve these types of male-male social relationships, highlighting the conflict between intimacy and masculinity.

Another video from Buzzfeed, “Guys Tell Their Friends, ‘I love you’ For The First Time” also shows this same kind of distance in real life rather than fictional male-male friendships. In this case the participants are forced to say, “I love you” to their best male friend rather than falling into it out of dramatic adoration and passion post-Vespa journey like in the movie.

LINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFMTwuOLdXU

Chris & Jay: The first pair starts with a handshake to sign off the exchange before laughing at the absurdity of it, and switching to a more sincere, “I love you, man” followed by “I love you too, man.”

Nate & Sean: The first person felt it necessary to perform a motion of putting a mask over his face before saying, “I love you, Sean.” This was followed by “I feel like I don’t tell you enough, but I love you. As a friend.”

Phil & Sam: These were the only two who were able to get through the phrase without any verbal qualifiers; however, both laughed through and after the phrase, but this could also be attributed to being put on the spot in front of a camera.

Henry & Ben: The creator of the video says, “Ben, I love you,” which is responded to with, “I love you too. Man.” The two shook hands before hugging.

In the eight total men who participated, half verbally qualified the love and half didn’t. For the half that did not verbally qualify, three of the four qualified nonlinguistically with laughing and mimed masks. Overall, these interactions seem to support the cool solidarity defined in Kiesling’s work (2004). The men are comfortable defining the partner as their best friend and choosing them to be in the video about male friendship love, but when it came down to verbally announcing that love, intimacy, and closeness, most felt it necessary to add a boundary whether linguistic or not.



Kiesling, S. F. (2004). Dude. American Speech, 79(3), 281-305. Retrieved December 5, 2017

Do Deaf New Yorkers Sign Fast?

Members of the Gallaudet linguistics department recently produced a video published on Mental Floss about accents in signed languages. (I made my debut here as the Hearing accent. I haven’t been offered any further roles.) While we can safely assume that any natural language will display systematic heterogeneity, there is little sociophonetic work on ASL in comparison with spoken languages. The video was also made for a general audience. The observations in the video are therefore impressionistic, getting across the point that yes, of course signers have accents because signed languages are languages and signers are people, without giving quantitative examples. What’s interesting about these impressionistic observations is how often the stereotype of signers from a particular region, age group, etc. parallel the stereotypes of hearing English speakers from the same group. For instance, as Hochgesang notes in the video (0:44), ASL users stereotype New Yorkers as fast signers, just like hearing Americans characterize Northern speech as fast and Southern speech as slow.

My first inclination was to assume this parallel is simply evidence that linguistic stereotypes follow from more general stereotypes: we think Southern speech is slow because think of Southern life as slow, not because they actually speak more slowly. But a quick Google Scholar search revealed that I might be wrong about this. A few studies (which I admit I only read the abstracts of) suggest that perhaps Southern and Northern speech do actually differ in speed (for example this article).

Which leads me to my question: if signing and speaking patterns really do parallel one another, what does this tell us? We know that lexical items or expressions associated with particular communities can be “borrowed” from English into ASL. For example, Black ASL borrows words and phrases from AAVE that are not used in other varieties of ASL, like translations of “girl, please” or “stop trippin” (Hill 2012). It’s easy to imagine how this lexical influence happens considering the contact situation between ASL and English and that nearly all Deaf Americans learn spoken language (fewer learn ASL). But it’s less obvious that phonetic characteristics of spoken language would influence phonetic realizations of signed language. For example, I’m not sure we would expect this kind of phonetic transfer for a native bilingual of two spoken languages. If it’s true that hearing New Yorkers speak quickly and Deaf New Yorkers sign quickly, what might be causing this parallel? Is this the result of language contact, or do we need to appeal to the logic of “the pace of life in New York is faster.” It pains me even to type such a non-sciencey explanation, but like I said, I was wrong about the speech rate difference in the first place, so who knows? To determine first whether New Yorkers really sign fast, and then to determine whether this is a result of contact with the spoken language or some other cause, some cleverly designed sociophonetic studies are certainly in order.

Hill, J. (March 12, 2012). Black ASL. ASLized! Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7ooYqdEdUY