Tag Archives: Linguistics

Oh yah, that’s Yooper talk

Today the University of Wisconsin Press publishes Yooper Talk: Dialect as Identity in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Author Kathryn Remlinger explores features of this unique North American dialect while examining why dialects persist even in a globalized age.

The remote and isolated location of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, combined with contact among English and other languages, have shaped Yooper talk over the past 150 years and have helped it remain distinct from other varieties of American English. It is shaped by tourism, economics, the sociolinguistic history of the Upper Peninsula, research on regional varieties, awareness about language variation, and how speakers claim identity with language.

Figure 1: Bjorklund-Ollila Strawberry Harvest at Heinola Finnish Immigrant Agricultural Community near Oskar Bay in Houghton County ca1920. Used by permission from Finlandia University’s Finnish American Historical Archives Collections

If there is a definitive Yooper dialect, why don’t all Yoopers sound the same?

Figure 2: Map of Michigan and Research Area, University of Wisconsin Press

Although there is a recognizable way of speaking American English in the Upper Peninsula, there is not just one standard UP dialect. There are many ways of speaking in the UP due to diverse factors including socioeconomic class, social relationships and activities, gender, age, first language, education, and occupation. Furthermore, many of the stereotypical features of “Yooper” are found throughout the Upper Midwest, including northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, and even in other parts of the United States and Canada, including Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Ohio, and southern Ontario. Residents, natives, tourists, and linguists have created the perception that there is one specific way of speaking in the Upper Peninsula. Typically this idea is based on a few limited linguistic features, but, if we listen to our neighbors, friends, and relatives who live in the UP, we’ll hear a cacophony of voices, each one claiming its place on the dialect map.

Figure 3: Welcome to Yooperland sign at Da Yoopers Tourist Trap, Ishpeming, photo by Kathryn Remlinger

But what about TV, radio, and other media? Aren’t they wiping out regional dialects?

Although we may learn new words and expressions from various media, media typically does not affect the ways we use language beyond temporarily adding to our vocabulary. Language variation and change can only happen through face-to-face interaction, while TV, radio, the Web, and other media lack that connection. However, regional dialects are far from static.

 

Figure 4: Say ya to da up, eh! bumper sticker, created by Jack Bowers, photo by Kathryn Remlinger

But why do these distinct varieties still exist with all the moving around that people do?

In part, distinctions exist because of the isolation and remoteness of certain areas. The Upper Peninsula is a good example of this, as its location limits the amount of contact speakers have with others. Thus we can hear certain features of the local dialect persisting, such as ya, da, eh, and the pronunciation of sauna as “sow-na.”

It’s not just geographic boundaries that influence local speech; cultural differences affect language variation, too. Our worldview is reflected in the language we use and how we use it. However, this claim comes with a cautionary note: language, particularly vocabulary, can reflect the beliefs and worldview of a group of people, and learning other languages is one way in which people develop different perspectives on the world. Yet, language does not determine our worldview, nor does culture determine the structure and use of our language. They are merely reflections of each other. For example, it’s commonly believed that people living in snowy regions have more words for snow than do speakers in tropical climates. While this might be true given the individual cultures and a community’s everyday practices, the number of words depends on how those words are put together and what counts as a “word.” Also, just because a language has no word for snow, this does not mean that its speakers can’t understand what snow is or create a word in their language for it.

Just because a language has no word for snow, this does not mean that its speakers can’t understand what snow is. Click To Tweet

Figure 5: Sauna insurance sign, photo by Kathryn Remlinger

Another factor that affects the longevity of dialects are the meanings and values we attach to them. For example, we often tend to think of someone who speaks with a regional accent as more honest, loyal, and kind. This positive perception is linked to the idea that the “best” speakers of a dialect are typically seen as the most “authentic” locals. Tied to this sense of authenticity is the most compelling reason for the maintenance of dialect differences: identity. Our language is one of the most obvious ways in which we mark who we are, where we’re from, and where we’ve been. This includes not only our region but also our social class, gender, age, ethnicity, education, and other ways in which we categorize ourselves culturally and socially. As the linguistic landscape shrinks through our online and geographic interconnectedness, language remains our badge of identity.

The most compelling reason for the maintenance of dialect differences is identity. Click To Tweet

Kathryn A. Remlinger is a professor of English: Linguistics at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan.

New books in June 2017

We are pleased to announce six new books to be published in late June.

June 20, 2017
WRITTEN IN BLOOD

Revolutionary Terrorism and Russian Literary Culture, 1861–1881
Lynn Ellen Patyk

In March 1881, Russia stunned the world when a small band of revolutionaries calling themselves “terrorists” assassinated Alexander II. Horrified Russians blamed the influence of European ideas, while shocked Europeans perceived something new and distinctly Russian in a strategy of political violence that became known as “the Russian method” or “terrorism”.

“A superb model of interdisciplinary scholarship: highly original, subtle, thought-provoking, and a pleasure to read. Analyzing both word and deed, Patyk rewrites the history of modern terrorism showing why the Russian case was pivotal. A gripping story.”—Susan Morrissey, author of Suicide and the Body Politic in Imperial Russia

 

June 27, 2017
THE POX LOVER
An Activist’s Decade in New York and Paris
Anne-christine d’Adesky

Memories of the turbulent 1990s in New York City and Paris told by a pioneering American AIDS journalist, lesbian activist, and daughter of French-Haitian elites.

“In a voice both powerful and cool, The Pox Lover takes on a sprawling personal history, deeply aware throughout that it is the politics of anyone’s day—and how we respond to it—that shapes a life. Never far from the mad joy of writing, loving, and being alive, even as it investigates our horribly mundane capacity for horror, this book is a masterpiece.”—Michelle Tea, author of Black Wave

 

June 27, 2017
YOOPER TALK

Dialect as Identity in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Kathryn A. Remlinger

Yooper Talk explains linguistic concepts with entertaining examples for general readers and also contributes to interdisciplinary discussions of dialect and identity in sociolinguistics, anthropology, dialectology, and folklore.

“Although humorous songs poke fun at Yoopers’ words and customs, Remlinger takes this place and its people very seriously. She explains how history, ethnicity, environment, economic changes, tourism, and especially language have created a colorful and distinctive regional dialect and identity.”—Larry Lankton, Hollowed Ground: Copper Mining and Community Building on Lake Superior

Languages and Folklore of the Upper Midwest
Series Editor(s) Joseph Salmons and James P. Leary

 

June 27, 2017
THE LIMA INQUISITION

The Plight of Crypto-Jews in Seventeenth-Century Peru
Ana E. Schaposchnik

The Lima Inquisition reveals the details of the Americas’ most alarming Inquisitorial crackdown: the ‘Great Complicity’ and subsequent Auto de Fe of Lima in 1639. Schaposchnik convincingly shows that it was not an aberration or just another Baroque-era spectacle—it was the essence of what the Inquisition was and had been all about, from inception to abolition.”—Kris Lane, Tulane University

“An in-depth look at the trials of the Great Complicity in the 1630s, during which almost 100 people, overwhelmingly men and women of Portuguese origin, were accused of being crypto-Jews and detained and tried by the Inquisition. Recommended.”Choice

 

June 27, 2017
9XM TALKING 
WHA Radio and the Wisconsin Idea

Randall Davidson

This is the fascinating history of the innovative work of Wisconsin’s educational radio stations, from the first broadcast by experimental station 9XM at the University of Wisconsin to the network of stations known today as Wisconsin Public Radio. Randall Davidson provides the first comprehensive history of the University of Wisconsin radio station.

“An engaging, even engrossing, narrative about the station’s pioneering work in broadcasting. … A reader witnesses … the struggles that small and educational broadcasters faced in the early years in what was nearly a constant battle to maintain a foothold in the frequency spectrum.” Journalism History

 

 

June 27
FROM WAR TO GENOCIDE
Criminal Politics in Rwanda, 1990–1994
André Guichaoua, Translated by Don E. Webster, Foreword by Scott Straus

“A landmark in the historiography of the Rwandan genocide. No serious scholar writing about the genocide can afford to ignore this trailblazing contribution.”—René Lemarchand, author of The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa

Critical Human Rights   Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors