Yes, “Midwestern” Is Kind Of An Accent

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“Goetta,” says Edward McClelland, his mouth savoring the word. “I’ve heard people say Jeezle Pete! But goetta—I’ve never heard anybody say it outside of Cincinnati.” In How to Speak Midwestern (Belt Publishing), McClelland, a Michigander, looks at how Midwesterners sound—as well as various accents and the way they express themselves—and shows that strong regional distinctions prevail even today. Ohio is central: McClelland holds up Governor John Kasich as an example of what linguists call the Midland accent. Kasich refers to his “fawther” “Big Jawn”, yet most listeners think the guy has no accent at all. The Midland accent, via quirks of history, came to be seen as the great American average. “His is the least othered of Midwestern accents,” says McClelland.

He also scrutinizes what we say—for instance, how outsiders can be confounded by whether a Midwesterner is giving a compliment or an insult. “I noticed that when I saw a clip of Betsy DeVos, from Michigan, at her hearing to be Secretary of Education. Bernie Sanders asked what she thought of his plan guaranteeing a free college education, and she said ‘That’s a really interesting idea.’ When a Midwesterner says your idea is interesting, it’s DOA.”

How to Speak Midwestern breaks down devil’s strip, the Cincinnati please?, and much more. It’s supremely interesting—in the non-Midwestern sense.

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