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QUIZ: Can You Guess Where These Midwesterners Are From?

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Cody Newill
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KCUR 89.3 / File Photo

The Midwest has a reputation for being a neutral and accent-free place. But that simply isn't true.

Everybody has an accent and everybody has a dialect, and, yes, that includes the Midwest.

Accents are the way we pronounce vowels and consonants. And dialect is all of that plus our grammar, the rate at which we speak and common phrases and expressions.

The dialect in our country's midsection, which is a narrow belt spanning from Ohio to Indiana, into Missouri and Kansas is called Midland Speech.

KCUR's podcast Midwesternish explored the characteristics of Midland Speech in a recent episode all about the Midwest Accent.

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Credit KCUR 89.3
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KCUR 89.3

Linguist Christopher Strelluf has done extensive research on Midland speech, Kansas City's dialect, and how it's changing.

"Most of the things we hear as regional accents are a result of somebody else's tongue being in a different position than where you would expect yours to be when they say something," says Strelluf.

So let's see if just by using your ears, if you can guess where these 5 Midwesterners are from.
The audio clips are courtesy of the International Dialect of English Archive (IDEA), and each subject is describing something from their childhood. 

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Ok want the answers? 

Wait, first, a few characteristics of midland speech:

Just to name a few, we merge vowels in words like bull and bowl, caught and cot, and merry, marry and Mary.

Is that true for you? See for yourself with this minimal pairs test. 

And, we use what's called 'positive anymore.' Meaning we use the word 'anymore', which used to be part of a negative, as a positive. 

  • Example: "There's plenty to do downtown anymore." Or, "Anymore, movies are too expensive." 

So there are these subtle and yet distinct characteristics of midland speech. But linguist Christopher Strelluf says even though there are these geographic characteristics, "The truth is, you know, dialect really exists at the individual level."
Strelluf says when we make generalizations about a geographic range where people speak we often leave out a big part of the picture. 

"There are many dialects of African American Englishes throughout the areas of the Midwest. There are many dialects of Latino English and many other ethnically-marked dialect that are really part of the language fabric of the Midwest that don't get included in a term like the Midwest Accent," says Strelluf.

So you want to know the answer to the quiz?

They're all from Missouri.

Subscribe to Midwesternish on Apple PodcastsGoogle Play and Stitcher.

Suzanne Hogan is a contributor for KCUR 89.3. Email her at suzanne@kcur.org. 

Every part of the present has been shaped by actions that took place in the past, but too often that context is left out. As a community storyteller taking a new look at local history, I aim to provide that context, clarity, empathy and deeper, nuanced perspectives on how the events and people in the past have shaped our community today. I want to entertain, inform, make you think, expose something new and cultivate a deeper shared human connection about how the passage of time affects us all. Reach me at hogansm@kcur.org.
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