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Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Chicago Accents

by Nate St. Pierre on September 11, 2014

When I’m talking to someone or watching someone on TV, I spend a lot more time paying attention to their voice and the words they use than I do paying attention to their facial features. Maybe it’s because I’m face-blind, and faces hold very little data for me, or maybe it’s because I’m just more interested in words, I’m not sure.

But over the years it’s led to a fascination with regional dialects, and how people from different parts of the country formulate their accents. Today I was thinking about the much-lampooned Wisconsin accent, and how I really don’t hear it too much unless I head Up North a bit (yes, that’s a place here – it means anything up around Green Bay or higher).

What I more often hear in the city of Milwaukee is kind of a mix between the Wisconsin accent and the strong Chicago accent. Milwaukee and Chicago are only 80 miles apart, and especially within the urban-center cities themselves share more of a similarity to each other than they do to the surrounding countrysides.

Here are some examples:

Up North Wisconsin

(note: “bones,” “don’t,” “Hobart” for that elongated “o” sound. also how the “s” has a hard stop at the end of words)

 

South Central Rural (west of Milwaukee)

(note: “hunnert,” “haaaas” with that nasally “a” sound. we’re getting closer to MKE/CHI here)

 

The two accents above are what you usually hear when someone is doing an exaggerated Wisconsin accent. But rest assured, those are real people, and that accent is alive and well all around the state.

Although you do hear some of those folks in Milwaukee, now I want to show you what most people typically sound like here. I was just talking to a furnace repair guy, and after he left, I was trying to think of who his voice reminded me of. I realized it was Alan Alda, and then after thinking about it for a bit, I decided that Alda has a soft Chicago accent, not brash or exaggerated, and it sounds very familiar and home-like to me.

“Soft” Chicago (similar to Milwaukee)

(note: the nasal “can’t,” “that,” etc.)

 

Compare Alda’s accent to this clip of my grandpa, who’s been a Milwaukee guy for 80+ years (starts at 30 seconds):

Milwaukee

(note: hard ending on the “s” in “years,” “da” instead of “the” in some instances)

If you want to explore accents around the entire country in more detail, here’s an amazing resource, complete with a gigantic map, and examples of specific cities: http://aschmann.net/AmEng/

Always fun. 🙂

  • Jo

    Ok what I’d like to know is the Wisconny “a”. I’m from the SW part of Wi and a few of my friends say it “ae” as in “raeg” (rag), “baeg” (bag), “baegel” (bagel), and “draegon” (dragon). I, my family (not native to Wi), and the vast majority of locals I know, say “ba-ag” and “ba-ag-el” and “dra-gen”. What’s Wisconite and what’s not??

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