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Pacific Northwest Dialect Spoken Here

Tom Banse
07/22/2005

ould it be we really do talk different 'round here? Conventional wisdom holds that Northwest has NO accent. But linguistic researchers at the University of Washington and Portland State are making the case that the Northwest HAS a distinctive dialect. Correspondent Tom Banse listened in.

TRANSCRIPT

I WAS BORN AND RAISED IN THE NORTHWEST SO I SHOULD HAVE NO ACCENT. BUT ONE OF MY FELLOW NATIVES DISAGREES. RESEARCHER JENNIFER INGLE JUST COMPLETED HER LINGUISTICS STUDIES AT THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON.

Ingle: "I know that everybody has an accent or a dialect. So, I just wanted to know what is it that is unique about ours. If we don't have one, well that can't be the case. So let's take a look and see what we find."

SHE AND HER PROFESSORS STARTED LOOKING A YEAR AGO, PRINCIPALLY AT THE PRONUNCIATION OF VOWELS. THEY RECRUITED 14 NATIVE SPEAKERS FROM SEATTLE, THEN RECORDED CASUAL CONVERSATION AND HAD THEM READ A LIST OF WORDS. PHONETICS PROFESSOR RICHARD WRIGHT SAYS THE TEAM FOUND SUBTLE DIFFERENCES IN THE WAY NORTHWESTERNERS PRONOUNCE CERTAIN VOWEL SOUNDS... LIKE "O" AND "A-U."

Wright: "I'll be an example of a person from a part of the country where those are two different vowels. In Michigan, you'd say things like, o-d-d is prounounced "odd." And O-u-g-h-t is pronounced "ought." So "Ahh" and "ow." Here, both of those are variants of the same vowel so no one notices that they're different."

HERE'S HOW THE NATIVE SPEAKERS IN THE STUDY PRONOUNCED THESE WORDS.

Female: "Odd. Ought."

Male: "Odd. Ought."

THE VOWELS SOUND THE SAME.

Female: "Odd. Ought."

Male: "Odd. Ought."

THE SEATTLE RESULTS ARE SIMILAR TO WHAT THEY'RE FINDING IN ONGOING RESEARCH IN PORTLAND. THERE ARE SUBTLE BUT TELLING DIFFERENCES IN HOW NATIVE SPEAKERS PRONOUNCE CERTAIN VOWELS COMPARED TO CALIFORNIANS, CANADIANS, OR EASTERNERS. THE U.W.'S JENNIFER INGLE HAS ALSO NOTICED A RASPY QUALITY. SHE CALLS IT "CREAKY VOICE." IT APPEARS TO BE MORE PREVALENT HERE THAN ELSEWHERE.

Ingle: "Creaky voicing is a position of your vocal cords... Let me play two examples of women using this creaky voicing through an entire sentence.

Woman1: "This is actually like an apartment building. It's weird. We're like on the third floor."

Woman2: "And I mean, they broke up and got back together like five or six times, something like that."

HOW YOU PRONOUNCE CERTAIN VOWELS AND CONSONANTS IS ONLY PART OF WHAT GIVES AWAY WHERE YOU COME FROM. GRAMMAR AND COLLOQUIAL SPEECH FIGURE IN THIS TOO. PROFESSOR WRIGHT HAS NOTICED NORTHWEST NATIVES SOMETIMES DROP THE ENDING "-ED".

Wright: "So when you say things like "canned fruit", a lot times it comes out here like "can fruit." Where it's now switched from being a past-participle modifier - e-d -- to being a noun modifier without the "-ed" on it. So you'll even see at QFC's...The QFC near my house has "can fruit" - with no -ed on it, and "can fish" without the -ed, listing the aisles. And this is not something you see in other parts of the country."

THE TEAM FIGURES THE NORTHWEST ACCENT WILL GET STRONGER AS OUR REGION GETS OLDER AND WE SEE MORE SECOND AND THIRD GENERATION FAMILIES. BOSTON, BROOKLYN, AND THE SOUTH AFTER ALL HAVE A HEAD START OF A COUPLE CENTURIES ON US EVOLVING THEIR DISTINCTIVE SOUNDS. I'M TOM BANSE IN SEATTLE. ©2005 KUOW NEWS

11.28.14

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