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How your expressions and vowel sounds give you away as a 'Skahnsinite'
Wisconsites say bubbler. A water fountain is something you throw coins into. (Click on Slide Show for more photos.)
Slide Show

The way people speak in Wisconsin is not only different from other parts of the nation, it’s changing.

If you’re curious why we’re in the midst of “collapsing” our vowel sounds, or why we say things like Golden Birthday, bubbler and budge (as in, “she budged in line”), bakery (meaning pastry, not the building) and expressions like “come by me” and “come with”—when this is considered strange talk in other regions—you’ll have an opportunity to find out Monday, May 19, 6:30 p.m. at the Rhinelander Public Library.

The program, “’Skahnsin’ English: How Wisconsinites Talk,” features a team of linguist researchers from the Max Kade Institute at UW-Madison and from the staff at the Dictionary of American Regional English. Joe Salmons will talk about the shift in vowels taking place in Wisconsin, Luanne von Schneidemesser covers the words and idioms peculiar to Wisconsin, and Katthryn Remlinger will tackle Yupper (UP-Michigan) expressions. The multi-media presentation will include videos of people talking “’Skahnsin.”

The researchers, participating in the Wisconsin Englishes project (http://csumc.wisc.edu/wep/) are hoping for feedback from the audience. “We really enjoy the question-and-answer part of the presentation,” said von Schneidemesser in a phone interview. “It gives us a chance to add to our research.”

In case you missed it, that’s an open invitation to bring your questions and share your observations about local expressions and word pronunciation on Monday night. “What we won’t tell you,” von Schneidemesser said, “is what is correct and what isn’t. For us, it’s all about doing the research.”

Von Schneidemesser, the senior editor of the Dictionary of American Regional English, is from Kansas. Her years in Wisconsin have changed her speech. “When I go back to Kansas, I’m aware of slowing my speech down and changing my vowels,” she said. “Yet here, people tell me, ‘You don’t talk like us.’”

But wasn’t all that TV-watching supposed to make us sound more alike and less “regional”? Apparently, it never happened. “We’ve learned that TV is a passive medium,” von Schneidemesser said, “You listen to it, but it doesn’t affect your language.” Regional speech is as distinct as ever, and it keeps shifting and changing.

One example of this is the Northern Cities Vowel Shift. “This is a change in vowel sounds,” von Schneidemesser said. “We’re hearing ‘melk’ instead of milk, ‘beg’ instead if bag. It’s an ongoing change that started at the eastern end of Great Lakes and is working west. It's happening fast, just in the last decade or two, and it's heavily influenced by urban younger speakers.”

Another shift is coming from the west, bringing a collapse of some vowels. The word “caught,” for instance, is becoming “cot”—a shift of a two-vowel sound into a one-vowel note. “You can hear this in Minnesota, and now in the Eau Claire area,” she said.

DARE, as the regional dictionary is called, is a work in progress. “Presently, we have four volumes published, containing A through Sk-,” von Schneidemesser said. “The last volume of text through Z should be out in 2010.” DARE doesn’t include standard English terms used all over the country; its focus is on folk and regional usage.”  You can view its updates at http://polyglot.lss.wisc.edu/dare/dysa3glyphgraphicsupdate.html.

Meanwhile, if you eat squeaky cheese, lefse or kringle and would borrow someone some money, come Monday night and find out why.

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