ALL RIGHT CLASS, time for a quick quiz.
Say aloud, using your usual pronunciation, the last name of the
first president of the United States.
If, like many Midwesterners, you said "Warshington" instead of
employing the r-less pronunciation you'll find in the dictionary,
odds are you've taken a fair amount of ribbing over the years from
friends and acquaintances accusing you of "talking funny."
Well, thanks to a new book edited by a professor of English at
Western Illinois University in Macomb, you now have a comeback for
those linguistic critics.
You're not talking funny, you're talking the North Midland
dialect of the English language - a perfectly respectable dialect
that traces its history to Scotland and Ireland.
In "Heartland English: Variation and Transition in the American
Midwest," Timothy Frazer and his 15 co-contributors debunk the
notion that Midwesterners have a uniform, neutral "voice from
nowhere" way of speaking that is devoid of dialects.
"It's ridiculous to talk of a single Midwestern dialect,"
Frazer said in a recent telephone interview.
Frazer described a number of distinct dialects to be found
scattered throughout the Midwestern states from Ohio to Kansas and
the Dakotas, and from the Canadian border to the Ohio River and
Frazer said there are three basic regional dialects: Inland
Northern, Upland Southern and North Midland. Inland Northern, he
said, is the dialect sometimes referred to as "general American"
and is the model of English found in dictionaries and pronunciation
"Inland Northern is the dialect spoken by the settlers who came
to the southern Great Lakes region from New England and New York
state," Frazer said. "It's the accent people use who don't think
they have an accent. It's the voice of directory assistance."
Inland Northern became the "standard" English dialect in this
country, he said, because the people who spoke it more or less
forced it on the rest of us by controlling the educational system.
"The Inland Northerners were religious zealots and rather
arrogant," Frazer said. "They founded the colleges and got the
public school systems going. They also accumulated a lot of capital
and were drawn to the cities. (Speakers of other dialects) were
more likely to be subsistence farmers, while the Inland Northerners
were the bankers."
Inland Northern also used to be the dialect universally used by
radio and TV announcers, Frazer said, but that seems to be changing
as other dialects make inroads into the media.
Like Inland Northern, Frazer said, the two other basic regional
dialects in the Midwest reflect the ancestry and settlement
patterns of early immigrants.
"Upland Southern is not the same as the dialect of the Deep
South," he said. "It's similar to Appalachian, and comes from
Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, western Virginia and Carolina.
"It's found in the southern half of Illinois in a checkerboard
arrangement, predominantly in the river valleys, less on the