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North-Central American English


North-Central American English

Upper Midwest American English
Region Upper Midwest
Native speakers
about 12 million  (date missing)
Language codes
ISO 639-3

The Upper Midwest (or North-Central) dialect of American English regionally includes the Upper Midwestern United States, while excluding the dialect of the geographically overlapping Inland North region and areas to its east.[1] This dialect region includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, parts of Iowa, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and eastern Montana.

Its pronunciation quality is popularly (though narrowly) called a Minnesota accent. It is spoken by about 12 million people in the Upper Midwest and the northern portion of the central United States bordering Canada. It is considered a residual region, distinct from the neighboring regions of the West, the North, and Canada.[2]


  • Phonological characteristics 1
    • Vowels 1.1
    • Consonants 1.2
  • Grammar 2
  • Vocabulary 3
  • Notable lifelong native speakers 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7

Phonological characteristics

Not all of these characteristics are unique to the North Central region.


  • /uː/ and /oʊ/ are "conservative" in this region, and do not undergo the fronting that is common in other regions of the United States.
  • In addition to being conservative, /oʊ/ may be monophthongal, sometimes with lengthening: [o] ~ [oː]. The same is true for /eɪ/, which leads to variants like [e] or [eː], though data suggests that monophthongal variants are more common for /oʊ/ than for /eɪ/, and also that they are more common in coat than in ago or road, which may indicate phonological conditioning. Regionally, monophthongal mid vowels are more common in the northern tier of states, occurring more frequently in Minnesota and the Dakotas but much rarer in Iowa and Nebraska.[1] The appearance of monophthongs in this region is sometimes explained as a consequence of the high degree of Scandinavian and German immigration to these northern states in the late nineteenth century. Erik R. Thomas argues that these monophthongs are the product of language contact and notes that other areas where they occur are places where speakers of other languages have had an influence such as the Pennsylvania "Dutch" region.[3] An alternative account posits that these monophthongal variants represent historical retentions. Diphthongization of the mid vowels seems to have been a relatively recent phenomenon, appearing within the last few centuries, and did not affect all dialects in the U.K. The monophthongs heard in this region may stem from the influence of Scots-Irish or other British dialects that maintain such forms. The fact that the monophthongs also appear in Canadian English may lend support to this account since Scots-Irish speech is known as an important influence in Canada.
  • The diphthong /aʊ/ is weakened to /oʊ/ in certain words, most noticeably "about", which is another feature it shares with Canadian English and which is one of the more noticeable traits of the dialect.
  • Speakers from North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, parts of Washington, and especially Minnesota and Wisconsin (as well as most speakers of Canadian English), exhibit raising of before voiced velars (/ɡ/ and /ŋ/), with an up-glide rather than an in-glide, so that the vowel in bag /bæg/ sounds close to the vowel in beg  ( ) or the vowel in the first syllable of bagel  ( ). The two are often merged. Therefore, in this dialect, plague and vague often rhyme with bag, crag, flag, lag, sag, tag, etc. This sound shift also applies to longer words, like magazine, dragon, and agriculture.[2]
  • Canadian raising of /aɪ/ is found in this region. It occurs before some voiced consonants. For example, many speakers pronounce fire, tiger, and spider with the raised vowel.[4] Some speakers in this region raise /aʊ/ as well.[5]
  • The onset of /aʊ/ when not subject to raising is often quite far back, resulting in pronunciations like [ɑʊ].
  • The cot–caught merger is common throughout the region.[2]
  • The words roof and root may be variously pronounced with either /ʊ/ or /u/; that is, with the vowel of foot or boot, respectively. This is highly variable, however, and these words are pronounced both ways in other parts of the country.
  • Mary–marry–merry merger: Words containing /æ/, /ɛ/, or /eɪ/ before an "r" and a vowel are all pronounced "[ɛ]-r-vowel," so that Mary, marry, and merry all rhyme with each other, and have the same first vowel as Sharon, Sarah, and bearing. This merger is widespread throughout the Midwest, West, and Canada.
  • No pen–pin merger.
  • No Canadian shift.[2]


  • North Central speech is rhotic.

In addition, traces of a pitch accent as in Norwegian can persist in some areas of heavy Norwegian or Swedish settlement, and among people (sometimes who are not themselves of Scandinavian descent) who grew up in those areas. Also, sometimes the comparative form of adjectives are used in place of the root form of the adjective (e.g., saying "the sky is bluer" when the person means "the sky is blue" is common in Minnesota).


One of the most distinctive grammatical features of this dialect is the use of the particle "with" for verbs of motion, without any object, e.g., "come with", as in "Do you want to come with?" for standard "Do you want to come with us?". This is from a Germanic substrate, due to immigrants whose native languages were German, Norwegian, Swedish, or Dutch. All of these languages have a form of this construction, like Swedish kom med, and these were adopted in English.[6][7]


Notable lifelong native speakers

See also


  1. ^ a b Allen, Harold B. (1973). The Linguistic Atlas of the Upper Midwest. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.  
  2. ^ a b c d Labov, William; Sharon Ash,, Charles Boberg (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.  
  3. ^ Thomas, Erik R. (2001). An Acoustic Analysis of Vowel Variation in New World English. Publication of the American Dialect Society 85. Durham: Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-6494-8
  4. ^ Vance, Timothy J. (1987). ""Canadian Raising" in Some Dialects of the Northern United States". American Speech (Durham, NC: Duke University Press) 62 (3): 195–210.  
  5. ^ Kurath, Hans; Raven I. McDavid (1961). The Pronunciation of English in the Atlantic States. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.  
  6. ^ Spartz, John M (2008). Do you want to come with?: A cross-dialectal, multi-field, variationist investigation of with as particle selected by motion verbs in the Minnesota dialect of English (Ph.D.). Purdue University. 
  7. ^ Heidi Stevens (December 8, 2010). "What's with 'come with'? Investigating the origins (and proper use) of this and other Midwesternisms". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 14 September 2013. 

Further reading

  • Kortmand, Bernd, Schneider, Edgar W. (2004). A Handbook of Varieties of English. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-017532-0, ISBN 978-3-11-017532-5
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