There was a point in my life when I thought I spoke unaccented English. As I had the chance to travel the country a bit, I quickly learned just how wrong I was. Growing up in Michigan, and then living for a few years in Western New York, I was stunned a few years ago when a bartender in Pittsburgh overheard me speaking and asked, “So, are you from Detroit or Buffalo?” This guy had certainly interacted with his fair share of travelers, but the specificity of his guess was pretty remarkable.
At that point, I was a bit aware of what a Michigan accent was. However, in the following months, I took a little time to learn more about what makes our accents so unique and how our Michigan slang sticks out from the rest of the country.
Michigan Accent = Condensing Words or Phrases
I’d say the most telling thing I’ve picked up on regarding how we Michiganders speak is how often we combine multiple syllables into one. I’ve seen lots of blog posts about Michigan phrases and accents calling out various forms of this such as:
- Didja – Michigan for “Did you”
- Jeet – Michigan for “Did you eat”
- Meer – Michigan for “Mirror”
Sometimes we go so far as to combine multiple of these, and then you get some incredibly unique to Michigan phrases like “Didjeet yet?” which means “Did you eat yet?”
But I find this more prevalent when people say contractions, and I’m guilty of this as well. Some examples:
- Dint – Didn’t
- Woont – Wouldn’t
If you hang around people from Michigan long enough, the proper multisyllabic pronunciations of these words almost sounds over-pronounced (for the lack of a better term). It’s as if the person is speaking too slowly. This same issue comes into play for other syllable-heavy words – ask a Michigander to say “Peyton Manning” and see how they try mightily to make “Peyton” into a single syllable.
Another favorite is “clothes”. You won’t find any self-respecting Michigander pronouncing the “th” sound in that word. Instead, we just say “close” – and again, if you pronounce the “th”, it just sounds like you’re trying too hard. You might as well be Madonna speaking in a faux British accent…
Michigan Accent = Also Adding Syllables for No Reason
Lest you think we’re always about brevity, we do occasionally like to just jam unnecessary syllables into words because…I don’t know why. The worst example and one that always drives me insane is the Michigan pronunciation of “realtor”. Instead of saying it like the rest of the country, we put an “uh” in the middle and pronounce it “real-uh-tor.”
Much like former President George W. Bush, Michiganders also have a penchant for pronouncing “nuclear” with an unnecessary syllable and throwing in a “y” sound for good measure and turning the word into “nuke-yuh-ler”.
Unique Words and Strange Vowels
A couple other things that are uniquely Michigan are how we utilize vowels, particularly in one syllable words. For some reason, we tend to change the sounds of certain vowels in common words. Some examples:
- Bag – Michigander tend to pronounce this with more of a long “a” sound. Imagine starting to pronounce the word “bagel” but only saying the first syllable – that’s how many folks in Michigan pronounce the word.
- Mop – This one is subtle to me, but a Michigander really goes aggressive on the “o” and the word sounds more like “mahp” than how most Americans say the word, which is with a softer vowel sound.
- Milk – In Michigan, you’ll likely be confused when you hear this pronounced as “melk”. I’m still confused by this, but welcome to Michigan…
The final thing I’ll touch on is the first thing you’ll hear when you bump into someone accidentally in Michigan. “Ope.” We don’t do “oops” around here, we do “ope.” It makes us sound like we’re from Minnesota, but it’s a Michigan thing, too.
The U.P. is Its Own Animal
The Upper Peninsula, and much of the Northern Lower Peninsula for that matter, have their own unique accent as well – but that’s too much for me to tackle in a single blog post. If I get motivated, and I have some pasties to eat, maybe I’ll come back and put in my two cents on that topic.