Another one for the out-of-staters turned locals!
Here I’ll compile a list of a few features that you might notice in your speech when you’ve been in Wisconsin for an extended period of time. I’ve only been here for three years now so I haven’t nearly picked up on all of these, but I can do a pretty good imitation. If you notice these things happening to you, you’ll be a Wisconsinite in no time! If you’re already from Wisconsin, you probably do them and you don’t realize it.
Firstly, a difference typical of anywhere: your vocab increases a bit once you live in Wisconsin. The famous example is the Bubbler! I certainly had never heard a water fountain called that before coming here. The confusion from locals upon hearing that I didn’t know what a bubbler was was an experience in itself. I also hadn’t heard of a fish fry before coming here and did not know the Packers lingo.
Along those lines, maybe some words have more flexible meanings. For example, the words “still” and “yet” are used interchangeably. This is something I’ve heard more recently. An example of this would be “Get ice cream while you’re at the store yet.” This is a remnant of the German influences of the area. In German, there is one word for both still and yet and no distinction made between the two separate meanings.
Another of these shifts can be seen in the word “once.” This is used sometimes just to denote politeness, so you’d maybe hear “Go out to the car once.” It’s used similarly to “please.” This is another remnant of a German word that meant both please and once/one time!
So your vocab gets a little bigger here, meanings moves around a bit and next your vowels start to change, woo! This is the bulk of the Wisconsin accent:
– The long “o” sound (boat, go). Up here, it’s pronounced farther back in your mouth and it’s almost more nasal than elsewhere in the country. If you’re familiar with the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), the symbol for this vowel sound is [oʊ], but Wisconsinites make those two sounds into almost one complete sound, putting in a bit more of the “u” in there, too. This vowel change is very clear to people not from Wisconsin.
– The “a” sound. This one I’m talking about is the “a” in “apple” or “cat,” an [æ] in IPA. Wisconsinites pronounce this [æ] as a long “a,” like in “age.” I clearly remember hearing this for the first time at Target when the cashier asked if I wanted a bag, pronounced like “bayg” [beɪg]. You might hear this too in magnet, magazine, wagon and more.
– Sometimes the “ah” sound becomes like the “a” [æ] of apple. For instance, in the word “rob” or even in “Wisconsin.” The vowel moves forward and up higher in your mouth! [a] –> [æ]
– The vowel sound in “house” is changed to a long “o,” like in “most.” “There’s a mouse in the house!” becomes “There’s a mose in the hose!” [aʊ] –> [oʊ]
Whew, perhaps now you could read this whole blog and sound like a real Wisconsinite in your head! Except this blog doesn’t capture all the facets of the accent, so stay here another ten years or so and this endearing way of speaking can be yours!