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Yooper dialect

The Yooper dialect is a sub-variety of the North Central dialect of American English, native to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which gives the variety its name (from "U.P." for Upper Peninsula). Although spoken in the U.P., it is primarily spoken in the western U.P., and not all residents use these features. Equally important is the fact that many of these features are found throughout the Upper Midwest, especially in northern Wisconsin and northern Minnesota and to a degree in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan.

Yooper differs from standard English primarily because of the linguistic background of settlers to the area. The majority of people living in the Upper Peninsula are of either Finnish, French Canadian, Cornish, Scandinavian, German, or Native American descent. Yooper is so strongly influenced by these areas' languages that speakers from other areas may have difficulty understanding it. The Yooper dialect is also influenced by the Finnish language making it similar in character to the so-called "Rayncher speek" of the Mesabi Iron Range in northeast Minnesota. Almost half the Finnish immigrants to the U.S. settled in the Upper Peninsula, some joining Scandinavians who moved on to Minnesota.

Phonology and phonetics

Ethnic makeup of the US in 2000; the western part of Upper Peninsula is the only region in the U.S. where Finnish Americans (light green) form the plurality.

The Yooper accent follows the local North Central (Upper Midwest) pronunciation system, but with the following noticeable additions:

  • Tendency towards intonation that stresses the first syllable of each word, which is an influence of Finnish spoken by many immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • /w/ sometimes becomes /v/, for example, /ˈkiːvənɔː/ for Keweenaw. This is an example of language transfer, where immigrant languages have affected the variety of English spoken in the area. This feature is especially found among residents born before 1950 and in the western region of the U.P.
  • Replacement of dental fricatives, /ð/ and /θ/, like in "this" and "thigh," with alveolar stops /d/ and /t/, so then (/ðɛn/) becomes den (/dɛn/), etc.
  • The word "about" is sometimes pronounced as (a-boat) with a short a.
  • Replacing the "-ing" at the end of certain words with "-een" (doing becomes "do-een", happening becomes "happen-een", something becomes "some-theen"), or with the Cornish characteristic of just "-n" and ins "cook'n" or "walk'n".

Lexicon and grammar

  • Use of German/Scandinavian "ja" [jä] as "yeah" or "yes," often spelled "ya."
  • Ending of sentences in "Eh." Used at end of sentences with the expectation of receiving an affirmative response or as another word for "huh." ("So, you're /jɚ/ goin' out t'nide, eh?"), or to add emphasis to a statement, "That's a pretty dress, eh." "Eh" is often associated with Canadian English. "Heh" is used interchangeably and perhaps more often among younger speakers.
  • Common Finnish words are often used in conversation even if the communicants are not of Finnish descent. For instance, "Mitä," when responding, "What?" "Maitoa" (milk), "kahvia" (coffee), "leipää" (bread), "poika" (boy), "tyttö" (girl), "hyvää päivä" (good day), "hyvästit" (good-bye), "isä" (father), "äiti" (mother).
  • "Towards" is favored over "toward". The former is usually favored in British English while the latter is favored in American English.
  • Words such as "pank" (to make compact, pat down), "chuk" or "chook" (a knit winter cap, from Canadian French "tuque" [tsʏk]), "choppers" (long-sleeved mittens, sometimes with removable finger flaps, often made of deerskin), "swampers" (boots with rubber bottoms and leather uppers), "pasty" (pronounced with a short a), "bakery" (baked goods), "make wood" (cut or chop wood), "snow scoop" or "yooper scooper" (a metal implement for "moving snow"), "wa" (instead of wow) and pronunciations such as "grodge" (garage), "crick" (creek), "ruts" (roots) and "ruf" (roof) to rhyme with "hoof".
  • Saying "I'm gonna go by your house" to mean "I'm going to come
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