The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Disappearing Midwestern accents

Edward McClelland essays on the decline of the white blue-collar Midwest, as expressed linguistically:

The “classic Chicago” accent, with its elongated vowels and its tendency to substitute “dese, dem, and dose” for “these, them, and those,” or “chree” for “three,” was the voice of the city’s white working class. “Dese, Dem, and Dose Guy,” in fact, is a term for a certain type of down-to-earth Chicagoan, usually from a white South Side neighborhood or an inner-ring suburb.

The classic accent was most widespread during the city’s industrial heyday. Blue-collar work and strong regional speech are closely connected: If you were white and graduated high school in the 1960s, you didn’t need to go to college, or even leave your neighborhood, to get a good job, and once you got that job, you didn’t have to talk to anyone outside your house, your factory, or your tavern. A regular-joe accent was a sign of masculinity and local cred, bonding forces important for the teamwork of industrial labor.

The classic Chicago accent is heard less often these days because the white working class is less numerous, and less influential, than it was in the 20th century. It has been pushed to the margins of city life, both figuratively and geographically, by white flight, multiculturalism and globalization: The accent is most prevalent in blue-collar suburbs and predominantly white neighborhoods in the northwest and southwest corners of the city, now heavily populated by city workers whose families have lived in Chicago for generations.

There’s a conception that television leveled local accents, by bringing so-called “broadcaster English” into every home. I don’t think this is true. No one watched more television than the Baby Boomers, but their accents are much stronger than those of their children, the Millennials.

What’s really killing the local accent is education and geographicmobility, which became economic necessities for young Rust Belters after the mills closed down. But as blue-collar jobs have faded, so has some of our linguistic diversity.

McClelland adapted his CityLab essay from his 2016 book How to Speak Midwestern, which is obviously now on my Amazon wish list.

Add comment

Loading