I Bag of You

Seattle is largely a city of transplants. Well, the city is, anyway. The suburbs (particularly the ones to the south of the city) contain more area natives, which makes sense because buying in the suburbs is the only way a non-millionaire could possibly afford to own property here. I live in the city with the rest of the transplants, but I work in the suburbs with a bunch of natives. And since starting this job, I’ve noticed that the area natives have a slight but peculiar accent.

For one, they say the “a” sound in “bag” the same as in “vague” or “beg,” which still throws me off even though I work with a bunch of shopping maniacs who say “beg” all the time.

For two, the soft “o” in “cot” sounds like “caught.” I mean, I know nobody says “cot” all the time, but when you catch it, it’s strange and my brain does gymnastics to visualize whatever word they’re saying.

For three, the double-“e” in week is pronounced as it should be, but the long “e” sound in “freak” comes out as a soft “i” like “frick.”

For four, all of them seem to share the tight-jawed click that the area capital-N Natives have, which is hard to explain but it’s kind of like keeping their top and bottom molars as close together as possible and pulling the lower jaw in when making some vowel sounds.

For five, some of them sound Canadian. Or Minnesotan. Or Swedish. Same over-pronounced vowels, clipped sentences, and glottal L’s.

I’ve tried Googling the Seattle accent without much luck, possibly because not all that many people here are actually from here, and possibly also because in the larger scheme of accents, the one here is fairly mild. From what I’ve heard so far, the Seattle accent shares most of its characteristics with people in the Upper Midwest, which makes some sense because both places were heavily colonized by Norse-descended immigrants.

The few people here who say I have an accent have a hard time pinning it down, because although they claim that people from the Midwest “have a drawl,” none of them can explain what a drawl is when I ask. To them, the Midwest and the South are the same, despite maps and geography and knowing everything a fucking adult should know. (These are the same people who have guessed that I’m from Michigan, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, by the way, none of which are in the South). None of them believe me when I say that St. Louis is a linguistic anomaly, sharing more characteristics with cities like Chicago, Cleveland, and Philadelphia than anywhere in what’s more traditionally thought of as the Midwest.

It’s hard for people to believe that strong St. Louis accents change depending on where you are in the city itself. For example, the South City dialect is different from the North City dialect, and people from South County have a weird slacker dipthong whereas people from West and North County do not.

What’s really hard for people to understand is that for the most part, the St. Louis accent isn’t really an accent at all. Its main feature is the lack of an accent (at least among younger generations, since my father still says “farty far” when he means “fourty four”). Our flat consonants and well-pronounced-but-not-elongated vowels are what TV and radio call “non-regional diction.”

In fact, it’s this non-regional diction that makes us especially sensitive to other people’s verbal quirks, and why I demand to know someone’s definition of “drawl” because seriously, nobody here is getting it right.

About erineph

I'm Erin. I have tattoos and more than one cat. I am an office drone, a music writer, and an erstwhile bartender. I am a cook in the bedroom and a whore in the kitchen. Things I enjoy include but are not limited to zombies, burritos, Cthulhu, Kurt Vonnegut, Keith Richards, accordions, perfumery, and wearing fat pants in the privacy of my own home.
This entry was posted in Seattle, Stuff I Didn't Know Before, WTF. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to I Bag of You

  1. My ex once told me I have “a bit of a twang” and I was like, “Fuck awff.” My St. Louis accent only comes out when I say “Star Wars.” I say it like it rhymes.

    This map shows just how weird we are. I love that it’s called the St. Louis Corridor. http://aschmann.net/AmEng/#LargeMap

  2. abbireads says:

    Something I’ve discovered about Missouri is that nobody can agree to what region it belongs to. In Blue Highways, William Least Heat Moon talks about how if you live in the east, Missouri is “out west” and if you live in the west it’s “back east” and in the south it’s considered north and in the north it’s considered south. In Minnesota, the general perception is that Minnesota and North and South Dakota are Midwestern, and Missouri only squeaks into the Midwest by virtue of it being sandwiched in between firmly Midwestern states like Nebraska and Illinois.

    Also: one of the myriad things I like about Seattle is I can say “pop” there. 😉

    • erineph says:

      Ugh, they do. And I work in the grocery business, so when I say “a pallet of soda,” some uppity grocery manager goes “WHAT? You mean pop” and I’m like “grumble grumble grumble.”

Comments are closed.