Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How to... No... Why to Talk Minnesotan

by Nathan Bergstedt

When I first heard myself on KAXE, I had a realization: I truly have a Minnesota accent.
It’s funny how you can go through so much of your life and not realize that, until your voice has detached itself from your body, and you simply hear it.

But the first thought that ran through my head upon hearing myself speak about the ironic twist of fate in a 2005 Texas constitutional amendment was, “I never thought I had an accent. Man, that’s a little embarrassing.” But then I thought, “Well, why is that embarrassing?”
There are certain badges that any regional culture wears at all times that distinguishes them from others. One of which is the art; every culture and society has developed a style of expression that is unique to themselves, deeply entrenched in the local history.

But foremost among those badges is the manner in which we speak. It’s by far the most prevalent. Try introducing an outsider to your regional art or conduct yourself in a manner typified by your culture without saying a word. It’s everywhere! And what’s more, it’s the first sign of regional culture that one is typically confronted with. The all important first impression!

Now, there are all sorts of reasons why someone would want to disguise their accent. Most common reason I’ve heard: I don’t wanna sound stupid. Do we really equate this local distinction with sub-standard intelligence? I’ve personally thought of Minnesota as being a place rich with progressive ideas and ideals, a place that’s put education on a pedestal and that’s been envied for our public school system. It’s a diverse state with enormous wild forests that lure the adventurous to them, and a double metropolis that can cater for you any food you’d want to eat, and any art form you want to experience. We are the hybrid of the country! With 10,000 lakes, we’re as comfortable on land as we are on water. And we’re as capable at handling 100 degree weather as we are 50 below.

Embarrassed by the way we speak? What truly do we have to be embarrassed about?

There are two primary ingredients that create a regional dialect: the accent, which is the manner of pronunciation of words used (eg. sa-na vs. sow-na), and the lexicon, which is the list of words that you use (eg. those popular leather mittens that we like to call ‘choppers’). For a little practical advice, if you’re truly afraid of sounding stupid, don’t go to a formal business meeting and use every folksy term you can muster from your region. But if Southerners and New Yorkers and Californians feel at peace with their dialects, and we feel comfortable with them, why can’t we be proud of our own? Maybe there’re just as many of them who feel self-conscious about how they talk. Maybe the grass is always greener on the other side. But I’d say the same thing to them. It’s certainly nothing to be embarrassed about.

So as far as how I felt after hearing myself on the radio, after I thought about it, I was ashamed for feeling embarrassed. It was just a reaction, so I’ll forgive myself. But thinking back to why I like living in Minnesota, and why for so long I’ve called it my home, I can’t think of another way I’d prefer to talk. You betcha, eh.

How about the rest of you? How do you feel about the Minnesota accent?

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