Accents of Detroit

Most Americans don’t know much about Detroit. Sure, they’re familiar with the corruption and poverty well-documented by the media. Howev9cf217f3888cf6d87fdd04c58836ae78e9704c72er, outside of Southeast Michigan, no one is aware of  spectrum of subcultures and the colorful history that embodies the city of Detroit. The variety of accents within Metro Detroit is a testimony to the city’s cosmopolitanism

Newscaster Accent

If you watch the evening news, you’re familiar with this accent. In Detroit, It’s the uniformed regionless style of diction associated with the white-collar middle class.Characterized by rhoticity, ‘short a’ risings and merged vowels, this mode of speaking gives one the impression of an educated, working professional

Northern city Vowel Shift

This peculiar linguistic phenomenon circulated throughout Michigan and  northern cities including Chicago, Syracuse, Buffalo, and Cleveland. No one knows how this trend emerged but it became popular among blue-collar workers. However, working professionals have exhibited traces of the vowel shift as well.

Basically when people with this accent speak, their vowels literally shift. Their short a’s become tensed, producing a nasal sound common among Michiganders. Their o’s become quasi-short a’s. So instead of having a job, they have a ‘jab’. One’s boss becomes one’s bus! In addition, the caught-cot meager is nonexistent and strangely, ‘caught’ is pronounced in a Bostoneque diction.

At first, this unique style of enunciating is frustrating to listen. However, you’ll later find it pleasant, with a certain regional charm.

Grosse Pointe Monotone

Grosse Pointe is a notable wealthy suburb situated next to a low-income area of Detroit. This town is known for its gated communities inhabited by old-money WASP(White Anglo Saxon Protestant) clans who left Detroit after the infamous race riots of ’67.

In my opinion, Grosse Pointe monotone isn’t as widespread as the stereotype would suggest. Then again, I don’t visit that part of the Metro area very often.

I really don’t know how to describe this accent. It’s basically the Michigan equivalent of Boston Brahmin. The inflections tend to be expressionless, possibly reflecting the stoicism valued by the upper class elite. Their vowels tend to stop short. Sometimes their o’s are rounded.

But most residents of Grosse Pointe speak in the same manner as other Michiganders. So, the stereotype rarely holds truth.

Quasi-Southern

Michigan is rightfully referred as the most Southern state in the Great Lakes. During the 1920’s and 1930’s, a mass influx of poor Southerners, including formerly-enslaved Black sharecroppers and ” po’ white trashy rednecks”, arrived in Detroit, placing their hopes on the auto industry to ensure a better life for themselves.

 Southern style cooking(Cracker Barrel, anyone?), Hoedowns (yes, I’m serious), and Country music artists are prevalent in Southeast Michigan. Even the occasional Confederate flag on porches (oh, the irony) is not unusual. The unique drawl is no exception.

Not surprising, the descendants of these migrants merge their Southern inflections with Midwestern intonations in their delivery resulting in a vast range of accents. Some rhotic, others non-rhotic. Some have the vowel shifts. Some are almost indistinguishable from other Michiganders. Others sound like first time visitors from Alabama.

On second thought, hoedown aren’t that bad. 😀

There are entire generations within families who’ve worked in

auto industry. It’s no surprise this Southern-influenced merged dialect is popular among factory workers in auto plants, occupying the same positions as their grandfathers

 

one family of many participating in the Great Migration

Ebonics

Since Detroit is prominently Black, most of whom descended from Black Southerners, obviously Ebonics is quite widespread. Some consider this distinctive dialect to be nothing more than English from a garbage disposal, repressing intellectual pursuits among Black youths. Others see it as a cultural motif, bonding Black America since the days of slavery.

I don’t have extensive knowledge of Black culture (or cultures I should say) so I can’t really comment on that dispute.

Ebonics, known as African American Vernacular English, can be traced to bonded African slaves in Dixieland plantations. Southern linguistic sensibilities were spiced with African creole influences.

A peculiar rhythm which some say can be traced to Western African intonations, the prevalence of double negatives, and distinctive vocabulary which has now made its way into mainstream English dialects and an atypical use of verb tenses  are all notable traits of Ebonics.

 While Ebonics may be most prominent among semi-literate Blacks, some educated ‘bidialectial’ (upper) middle class Blacks won’t hesitate to speak it among their fellow soul brothers and soul sisters. As I mentioned before, many Blacks view Ebonics as an intrinsic aspect of their heritage.

I came down from Da U.P, eh

I swear, Yoopers (that’s Michiganese for people from the Upper Peninsula) are the reason for Michigan’s awesomeness.

Although most Yoopers, taking pride in their homeland, remain in the UP, some make there way across the bridge to take advantage of the slightly expanding opportunities in engineering and other career fields found in the Detroit area.

They’re inspiringly independent, resourceful, and resilient enough to withstand eight month winters. Their sense of courtesy is refreshing and their ‘pasties’ are divine!!

Pasties!!!!!

However nothing beats the Yooper dialect. It’s sounds musical and refined yet so warm and down-to-earth.

Their elocution is reflective of their Scandinavian roots, along with Lutheran parishes on every blocks and meat pies (ooh, I could use a pasty!!).

There are Canadian influences, considering those proximity to Canada.

The raising vowel and rhythmic dictions makes me smile!

Say ya to da U.P, eh

Immigrant Groups

As I mentioned before, Southeast Michigan is among the diverse regions in the country. I don’t have time to go over every accent of every immigrant community. However, let me mention a few

Detroit holds the unique distinction for being one of the most prominent hubs for pre-WWI diasporic Middle Eastern communities. In fact, Detroit was home to Levantinians (as in from the Levant), Armenians and Chaldeans before the modern day nations of Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Jorden and Israel were even established.

They left their homelands during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the turn of the 20th century, resulting in mass

St Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church in Livonia

persecution of Christians, Druzes and other

minorities. Upon arrival, these immigrants become involved in the food business, bringing their tasty recipes to the city. The Chaldeans are especially notorious for running most of the liquor store
in the region.

  Through their cultural centers and houses of worship, they managed to maintain their unique heritage.

Like Middle Eastern immigrants, Mexicans made their way to Detroit during the 1910s to join the auto industry. They established their own section of town known as ‘La Bagley’ which later became Mexicantown.

 The majority of Detroit’s Mexicans are now third generation, some fourth generation. Their diction is similar to the mainstream accent, with some Chicano influence

The Middle Easterncommunity is continuously increasing as more refugees seek a better life. There are mixture of fresh of the boat asylum seekers and fifth generation American, and everything in between.

Other ethnic communities have had a long history in Detroit, including the Greeks, Jews, the Poles, the Irish, the Italians, and the Chinese. There are newer immigrants such as Indians, Koreans, Thais, Hmong, Filipinos etc.  They’ve all planted their seed in the cultural motif of Detroit

 

 

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