Dec. 22, 2015


The North-Central American English Dialect

Hans Freiwald

Hunter College

Professor Huidobro

1.  Introduction


            There is a dialect in American English, that is often overlooked, or when attention is brought upon it, it tends to be in mockery—The North-Central American English dialect.  Now this is not a condemnation of the treatment toward this dialect (which many could argue is entirely perceptional), rather it is an examination on the dialect itself; its history, its geography, its linguistic characteristics (including, but not limited to, its unique lexicon, phonology/phonetics, syntax, and morphology).  To entice, let us look at a very simple distinction in the lexicon of(1) the North-Central American English[1] dialect in comparison to that of two others, (2) the North-Eastern American English dialect, and (3) the South-Central American English dialect (excluding much of the border area shared by Texas and Mexico) as mapped out in a 2013 article by Alexis Kleinman of the Huffington Post.  She asks, “What is your generic term for a sweetened, carbonated beverage?”:


(1)   For he word “pop” is overwhelmingly used in the NCAE, which includes the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Iowa (I will hypothesize that there is a phonetically influenced reason for this occurrence later on, under the phonetics section of the paper)

(2)   The word “soda” is predominantly used in the North-Eastern American English dialect, which includes New York, and all of the New England states, from Massachusetts to Maine.

(3)   The word “Coke” has predominant usage in the South-Central United States, including much of Texas, and the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky.


            This paper deals with the NCAE dialect and how it has defined itself as one of the unique dialects in North America.  The NCEA is specifically recognized by various literary linguistic sources.  Geographically the NCAE is unique to mainly one region in the continental United States.  It has a unique lexicon as can previously be seen with the use of the word “pop.”  Phonetically it has specific “rules” of articulation, some examples will include the pronunciation of vowels, as well as the addition of diphthongs.  It is syntactically varied in comparison to other dialects, which includes the omission of various function words like “determiners,” and “auxiliary verbs.” Finally it is morphologically exceptional in that there is a “possessive phenomenon,” that seems specific to the NCEA. This will be proven by showing the NCAE dialect in contrast with others as well as with the use of literary source material and introspective hypotheses made by the author himself.  To translate that using the NCEA dialect it would appear something like—“[uf-dha], this things gonna get worked out now, of sure, yah.  It’s not like them guys’s way of speak[in] now, [nəʊ] sir, and this guy’s gonna tell ya why, you [bΕʈʃə].


2.  Evidence and explanation as to where the North-Central English American dialect is found, its history, hypotheses on how it originated, and why it is categorized as a dialect


            Author and linguistic specialist, Lázló Matzkó discusses the NCEA in his article, “Some Thoughts on Dialect Mapping in the United States”:  “[The Webster New World Dictionary] WNWD shows North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa as Midland speech areas, while according to Thomas's map these states belong to what Thomas calls the North Central dialect. WNWD is right in showing Midland speech in most of these states, at least on the basis of accent” (95).  Now though this is a comparison between two variations in mapping it does however show that the NCAE dialect is a scholastically recognized dialect that is in discussion.  A more accessible definition and proof that this dialect is more widely recognized can be found on Wikipedia, “North-Central American English (also known as the Upper Midwest or North Central dialect in the United States) is an American English dialect native to the Upper Midwestern United States, an area that somewhat overlaps with speakers of the separate, Inland North dialect” (“North Central American English”).  Now though Wikipedia should not be used as a literary source, it does however show a public recognition of the NCAE dialect.  As has been previously stated, one is now well aware of where this dialect is found, but perhaps more important is why it is found there.

            Much of this region is populated by Norwegian Americans (According to the Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, “The upper Midwest became the home for most Norwegian immigrants. In 1910 almost 80 percent of the one million or more Norwegian Americans—the immigrants and their children—lived in that part of the United States. By the early twenty-first century, about half of the Norwegian American population lived in the Midwest. In 2010 about 17 percent of the population in Minnesota, 30 percent in North Dakota, 15 percent in South Dakota, and 8 percent in Wisconsin were of Norwegian ancestry” [346]), German Americans (“In the latter phases of German immigration newcomers joined established countrymen in a phenomenon called chain migration. Chain migration is defined as the movement of families or individuals to join friends and family members already established in a given place. Chain migration strengthened already existing German regions of the United States. One such concentrated settlement pattern gave rise to the so-called “German triangle,” defined by St. Paul, Minnesota; St. Louis, Missouri; and Cincinnati, Ohio, with lines stretching between them so that the triangle incorporated Chicago, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Milwaukee, Davenport, and other strongly German cities. Other descriptors include the more accurate “German parallelogram,” which stretches from Albany, New York, westward along the Erie Canal to Buffalo and farther westward through Detroit to St. Paul and the Dakotas, then south to Nebraska and Kansas, back to Missouri and eastward along the Ohio River to Baltimore. Except for large settlements in Texas, San Francisco, and Florida, German settlement is still largely contained within this German belt” [Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, 211]), and Swedish Americans (“The first great wave arrived between 1868 and 1873, as famine in Sweden and opportunity for land in the United States drove 100,000 Swedes, mainly farming families, from their homeland. They relocated primarily in the upper Midwest” [Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, 308].)  It is my hypothesis that a synthesis between these origin languages and their relation to the American English language that is in large part responsible for the formation of this dialect.  As we will see there are many articulation consistencies, syntactical connections, and actual “loanwords” that will help form this hypothesis uniformly.

3.  Phonological and Phonetic changes that take place in the North-Central American English Dialect

            In discussing specific regional dialects, and example that often arises is the pronunciation of the word “coffee.”  This is no more prominent than when one refers to the native Long Island speaker and their pronunciation—[kɔfi].  However, when looking at the pronunciation of “coffee” in the NCAE dialect one would hear [kʌfi].  The NCAE dialect uses the mid-central lax vowel in this instance, as well as in instances of words like [kʌt], and [slʌtr].  One may hypothesize that this occurs because of the Norwegian influence and their use of common words like “God dag” [gud dʌg], meaning “how do you do” and “takk” [tʌk], meaning “thank you[2].”

            There are other phonetically charged changes that are specific to the NCAE dialect.  For example the [ŋ] commonly found at the end of words to articulate tense is often replaced by the [In] sound.  So the word “beginning,” would be pronounced [bigInIn].  There are also noticeable diphthongs specific to the NCAE dialect.  A specific example of this would be when a word ends with an /o/ such as in the word “no” the /o/ would be pronounced with a pronounced [əʊ] mid round vowel sound instead of the [ow] glide.  I hypothesize that diphthongs like this may occur because of the strong use of the umlaut in the German language, which would explain why the change in “vowel quality,” would come to be so much more “dramatic,” and rounded.

            Finally, There is also a schwa replacement that occurs when the /oo/ is present in words such as “goodness.”  In the NCAE this would be pronounced with a [ə] (schwa) – [fuəd], “for [gədnɛs] sakes.”  I hypothesize that the word “god” meaning “good,” and pronounced [gud] was used so much in the Swedish and Norwegian language that when incorporated into English the [u] was shortened to [ə] around voiced consonants to save effort while speaking.  A stretch?  Possibly.  But, a hypothesis nonetheless.

4.  Syntactical Changes taking place in the North-Central American English Dialect

            There are very distinct syntactical occurrences in the NCAE dialect.  In the NCAE dialect words of agreement often come after the subject verb object sentence structure.  For example “Yah,” “You Betcha,” and “sure” will often act as a subordinate clause in a sentence meaning “I understand.” “You’re welcome, you betcha.”  Also in the North Central American English dialect the word “oh” [ow] will be inserted (often) for emphasis.  For example, “Yes I understand,” could become “I understand, oh yes, sure.”  That last example also represents another syntactical occurrence in this dialect, which is the repetition of clauses that have the same meaning.  Another common example would be “ I Never, oh no, not on your life[3].  Which brings me to my last point.  As seen in the last example, function words will often be dropped, like the auxiliary verb “would” and “do,” as well as the determiner “that” were dropped from “I would never do that” to “I never.”  A simple hypothesis for that last example, I believe, could be applied to many dialects in the English language, and that would be that languages were simplified in a country with so many different languages verging together all at one.  One easy way to simplify would have been to pare down any seemingly “unnecessary” words, in order to cut down on confusion. 

5.  Morphological changes that occur in the North-Central American English Dialect

            This is taken from the linguistic essay/study, “Variation in inflectional morphology” written by Chad Nilep:

Inflection occurs not only on verbs (sometimes called conjugation) but also on nouns and pronouns (sometimes called declension). It is here that the (I hope)amusing data from my native dialect comes in. I grew up in North Dakota during the 1970's and 80's speaking a variety of North-Central American English. A non-standard pronoun form used in informal speech where I grew up has at times prompted linguist-colleagues to blurt, "No! Do people really say that?" when I describe it... In informal speech the phrase them guys occurs as roughly equivalent to they - that is as a third-person plural subject (nominative) pronoun.* This, I believe, is common in informal speech in many English dialects... At least where I come from, the possessive (genitive) of them guys is the double-inflected their guys's (pronounced like 'their guises'), where them becomes their and guys receives the regular apostrophe+s possessive suffix... I don't know how widespread this form is. The last example above is from a comment on Georgia Tech football, so it seems less likely that the writer is from the north central US or central Canada.** On the other hand, a commenter at The Japanese Page, a language study forum, says, "I caught myself the other day saying 'It should be one of their guys's turns to drive' and I've heard 'our guys's' also." The commenter goes on to suggest, "I guess I should stay in the Midwest US. (Linguistic Anthropology) 

            To paraphrase from Chad Nilep’s essay—In the NCAE dialect third person pronouns such as “them,” and “they” becomes “them guys” which gives these two morphemes together varying inflections.  For example “they said to them,” becomes “them guys said to them,” or “they said to them guys.”

            Also In the NCAE dialect an apostrophe /s/ must be added to show possession, even with pronouns (as well as phonetically pronounced), even to morphemes that end in the /s/ consonant.  For example “that’s his,” becomes “that’s his’s” or “that’s theirs,” becomes “that’s theirs’s,” or more commonly as previously shown “that’s them guys’s.”

            Lastly, In the NCAE dialect the morpheme “borrow” can sometimes replace the morpheme “loan,” and retain the same meaning.  “Let me borrow it to you,” can mean, “to lend out” in this dialect[4].

6.  Specifics in the lexicon of the North-Central American English dialect, including the addition of loanwords

            Here is a list of some words specific to the NCAE lexicon:

•      “Pop” = a sweetened carbonated beverage.

•      “Hot-dish” = any time you put two or more ingredients in a casserole dish and bake.  One example is tater-tot hot-dish, which contains cream of mushroom soup, lots of cheese, bacon, and of course tater tots.  “It’s darn good, sure!”

•      “U betcha” [ju bΕʈʃə] = “OK,” and “I’m excited,” and “Yes, I agree.”

•      “Okie doke” = “OK,” and can also mean “do you understand?”

•      “Dust-bunnies” = Any dust found under a bed.

•      “Sleep” = The crust found in your eyes after you wake up.

•      “Uff-da”  [uf-dha], = “Uh-oh,” or “that’s great!” or “I’m Tired,” (think of the United States’s East Coasts’s [remember what I previously mentioned on NCAE morphology?] “Forgedda [fØrgΕdə] bout it”)

            Here are some of the loanwords that can still be found in the North-Central American dialect[5]:

·         “Brat” [brʌt] – This is taken from the German word “Bratwurst,” meaning sausage.  This term can mean any type of sausage or “hot dog” in the NCAE dialect.

·         “Oma,” [Ømʌ] and “Opa,” [Øpʌ] – This is taken from the literal German words meaning “grandmother,” and “grandfather.”  It is common for these words to be used to address one’s grandparents casually in the NCAE dialect.

·         “Lutefisk” [lutΕfIsk] – This is taken from the literal word “Lutefisk” from Norway.  This refers to a codfish that has been preserved in lye, for later consumption.  In the NCAE dialect this may refer to any white-fish consumed on a holiday

·         “Smorgasbord” [smowrgəsbowrg] – This is a Swedish word that originally and traditionally represented a table in which a specific meal or type of food was presented or represented.  Its use in the NCAE dialect is more commonly used to refer to an abundance of food, or a large meal.

7.  Conclusion

            The North-Central America English dialect is a distinct and unique dialect specific to the North-Central United States of America.  The NCAE can be defined by its amalgamation of the various languages (specifically Norwegian, German, and Swedish) of the immigrating groups that settled there.  It is a dialect, because of its distinct linguistic characteristics, including but not exclusive to, such as the pronunciation of a mid-central lax vowel in words like “coffee,” [kʌfi]; the often-times preceding clauses that become subordinate in NCAE, such as “Yes, I agree,” becoming “I agree, yes;” the inflectional variation of using and pronouncing “extra apostrophes” in possession, such as “his’s thing;” and finally, because of its specific lexicon and appearance of loanwords.  This dialect is just as prevalent and in use as many of the other American dialects, and like other American dialects it is experiencing contemporary changes in the Twenty-First Century.  Now, if one is to write a paper and hypothesize on the North-Central American English dialect, than, I would argue, that one should conclude with its use.  “Okie doke, I hope this paper was informative for ya now, yah, U betcha.” 


Granquist, Mark A. "Swedish Americans." Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America. Ed. Thomas Riggs. 3rd ed. Vol. 4. Detroit: Gale, 2014.   305-318. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 18 Dec. 2015.

Kleinman, Alexis. “These Dialect Maps Showing The Variety Of American English Have Set The Internet On Fire”. Huffington Post. Huffington Post, 6 Jun. 2103. Web. 21 Dec. 2015.

Lovoll, Odd S. "Norwegian Americans." Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America. Ed. Thomas Riggs. 3rd ed. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 2014. 343-357. Gale Virtual    Reference Library. Web. 18 Dec. 2015.

Matzkó, László. “SOME THOUGHTS ON DIALECT MAPPING IN THE UNITED STATES”. Angol Filológiai Tanulmányok / Hungarian Studies in English 10 (1976): 95–97. Web. 17 Dec. 2015.

Nilep, Chad. “Variation in inflectional morphology.” Society for Linguistic Anthropology. Linguistic Anthropology, 27 Aug. 2012. Web. 18 Dec. 2015.

“North Central American English.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 12 Dec. 2015. Web. 18 Dec. 2015.

Rippley, LaVern J. "German Americans." Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America. Ed. Thomas Riggs. 3rd ed. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 2014. 207-223. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 18 Dec. 2015.


[1] Please note that from now on the North-Central American English dialect will be abbreviated to the “NCAE” dialect.

[2] Hypothesis made from words found in the Gale Virtual Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, pg. 348.

[3] Now it is also important to note that though the example I used involved negative articles, it is not specific to such.  For example it can also be used positively, as in “I yah, yep, sure, one-hundred percent, a definite,” as well as just descriptions of the same event or location, as in “I was at the store with the food, the supermarket, the [insert market name, i.e. Target], the Target that I was in, the food store ya know.”

[4] Please note that though this occurs in the NCAE dialect, it has been pointed out to me that it is also present in other dialects and languages.

[5] It should be noted that these loanwords are becoming less and less common, as their prevalence of use was stronger with preceding generations.  This most likely runs parallel with many other American English dialects, especially as the geographic interconnectivity from online communication has begun to merge dialects in more and more ways.  I would hypothesize that this merger is responsible for the “dropping” of loanwords that now seem more and more antiquated.