This is a really interesting blog post based on research done about what some researchers have called the “Northern Cities Vowel Shift.” Northern cities from central New York across Lake Erie and past Lake Michigan have a very distinct accent that has developed over the past hundred years or so, which has solidified more in the last 50 years.
I was especially interested in this research for several reasons. First, I was first exposed to this accent when I went to college in Central New York, and I noticed that people from Syracuse had a very distinct accent that I never heard before (in California, in Massachusetts, or on television/ in movies). After coming to Michigan for grad school, I had made the link between the two accents, thinking that the Michigan accent was “stronger.” (I also find the accent very jarring, which is probably why I noticed it in the first place). Anyway, it turns out that it’s technically the same accent.
The second reason that I was interested is because I’ve always been unsure where my accent lies or where I learned it from. I had an “American” accent of some sort before I moved to England as a 4 year old, and then had a weird hybrid accent while I lived there that was more British when I was in school and more American when at home or in the US for vacation. When we moved back to California, my brother and I dropped our accents almost immediately. But we never picked up on the distinctive “Bay Area” characteristics or language mannerisms. I always sort of felt like I didn’t really have an accent (which is silly, since everyone has one), or if I did, it matched most with that generic accent that’s on TV or movies.
Sometimes we forget that language is always evolving and shifting, and it’s really cool. I thought it was especially interesting how this article pointed out that rather than merging closer together, these accents have diverged more over the past few years (although they attribute this to politics…which I don’t really buy).