Meeting Author Edward McClelland

26 Jun

In college, my phonetic Spanish classes were my favorite. I thought it was really fascinating to study accent and the way people pronounce words. When I heard about a speech going on at my library about the Midwestern American accent, I knew it would be something I’d enjoy. Edward McClelland is from Lansing Michigan and went to Michigan State University located there. He’s gone on to journalism in Chicago.

McClelland talked about the vowel shift happening in the Inland North region, the area Michigan is located in. There’s ‘A Raising’ where the word ‘can’ sounds more like ‘caen.’ There’s a ‘Fronted O’ where the word ‘box’ sounds like ‘bahhx.’ Then there’s the ‘Short E/U Confusion’ where ‘seven’ sounds like ‘suvun.’ When I was living in Southern Indiana, part of the Midland accent region, I was told I had an accent though I really don’t hear it! They said it was how I pronounced my vowels and now I might see where it’s coming from. Here’s a fun one: I pronounce the words cot and caught the same. Do you?

The North Eastern accent slowly moved inland and spread to the Midwest and Michigan. What I think of as a ‘Boston Accent’ with dropped Rs actually was brought over from the UK but never made it to the Midwest which is why we have a distinction there. Midwesterners think they don’t have an accent because broadcasters on television and actors on TV tend to speak like they’re from the Midwest. This accent is actually based on how people spoke in Ohio in the 1920s.

One of the most interesting things to me was how McClelland described Yoopanese. For those unfamiliar with Michigan, the state is split into two separate peninsulas. For a long time, there was no bridge between the two and to get across the straits of Mackinaw, you had to drive around Lake Michigan through Wisconsin and Illinois. I live in the lower peninsula (LP) and am called a Troll because I live below the bridge. I call someone from the Upper Peninsula (UP) a Yooper (UP-er). Yoopanese has a strong influence from Finnish because of a large number of Finnish immigrants who came to work in lumber and mining in that region.

Some traits of the Yooper accent include d/th slurring (the/de), cot/caught distinction, and the word ‘eh’ as an interjection. This is usually a Canadian stereotype but if you see on a map how close the UP is to Canada, it’s no surprise it spilled over! Getting to Canada was much easier than getting to the LP.

Finally, McClelland talked about words that have different meanings in Michigan or different things that exist in Michigan. So, let’s see if you can speak my dialect of Midwestern. What are these? Definitions are in McClelland’s book, How To Speak Midwestern (but I’ll tell you if you as in the comments).

  • Michigan Left
  • Coney Dog
  • Party Store
  • Fudgie

Good luck! I hope someone out there is as big of a language nerd as me.

Until next time, write on.

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3 Responses to “Meeting Author Edward McClelland”

  1. Kathryn June 27, 2017 at 11:01 PM #

    This book sounds pretty interesting. My husband is a Yooper, but he has lived in Ilinois for over 20 years. What are the 4 definitions. I’d guess a coney dog is a hot dog, but have no clue about the others.


    • Sam June 28, 2017 at 7:51 PM #

      I wonder if your husband would know these! A Michigan Left is a way of turning left on a divided highway where you turn right and do a U-Turn. A Coney Dog is a hot dog, but it’s a very specific kind sold at Coney Island (diner) restaurants served with chili and onions. Party Stores are liquor stores because they sell everything you need for a party (plastic cups and ping-pong balls included). A fudgie is someone who goes to Northern Michigan on vacation, dubbed thus because they eat the delicious fudge found there. Let me know if he knew these! Happy reading.



  1. Book Review: How to Speak Midwestern by Edward McClelland (4/5) | Taking On a World of Words - July 13, 2020

    […] in linguistics but without a PhD, it wasn’t practical. When I saw that my library was hosting Edward McClelland a few years ago, I was excited to hear him talk about accents throughout the Midwest where […]


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