What do you think a real Chicago accent sounds like?

What do you think a real Chicago accent sounds like?

"You want to come with? We're going to the Jewel to pick up some brats."

I love accents, but I didn't realize I had one until I went away to college and my nasally vowels and tendancy to drop letters was pointed out to me by my out-of-state friends. I eventually learned how to drop it if I'm trying to sound professional, but you can tell how pissed off I am by how strong my accent gets.

There are all sorts of studies on American dialects and accents, so I did a little research on the way we talk. What we call a "Chicago accent" is actually called the Inland North American dialect. This encompasses the major cities around the Great Lakes. The dialect used to be considered the standard American accent until the region experienced a vowel shift, now called the North Cities Vowel Shift.

The North Cities Vowel Shift describes the placement of the tongue in the mouth when making different vowel sounds. For example, caught takes on the same vowel sound in cot. Read more about the difference in vowel sounds in an article by linguist Matthew Gordon, found here.

So, now that we know the technical aspect of how we talk, what exactly is a Chicago accent?

We know that we use words like 'pop' and 'gym shoes.' We're known for ending sentences with a preposition, the most common sentence being "do you want to come with?". The Saturday Night Live Bill Swerski Superfans and Mayor Daley have defined what the rest of the country identifies as a Chicago accent.

However, I've found that there is much debate among Chicagoans over what a true Chicago accent sounds like. Some pronounce 'Chicago' as Chi-KAW-go and others pronounce it Chi-KAH-go. I'm part of the latter group, and, in my opinion, that's what the Chicago accent sounds like. "Socks" and "hockey" should be pronounced "sacks" and "hackey."

So what do you think is a true Chicago accent? How do you pronounce Chicago?




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  • Sorry to inject race into this, but black Chicagoans do not sound like white Chicagoans; the use of certain words, especially "pop" for soda, is a dead give-away, but I have heard "dag" only from black people from Chicago, and I have heard this word all around the world and knew I was hearing a Chicagoan (The first time was in Rota, Spain). Likewise we do not have the Mayor Daley accent, but I have also heard this accent around the world as well. Hearing this accent anywhere, erases all those barriers that pop up when you still live in Chicago (That's a good thing)

  • In reply to Horusbedhetys:

    Very interesting point, and I definitely agree with you. I actually found a lot on African American Vernacular English (http://linguistlist.org/topics/ebonics/), and apparently it's one of the most closely studied and scrutinized dialects in this country. If you find anything on how it relates specifically to Chicago, let me know.

  • In reply to Chicago Quirk:

    "If you find anything on how it relates specifically to Chicago, let me know."

    >>Listen to Kanye West

  • Growing up in the city and the suburbs, I learned that there are a few Chicago accents. This really stood out while at U of I and many of us from all over the state (and city) discussed this at great length. The north side, and many friends who are Jewish, had a certain accent (as in Chi-caw-go) and south siders (many from Polish and Irish Catholic families) had a more nasal pronunciation (Chi-cah-go). I worked in the south side steel mills many summers, and a very strong ethnic smattering of accents flavored even second generation Chicagoans. Downstaters were even different. My favorite is still the Minnesota accent (as in "Fargo"). Love it!

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    I also think there are a few other words that give away many people as native albeit less educated Chicagoans: (However, your first paragraph didn't highlight this usage in example one below.)

    1. Jewel's (should be Jewel) and it seems that since Dominick's is used in the possessive form, they choose to do the same thing with this grocery chain's name.

    2. Pond (should be pound/impound) as in, "My car was towed to the pond."

    3. Viadock (should be viaduct) as in, "There was so much rain, my Escalade couldn't get through the viadock."

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