'My Fair Lady' and Chicago's accent

'My Fair Lady' and Chicago's accent

"People stop and stare; they don't bother me,

For there's nowhere else on earth that I would rather be"

-- from "On the Street Where You Live" in Lerner and Loewe's "My Fair Lady"

I have written elsewhere about how much I enjoy the musical "My Fair Lady," and how a speech some people miss fuels my enthusiasm for writing.

But the musical itself is about a phonetics professor, Henry Higgins, and his quest to turn a London Cockney flower girl into a duchess, at least in her speech. Accents and their class distinctions abound throughout the musical.

The quotation above is one that recently came to mind when I'd been talking to someone from out of town and she asked me to explain what the Chicago accent is. Actually, I didn't think of the song after until the conversation ended, but I'd used the idea I had -- that Chicago has very few vowel sounds.

My readers here in Chicago (which doesn't mean all of you) will probably have trouble reading the quotation from the musical: "bother" rhyming with "rather." The "a" sound in Chicago (and many other Midwestern) voices is much flatter -- rhyming not with "father," but with "dad."

That's what things sound like "on the street where I live" -- as flat as the street itself.

Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook.


Filed under: Music and language


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  • Another very strange coincidence...there was a show on Channel 11.3 last night about pidgin (in Hawaii), including how they had "Standard English Schools." My reaction "I have no problem understanding what they were saying." Their version of Standard English sounded like Prof. Higgins. (Doesn't he have da road near O'Hara?)

    The explanation may have also been similar to Chicago, linguistically, as it was stated that pidgin developed because the Hawaiians, Japanese, Filipinos, Chinese, Samoans, Portuguese etc. had to have some way of communicating with the English-speaking plantation owners. The forebearers of the Daleys must have had a similar need before they took control.

  • In reply to jack:

    Well, that's Standard English -- the standard by which all accents should be judged. Sounds like a great program, Jack -- I'll keep an eye out for a rerun.

  • I love regional accents wherever I travel. People are not sometimes as enamored of mine!

  • In reply to Kathy Mathews:

    Which reminds me that old time network newscasters (like Frank Reynolds, who was from Munster, Ind.) had flat Midwestern accents. The first time I saw CNN, my reaction was "these people talk suddern."

  • In reply to jack:

    I loved Frank Reynolds, but more for his reporting than his speaking. As for a favorite voice, I miss Peter Jennings (a native Canadian).

  • In reply to Kathy Mathews:

    I agree, Kathy, on both counts. I tend to start imitating the pronunciation of a word when I pick it up, and the Midwest flat voice goes away as a result. Not that I have a standard Chicago accent, at any rate -- I've had people ask me where I'm from and act quite shocked that I grew up in Illinois.

  • I love to hear accents wherever I travel.
    Some do flow like honey and others like gravel.
    I'm fond of Dame Dench
    Or of anyone French,
    But of others, like Russian, I cavil.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Well put. I could listen to Dame Judi Dench read my shopping list; maybe then I'd remember it properly. Also, anything that gets a bit of exercise for the word "cavil" is fine with me!

  • This post encourages me to tune my ears in hopes of detecting the Chicago accent! Thanks, Margaret

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