The nasal vowels, the multifunctional but monosyllabic ya’s and sure’s, the rs so deep they threaten to suck in the entire sentence… I love Minnesota accents. We’re not supposed to be ironic on the I Love series, and I’m not even going to try to defend its aesthetic merit. But whenever I return to the Cities from a trip anywhere south of Iowa or west of the Missouri or east of Lake Michigan, and I once again hear the lilty but unexpressive speech of my people, there’s a feeling I get in my heart or my gut or whereever. It’s home.
Bobby’s Mom is probably the definitive Minnesota accent, thanks to Gail Matthius’ Sioux Falls proximity to the linguistic heartland of the regional variant. The actors in Fargo aren’t bad, but a bit too studied for my taste. Tim Pawlenty hits high notes in a hockey player kind of way, but gets kind of Sconnie sometimes (an East Metro thing?). Mark Dayton sometimes reminds us that he is from Minneapolis, but mostly sounds like he was born and raised in a prep school out east. Al Franken, the only New York Jew in the local 2008 Senate race who was actually from Minnesota, doesn’t even try. Amy Klobuchar, on the other hand, native of Plymouth, tries a bit too hard.
Like Amy, I grew up in the suburbs, so if I wanted to run for office I’d have to put on an accent too. But perhaps also like Amy, I listen to my family, and when I’m talking to them I sometimes feel my tongue stick through my os and I pucker a bit on my rs. My family also illustrates the diversity that exists within Minnesota accents, since the accent of my ancestral homeland, New Ulm, at first resembles more the Chicago accent lampooned in SNL’s Da Bears sketches than the local church basement ladies. But a few mugs of Schell’s into a conversation with a New Ulmer, you start to recognize vowels that sound more Bayport than Bridgeport, along with the familiar you betcha’s.
Accents are a reminder that places aren’t just made of how wide their streets are, or how tall their buildings are, or whether there are boulevards with trees. Places are made of people, and those people are different everywhere, and constantly changing. There is no one Minnesota accent, and no permanent Minnesota accent, but there are Minnesota accents and they contribute strongly to the sense of place that makes our state a (somewhat, relatively) distinctive part of the North American continent.
I love you Minnesota (even though it’s been weird lately)! And most of all, I love you Minnesota accent!