Why Do Minnesotans Have Accents?

One of the most recognizable and distinct accents in America is the so-called “Minnesota accent” or “Upper Midwest dialect.”

With its long vowel sounds, nasal intonations, and folksy charm, this accent has been popularized and exaggerated in movies like Fargo and Drop Dead Gorgeous.

As comedian Amber Preston, who grew up in Fargo, shared with CBS Minnesota, “I told my mom, I’m doing this thing for TV. She said I hope you’re not going to make fun of me because you know I don’t sound like that. I told her you kind of do.”

Many Minnesotans don’t even realize they have an accent until they move away from the region.

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The Influence of Scandinavian Settlers

So where does this distinct accent come from? Linguists point to the heavy influence of Scandinavian settlers, particularly Norwegians, Swedes, and Germans, who arrived in Minnesota in large numbers in the late 1800s.

“The dialect doesn’t stop at the border,” said Dr. John Spartz, a linguistics professor who studied the Minnesota phrase “come with” for his PhD dissertation. “The long vowels and sentence structure come from the Norwegians, Swedes and Germans who settled here in the later 1800s.”

As these immigrants learned English, they mapped certain speech patterns from their native languages onto English, passing them down through generations.

A Blending of Accents

However, some experts suggest the origins may be more complex than just Scandinavian influence. Daniel Haataja, a linguist at the University of Minnesota, notes that the earliest English-speaking settlers were from the British Isles, whose accents also feature long “a” and “o” pronunciations similar to the Minnesota accent.

“So the question is whether those characteristics were already existing in the English of the earliest English-speaking immigrants,” Haataja said, “or whether those characteristics came from Swedish and Norwegian.”

The accent likely arose from a blending of these different influences as populations mixed in the region.

Embracing the “Minnesota-O”

Regardless of its origins, the Minnesota accent endures today as a source of state pride and identity. As Keely Wolter, an accent coach working on a documentary about the accent, says, “I just want everyone to love it as much as I do. I want us to stop feeling accent shame.”

Do all Minnesotans Talk Like That?

Not all Minnesotans speak with the thick, exaggerated accent often parodied in movies and TV shows. In reality, most Minnesotans don’t even realize they have a distinct way of speaking until they travel outside the region. The accent tends to be more subtle and regional in everyday conversation.

those from other parts of the country are often able to quickly pick up on the nasally “o” sounds, elongated vowels, and local colloquialisms that set the Minnesota dialect apart.

So while no one is walking around saying “Oh yah, you betcha” quite like the Coen brothers’ version of Fargo, there are still distinctive linguistic fingerprints that identify Minnesotans’ speech patterns as uniquely their own.

Where to find the Minnesota Accent Strongest?

Within Minnesota itself, you’ll also find variations in how strong or prominent the accent presents. More concentrated pockets of the trademark “Minnesota accent” tend to be found in rural areas, small towns, and regions with higher percentages of multi-generational Minnesotans of Scandinavian or German descent.

The accent features are often less pronounced in the Twin Cities metro area, where a more diverse migration of residents has contributed to a bit of dilution over time.

But make no mistake – even urban Minnesotans will often still incorporate undeniable hints of the flat “a”, long “o”, and understated phrasing that betrays their Minnesota roots to a careful listener, even if not rising to the level of the “you betcha” caricatures. The accent is simply an inseparable part of the state’s linguistic identity.

The distinct “Minnesota-o” and other vowel pronunciations may sound unusual to outsiders, but they reflect the unique linguistic heritage of a region shaped by waves of immigrant settlers, all trying to map their native tongues to a new language in a new land.

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