Sociolinguistics in Practice: Wisconsin Talk

Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange” (1962), with its intuitive vocabulary, has inspired me to document my linguistic environments. I will write about a different environment each week without explaining any vocabulary used. My hope is that readers will gradually learn what these words mean as they read on and notice if I insert a word that does not belong. Through this, I will explore belonging: does knowing the words of an environment help increase belonging even if one has never been in the environment themselves?

“Can I come with?” of course I mean to Festival off of College; we need to get some groceries over there. We take the big roundabout from CE and park in the parking lot. It’s a nice one out there. We pick up some port wine cheese and crackers and summer sausage and use a bag but know that I am saying it my way and maybe not yours. I would write bag in IPA if only I knew how to write my vowels (don’t even ask me about “Oscar”); I hope I’ll learn them next term in phonology. Just know that my vowels are long and round (“boat”) or nasally (“Maggie”). I probably say bagel like you though. Bag is better than bag and dragon than dragon and cot and caught sound different and it’s tag Shaggy flag magazine not tag Shaggy flag magazine. I hope you know the difference. 

I say “thank you, have a good day!” and stop at the bubbler before we go back home, or at least stop at the house before going back to the other side of town to the mall. I wish we could get some squeaky cheese curds or Culver’s or JD’s or the good old Pizza King on Calumet. We could take the highway southbound or northbound from KK or from College or just go downtown past Menards and Lawrence. Gosh, oh no. At the lights, someone was speeding — more than five over — and almost hit another car. Hmm, maybe they’re from Illinois? Oh wait, they’re driving a lifted luxury truck … must be from here. Before we go to the mall, we park in the ramp down by the downtown Y to stop by quick. I don’t say it but I hear “real good, yeah” and “you betcha,” and later that night WIXX says, “it’s time for yeah er no” and I mean, it sounds right to me. Same with “I seen that last week.” This is before I came to college and learned stereotypes and heard of the Manitowoc Minute. For supper we had cheesy brats and scalloped potatoes and ham and watched the Packers play in the “frozen tundra” when Mike McCarthy was still around Lambeau.  

Oh and I remember the Darboy Club (shout-out!) a great supper club Friday fish fry and ope, run into someone in the bathroom, can I scoot past you there? Smile make small talk leave. After my family does the old midwestern goodbye and we never leave when we say we will and even when we get to the car we still talk through the windows. Have a good one! Go fishing with dad at the lighthouse in Neenah on ‘Bago and he asks if they’ve been biting and someone says it’s not bad, the fish have been biting but Lake Link says it’s better on Poygan. But give ‘er a go anyways. Up north is good too, that’s where we go camping. Up in Shawano. 

And I was surrounded by pretty much everyone who sounded like me and said bag bubbler oh! We even had Wespenmusikanten our polka band; I was lucky enough to play for two years. I didn’t realize my accent until college where I stood out. And again when I got to my gate in Atlanta to Appleton and suddenly heard my first real-life Wisconsin accent in months. Glorious. A flight attendant who said “it’ll be a good one out there” and cry because wow it feels like home and it’s a good variety a real variety don’t make fun of it please. The mill is even more pronounced and yes I work a lot of hours and the people on 9 coater who sound so Wisconsin in the microphone are so comforting. 

I love calling my family now in college because it’s home and they’re home and I bet you might not get it … because Lawrence is Appleton too, yes, but trust me it’s far enough away from home and I always hear my accent when I talk.  

I know how to say all the names and I smile knowingly when I hear the tricky ones mispronounced and the winter isn’t that bad, but I sure don’t wish it lasted from October to April, sometimes even May because global warming is realllllllllllllllllll. I used to say “you guys” but it’s not inclusive so “you all” is better. I also say Green BAY not GREEN Bay and that’s how you know Kelso and Eric and Donna and Hyde are not from Wisconsin. Same with High CLIFF and Copper ROCK and if you know why please tell me why this is the case. Also, Grishaber’s is greasehoppers and Bubolz is bu-bultz and Mohnen’s is mohans because my family just says it that way. And add an –s to everything like Heid’s but I’m not a fan of adding “the” in front.  

I’m proud of my accent. I love it. It’s the best but also no variety is the best and none are standard. And not every Wisconsin accent is the same. No prescriptivism here, just pride for my Appleton Wisconsin accent. Oh yeah, and please ask me about my accent. I love to talk about it. Feel free to reach out at kellyl@lawrence.edu. Have a good one.

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