MinnesOHtan? Palin just sounds like one

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 3, 2008 - 10:49 PM

Republican vice presidential candidate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Photo: Ron Edmonds, Associated Press

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Sarah Palin is no Minnesotan. But she can sure sound like one.

Turns out, there's a darn good reason for it, too.

The GOP vice presidential candidate's hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, is in the middle of the valley where more than 200 broke families from the Midwest -- many of them from Minnesota -- relocated during the Great Depression.

Which means Palin grew up listening to the children and grandchildren of those Minnesotans and being fed a steady diet of "yahs" and "ya knows" and even "you betchas."

"When people settle a new area, there's not a set accent,'' said Joe Salmons, director of the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "And it takes several generations for a new accent to form. What that means is, she was raised in an environment where there were a lot of people who were new to Alaska, and those Upper Midwestern influences were going to be very strong."

From the sound of things, Palin listened well.

Like a true Midwesterner, her O's tend to sound "pure," or long, Salmons said. She also tends to turn "you" into "ya."

Palin also emphasizes the S at the end of words that typically sound like they end with a Z. (Think of the Saturday Night Live skit in which the actors played Chicagoans cheering for "Da Bearsss!")

"That's the stereotype of Upper Midwest speech," Salmons said. "People do that, not just in Chicago but in Wisconsin and Minnesota. And she has that."

"She certainly has a distinct accent," said Randi Perlman, assistant director of the Chamber of Commerce in Palmer, Alaska, which became home to most of the 203 Midwestern families when they resettled in 1935. "A lot of people here call it an Alaska accent, but I don't know that there is such a thing."

Salmons agrees. He said that Palin, whose parents are from Idaho, has a mix of Midwest and Northwest dialects.

"In some ways,'' he said, "she sounds distinctively Western," merging vowels and turning words such as "talk" and "caught" into "tak" and "cot." "

Palin also uses a lot of informal English. Some of it is stereotypical phrasing such as "you betcha," Salmons said. Some of it comes from dropping the 'g' from 'ing' endings in sentences such as "People are hurtin," and "Where are ya goin?"

"We all do that," Salmons said. "It's not a regional thing, but a stylistic thing.''

But it stands out in a presidential campaign.

"She's doing things we all do ... in a setting where we don't expect to hear them," he said.

Richard Meryhew • 612-673-4425

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