Certain people from a certain Midwest town have a certain way of saying their words – different from other folks around the country. (Reference to comic genius Bill Swerski’s Super Fans of Saturday Night Live fame, circa early 1990s.)
Chicagoans, we kinda really, actually, totally sound like these guys. Let me use myself as an example. [Press play, please!]
I’m owning up to this fact now. Before I thought I sounded like everyone else, normal, like people on TV, or newscasters. I thought those Saturday Night Live dudes were wrong. (Though, of course, what makes the Superfans funny is that there is truth in their jest.)
Then I heard this recording I made a few months ago. Man, I’m layin’ on that short ah-eh nasal sound like the blaring horn of a road rager on the Kennedy in serious need of anger management classes. I Can’t Help Myself.
This is where I got the idea for this question: How did Chicagoans acquire our unmistakable and loveable accent?
I submitted the question a few months ago to a project of public radio station WBEZ, Curious City, which asks listeners for their questions about Chicago. Previous Curious City investigations include Al Capone’s tunnels, the Kennedy expressway reversible lanes and how they clean the Bean.
Via their website, the public votes weekly on which question gets answered by reporters. Even though this accent question didn’t get the most votes, the question intrigued reporter Annie Minoff so much that she wanted to answer it anyway!
Thanks to Annie and the good folk at WBEZ and Curious City, you can find the first installment of where the Chicago accent comes from in her article, Chuh Kaw Go, what do you really sound like?. Make sure you press the little triangles/play buttons next to the mouth graphic to hear samples of Chicagoans and non-Chicagoans saying words like hot dog, Chicago and hockey. The accent is pretty crystal clear.
And the next installment? Update: it’s out now!
WBEZ and Curious City asked Chicagoans to help find out what Chicagoans sound like now… and help you did. That sound wave at the top of this post is a re-recording of an audio sample I contributed to WBEZ’s Chicago Accent Database. Nearly 400 Chicagoans contributed a voice sample via a toll-free phone number and some demographic information in a short questionnaire.
In “Question Answered: Our (almost) last word on the Chuh Kaw Go accent,” Annie reported on where the accent’s going, how it’s affected by immigration, whether African-Americans and Hispanics exhibit the accent and plenty of great samples from the database, including this ADORABLE snip from nine-year-old Chicagoan, Joey:
I feel proud of my accent. It’s nasal, yes, but it’s mine. My voice took years to develop and reflects the friends and families I’ve made, talked and laughed with. I’ve traveled a lot this year (surely you’ve noticed this blog) and I share quite often with people I meet about where I’m from. Not only am I an American, I am from the Midwest, and to be clear, I’m from Chicago.