Many of us in Central New York speak Inland Northern American English, at least according to a scholarly Wikipedia entry, full of fancy-sounding linguistic phrases like "centering dipthongs" and "R-colored vowels."

We all know the sounds they're talking about. We've been hearing them for years. Probably coming out of the mouths of our Aunt Sally (pronounced Ant Say-lee) or Uncle Frank (pronounced Fraynk). Our type of speech, with those nasally, flat A sounds, is most common across the Great Lakes region and in cities like Utica, Syracuse, Buffalo and Chicago.

Actress Patricia Arquette (pictured above at the Golden Globes) nailed the dialect with her portrayal of ill-fated prison employee Joyce "Tilly" Mitchell in Escape at Dannemora. Here's a good clip from the Showtime series:

How the unique accent came about is interesting. In the mid-1800s, Western New Englanders, Germans, Slavs, and other groups all started melding into the Great Lakes states and a new speech pattern was born. You can try it yourself. For instance, try pronouncing these words with your tongue starting a little higher in your mouth and you're there:

  • Caught (comes out as "cot")
  • Trap (comes out as "trayp")
  • Naturally (comes out as "nayturally")

Here's a good example of that last one from Wikipedia.

Some other famous Inland Northern American English speakers include Joan Cusack, John Goodman, and the Chicago Bears super-fans in the Saturday Night Live sketch featuring George Wendt (aka "Norm" in Cheers.)

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Feel free to reach Dave Coombs any time via email, whether you're from CNY or anywhere else.