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Good Question: Where Does The Minnesota Accent Come From?

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(credit: CBS) Heather Brown
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Comedian Amber Preston moved from Fargo to Minneapolis 15 years ago, but still holds onto her Upper Midwest accent. She uses, even exaggerates, it during her standup shows about growing up in Fargo.

“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,” she said. “I told her you kind of do.”

The Minnesota accent received international fame from the Coen Brothers movie, Fargo. Three years later, the movie Drop Dead Gorgeous hyped the accent, too.

“Ya know. Sure. Fine. Lots of long vowels,” Preston said.

Many people will tell you they didn’t even know they had the accent until they’d moved away.

“When I went to college, all my friends were like, you really talk like a Minnesotan,” said Laura Risdall.

According to native Minnesotan Dr. John Spartz, the Minnesota accent is actually an Upper Midwest dialect that includes Minnesota, parts of North Dakota and South Dakota, northern Iowa and western Wisconsin.

“The dialect doesn’t stop at the border,” said Spartz, a linguistics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. He wrote his PhD dissertation on the Minnesota phrase “come with.”

He says the long vowels and sentence structure come from the Norwegians, Swedes and Germans who settled here in the later 1800s.

“They take some of the features of the first language and take those things to map onto the target language,” he said.

Over generations, the speech patterns have been passed down. According to the 2000, 67 percent of Minnesotans had some sort of Swedish, German or Norwegian heritage.

“You learn it from you parents and they learn it from their parents,” Spartz said. “If you know you sound like a Minnesotan, you actually take pride in being one of those, so that keeps the language alive, too.”

Spartz says the accent isn’t as concentrated in the metro area as more non-Minnesotans have moved into the cities. But he says there is a pocket of Finnish influence in Hibbing where people pronounce “them” like “dem.”

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