THE MICHIGAN ACCENT

Idiosyncrasies and Patterns

Let me tell ya, it is DAMNED cold in Michigan, so you have GOT to conserve energy. Consequently, the right way to speak "Michigin" is to

  1. talk fast,

  2. slur your words together, and

  3. clip all your hard consonants, like "t". Someone smarter than me calls this a "glottal stop".

Introducing the "glottal stop"

Think about it: we rarely, if ever, make the "tuh" sound of a T... as we finish a word that ends in a "t", we don't actually say the "t"... instead we just stop all breath with our lungs. For example, "apartment" becomes "aparh' meh'" (Say it really fast, and DON'T SAY THOSE Ts!). There... now you've goddih'!

Many Michigan folks have written, insisting they don't do this. But "I don' talk tha' way!" sounds a lot different than "I don'Tuh talk thaTuh way." Yes, Virginia, you are chopping off your Ts. (If you want to hear people who pronounce their ending Ts, listen to the Irish. An' doan'T ye forgeT iT, boyo!)

Telling Time

"Quarter of three"? "Half past"? What the hell does that mean? You may get a confused look if you say that to someone from Muskegon or Kalamazoo. Every good Michiganian knows that when speaking of time before the hour, you would say the word "to" rather than "of". You would also slur it together and say "ta" instead of "to"... hence, "quarter of three" becomes "quartertathree". You betcha.

Freeways

In California, they tell you to take "The 405"... in Washington DC, you get on "495". But in Michigan, since US, state and interstate highways can have the same number, interstate highways are often said with an "I-" before the number. So to get to Detroit's Metro Airport, you git in yer cahrr an' take "I-teoo-sevenny-five" to "I-ninedy-four". Sometimes called freeways, sometimes expressways, but it's rare you'll hear them called "highways".

Speaking of freeways, if you drive west along I-96 from Detroit to Muskegon, listening to radio stations along the way, you will notice the nasality of the Michigan Accent get distinctly stronger and stronger the entire trip.

Company names as possessives

In the early 1900's, the Ford Motor Company's sole factory was known by people all over Michigan as "Ford's Factory", since it was owned by Henry Ford. Like a virus, this wacky mispronunciation spread to any large shrine of industry or commerce.

"Where do you work?" "Oh, I work at Ford's." "I see, and evidently you were schooled in Ohio."

So "Meijer" became "Meijers", "Kroger" became "Krogers", and inexplicably, "K-Mart" became... "K-Marts"! For the record, folks... there is no family by the name of "K-Mart" that owns that chain. 

Pronouncing the Michigan A, and selected "cahnsineh's"

  • A's are somewhere in between a short ă for the rest of the country, and a short ĕ. It's not "ahh" like what the doctor asks you to say... more like "aeh", with an emphasis on the "eh". Hold your nose shut if you need assistance.

  • G's in verbs are usually silent. Notable exception: "tornado warning".

  • R's are always hard, and sound like a growl to a lot of people. Just think of a pirate. ARRRrrrr.

  • T's, when in the middle of a word and not supported by another consonant, are generally pronounced like a D (this is common in the US, but especially so in Michigan). "Little" becomes "liddle", "catatonic" becomes "cadatonic". When coupled with an "N", they get dropped like the useless energy-wasting consonants that they are: "cantaloupe" becomes "canalope", and "consonant" becomes "cahnsineh" (DON'T SAY THAT T!).

Next: Unique Words from the Wolverine State >>>

 

 

The Michigan Accent Pronunciation Guide and all content on this site, unless otherwise noted, is copyright © 1995 - 2013 by Eric Weaver. All rights reserved worldwide. Don't make me go get all litigious on yer ass, okey doke?