The St. Louis Accent Will Get Its Closeup at How to Speak Midwestern Book Event

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PHOTO COURTESY OF FLICKR/DOUG KERR

Accent? What accent?

If you’re worried that the debate over the unique St. Louis dialect — its origins, its pronunciations ("farty-far," etc.) and its slang — will never be settled, you’re in luck.

Ted McClelland, author of the new book How to Speak Midwestern, will give some answers about the St. Louis accent at STL-Style (3159 Cherokee St.) this Saturday, March 4 from 1 to 3 p.m. McClelland will sign books in addition to a talk with STL-Style owners and accent enthusiasts Jeff and Randy Vines.

The book, which the New York Times describes as a “dictionary wrapped in some serious dialectology inside a gift book, trailing a serious whiff of relevance,” explores the histories and quirks of how Midwesterners talk. In the book, McClelland describes the Midwest as being divided into three linguistic regions: Inland North, based around the Great Lakes; Midlands, which shares its roots with the Scots-Irish dialect; and the German-Scandinavian North Central style.

St. Louis, he says in his book, is one of the few urban “speech islands” in North America. Although it should be a bastion of the Midland accent, St. Louis instead has an accent much closer to Inland North. McClelland says that's owing to its historic status as a major industrial city and its direct line to Chicago. It’s distinct from the rest of Missouri, and even other urban centers like Kansas City.

Even so, the St. Louis dialect, infamous for swapping the ”ar” sound for “or” (as in “farty” for “forty” and “carn” for “corn”), is changing. Regional accents, St. Louis included, are becoming watered down among millennials, McClelland told St. Louis Public Radio in December. The dialect is strongest among baby boomers and St. Louisans with strong generational roots in the city and, historically, has been exclusive to whites, as the black community developed its own vernacular, closer to the Southern accent.

The peculiarities of language don’t end there. According to McClelland, a notable feature of Midwestern accents is that many speakers don’t believe they even have an accent — and, when talking with out-of-towners, they may even conceal it.

All this and more is on the table for discussion at the signing on Saturday. For more information, visit the Facebook event page.


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