Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Chicago Accent

How can you tell I'm from da Windy City? I say two sentences at the most and people know I'm from Chicago. I'm from da nort' side and root for da Cubs and da Bears.

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I was born and raised in the Chicagoland area. I lived there for fifty years in the Western suburbs. I moved to Colorado in 2000. Even after all this time, my Chicago accent is obvious as soon as i start to speak. Apparently, my accent is much thicker than I realized and I hope I never lose it!

I was riding a ski lift here in Colorado. One guy was bragging that no one could ever guess where he was from. The two other people on the quad chair guessed wrong. He was stunned when I said he was from Chicago and asked how I knew. I simply said I knew because it didn't sound like he had an accent to me.

I'm not a linguist so this article isn't going to be a treatise with technical jargon about the influence of the multiple ethnicities and immigration waves on the speaking patterns of Chicago. I'm just going to do some translating so that folks visiting Chicago or Chicagoans can understand what we say.

Classic pronunciations

First of all, I do not find the Saturday Night Live skit about "da Bears and da Cubs" funny at all. That's how I've said it all my life especially after my "fodder" (father) took me to my first Cubs game as a kid. I don't talk about "da Sox" (no color reference needed), because most of my family is from "da nort' side not da sout' side." You may have noticed that the "th" sound is not really necessary. I had a "fodder and mudder". I would go "troo da yard to see tree of my friends dat live on da udder side of da block." Translation - I would go through the yard to see three of my friends that live on the other side of the block. I had a good friend "wit da name of Katdee" (with the name of Kathy).

Chicagoans often have to check "da roof (as in woof) of da garaj" to make sure it hasn't caved in from the snow, as mine did one time. That is, check the rooooooof of the gar-ahzh for a cave-in.

Apparently, houses are different in Chicagoland than other places, maybe it's all the Berwyn bungalows. Houses have a "frunchroom and bejrooms" (where we keep the frunches and bejjes). Just kidding, I'm sure your house has a living room or front room and bedrooms. Mine doesn't. I usually eat my cheese and "sah-sej pizza in da frunchroom." Translation-Saw-sej pizza in the frontroom.

Local geography confuses non natives. If I'm in the city, I know where I'm going because I've asked what "hunnert nort is dat?" The city is on a numbered grid system so it's very easy to find things. For example, Lawrence Avenue is seventy two hundred north and Western Avenue is twenty four hundred west. I don't need to ask what "hunnert sout" anything is because streets south of Lake Street have number names, like 22nd Street and 12th Street. Well, sometimes not really because 22nd Street is also called Cermak and 12th Street is also called Row-se-velt, not Roooosevelt. There's an L stop (elevated train) at Ray-seen, not Ruh-seen (Racine). There's only a little bit of "hunnerts east." Lake Michigan isn't numbered. LSD is numbered and a great way to see the city. I mean Lake Shore Drive, just in case you thought it meant something else.

While I was writing this, I said to myself "enough a dat stuff" (enough of that stuff). I guess I don't have to worry about losing my so called accent.

How to sound like a native Chicagoan

Traffic reports confuse a lot of visitors. We know the expressways (not freeways except for the tollways) personally by name not by the number. I've been stuck in traffic on the Ryan, Kennedy and Eisenhower. Well, it was the Congress originally but got changed. Traffic reports talk about Hubbard's Cave (Hubbard and the Kennedy), the Hillside Strangler (multiple highways converging in the tiny suburb of Hillside). There are often gaper's blocks at the Spaghetti Bowl, where the Kennedy, Ryan and Eisenhower converge just west of "da Loop." The Loop is that area of downtown Chicago encircled by the L (elevated train). The L is always shown in movies like "While You Were Sleeping" and "High Fidelity." Of course, the L was prominent in the chase scenes of the "Blues Brothers."

If you need to get to "charm school in Joliet", take the Stevenson. Joliet is pronounced Joe-lee-et not Jah-lee-et. The charm school is Stateville Prison, shown in the opening scenes of the "Blues Brothers." I first remember Stateville being called the charm school by the late great Steve Goodman in the song "Lincoln Park Pirates".

You take "da Nortwest Highway to get to "Dezz Planes," formally known as Des Plaines. The Northwest Highway is one of the major angle streets like Elston or Mil-wah-kee. If you say "Deh Plane" like Des Moines, no one will know what city you're talking about. Folks in the city won't go to Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg because "Shahmburg is da edge of da ert".

You'll see two flats and three flats all over the area, not duplexes or triplexes. Paul-eye-na (not Paul-eee-na) has a lot of them, Go-thee doesn't. Go-thee is spelled Goethe but not pronounced as "ger-ta", despite the large German population. On "da Nort side" you'll hit De-VOHN Avenue, not "Devin" Avenue, spelled Devon.

Finally, we wear gym shoes not sneakers, drink pop not soda and put our hair in ponytails using rubber bands, not elastics. I go to the cash station at the bank, not the ATM. Softball is correctly played with a 16 inch ball and no gloves.

Chicago Celebrity Accents

A lot of great actors and celebrities are from Chicago. Some sound like it, some don't any more. Dennis Farina, Joe Montegna, Bill and Bryan Murray, John and Jim Belushi lay on the accent like mozzarella on a deep dish pizza. Here is a YouTube clip of Dennis Franz  at "da best." Even the Geico gecko did a pretty good job.

Some folks that seem to have lost most the that sweet sound are John and Joan Cusack, Gary Sinise, and John Malkovich. They are all amazingly talented people, just not "dat" noticeably Chicago natives.

Movies and the Chicago Accent

"The Blues Brothers" is at the top of my list for authenticity of accent. After all, John Belushi grew up in the Western suburbs. Canadian Dan Akroyd does a decent job with his accent. "Continental Divide", also starring Belushi, is accurate in displaying accents and the city.

I hate it when movies are shot or set in Chicago but the accents are very wrong. In "While You Were Sleeping," Sandra Bullock's neighbor had a terrific New "Yawk" accent as did Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines in "Running Scared." There were great shots of the State of Illinois Center though. The only thing Chicago about the movie "Chicago" were a very few exterior shots, not the voice work.

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The Picasso Sculpture in Daley Center Plaza
Remember it from "The Blues Brothers?"