MARQUETTE, Mich (WJMN) – “Yooper Talk” author, Kathryn Remlinger will give a virtual talk about the history behind Upper Peninsula English July 13.
Remlinger became interested in the U.P English dialect when she was a Graduate Student at Michigan Technological University. She says her interest stemmed from talking with friends, who were local to the area, about language.
“Eventually I thought, you know I want to see what’s written about this being a grad student at Tech, and there wasn’t much at all and I thought hmm when I finish the work I’m doing here I want to explore this more,” said Remlinger
After graduate school, Remlinger conducted an ethnographic study of the U.P. dialect. She conducted 60 interviews in the early 2000s with lifelong U.P. residents. One interview she noted, in particular, was with a young woman who said she wasn’t considered a true ‘Yooper’ by some because her parents weren’t from the Upper Peninsula. Archival research was another aspect of her study. Remlinger spent time in the libraries at MTU, NMU and Finlandia University. She says there are two ideas that stood out during her research.
“There’s this idea of lineage right, and heritage and that if you’re an authentic Yooper, one, you’ve got to sound a certain way and two you have to have generations of family from the area,” said Remlinger
Throughout her research, the main focus was on the linguistic history in the U.P. According to her, history is an important foundation for understanding the culture and language of a region.
“If we want to understand what makes a dialect a dialect we have to understand the history of a place and the people who live there because that’s how dialects come about,” said Remlinger. “It’s people coming into contact, mixing and mingling, their languages, coming into contact with English if you’re looking at an English dialect.”
U.P. English, Remlinger says, has several influences ranging from Finnish immigrants to the English. One specific yooper word Remlinger talked about was ‘pank’ which means to pat down or compress. She says people who are familiar with the word are typically from former mining communities. It’s similar to a word found in the German, Danish and Swedish languages and is also heard in former mining communities in upstate New York and Pennsylvania.
Other influences on how people talk are age and socioeconomic status. Remlinger says the older generation of U.P. natives are likely to talk differently from younger residents because they may have heard or spoken languages other than English as children. The region in which a person resides within the Upper Peninsula makes a difference as well, the speech patterns of residents differ from the East to the West. Remlinger says this is because of the influences they had early on.
“The sounds, vocabulary, things you might hear in Ontonagon could to a linguist’s ear anyway be distinct from what you would hear in Sault Sainte Marie because Sault Sainte Marie has had a lot more English contact from Canada than let’s say the Finnish contact that you might have in the Northwestern U.P.,” said Remlinger.
On July 13 at 7:00 PM, Remlinger will talk more about the history that helped shape the U.P. English Dialect online in “Yooper Talk” hosted by the Lyon Township Public Library.