Yooper-Speak Being Researched

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

A linguist at Grand Valley State University fascinated by the way many in the Upper Peninsula speak, their "ehs," "hehs" and "holy whahs," is heading there to study how local and ethnic identity are linked to language.

Kathryn Remlinger, an English professor, has researched the dialect for years, tracing certain words to the area's early immigrants and the 12 languages that formerly coexisted there.

Now she's returning to the Keweenaw Peninsula, once home to a thriving copper mining industry, to learn how settlers' attitudes toward their native languages affected the dialect that developed in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Remlinger said she wants to understand better the dialect, its history and continuing evolution. She wants to help debunk stereotypes about the way Upper Peninsula residents supposedly live and talk, which some label "Yooper-isms."

"If we understand where something comes from, we can understand how it's used to help eliminate negative attitudes," she told The Grand Rapids Press for a story published Tuesday.

Movies featuring some of the dialect have perpetuated the stereotypes, Remlinger said.

"It's fascinating to people because it seems like an exotic, faraway place," she said. "It is far away, but people work and live here as they do there."

Remlinger, originally from Ohio, became enamored with the Upper Peninsula dialect while attending Michigan Technological University in Houghton.

She started researching the dialect in 2000 and has interviewed 75 people. This year, a grant will enable her to conduct research from the university's Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections in Houghton.

During the mining boom, the Upper Peninsula attracted immigrants from places such as French Canada, Finland, Sweden, Germany and Slovenia. Their native languages influenced the local vocabulary.

Words like "chook" or "chuke" were borrowed from the French Canadian `touque,' meaning winter hat. The expression "eh" as in "Have a nice day, eh?" might come from French Canada or the Ojibwa Indians.

Finnish was the language that most influenced the dialect, contributing words and changing how people use English, she said. Upper Peninsula natives might say "I'm going post office" instead of "to the post office" because Finnish doesn't have equivalents to the preposition `to' or the articles `the' and `a.'

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