Every day, our Inbox fills up with junk mail. We get a lot of it, as you can imagine. A good portion of it is made up of ginned up polls that are trying to push viewership to one website or another. Our spam filters are pretty good about separating the wheat from the chaff.
This week, one “poll” got through that generated some conversation in the newsroom, and had us “doin’ some Googlin’.”
Writing Tips Institute is claiming that the majority of Vermonters want to make “Vermonter” an official dialect. The “poll” (which as far as we can tell was not scientific) found that 80% of those polled said they would like the local dialect protected by law.
The email was trying to point out that dialect and accents have a place. For sure, Vermont has one.
“While many people across America still use phrases such as these, and speak in their region’s own dialect, recent studies have found that, as America becomes more diverse, regional accents and dialects are dying out — and the more we move around, the more the rough edges of our conversation style get whittled down. Just a few years ago, the British government acted to protect Welsh by making it an official language, thereby preserving its use. Should the same happen across America?” the news release states.
Writing Tips Institute supposedly polled 3,000 respondents to determine how many people in each state would support similar laws to protect their state’s dialect.
How did Vermonters vote?
According to the release: “It turns out that 80% would like the Vermont dialect to be protected by law. Residents here do not want phrases such as ‘chinin’ (Snowmobiling), ‘had the radish’ (no longer useful) or ‘down cellar’ (a basement everywhere else) to disappear from the local lexicon.”
Regardless of veracity of the “polling,” we started poking around to see how much Vermont is still in us “Vermontahs.”
(We must give a tip of the hat to our own Jeff Danziger, whose weekly cartoon panel Teeds, which has appeared in the weekend newspaper for decades now, does a wonderful job of keeping the Vermont vernacular in play and alive, at least in print.)
It turns out, the University of Vermont (aptly) has been researching how Vermonters say stuff for a long time. According to the school’s website, Professor of Linguistics Julie Roberts specializes in sociolinguistics and dialectology.
“She teaches classes covering a range of linguistic topics including phonetics, pragmatics, English language structure, language and law, and American English dialects. One of her studies is the Vermont ‘accent’ — its origins, how it evolved, and its unique characteristics,” the website states.
Take a deeper dive into the Vermont accent by Googlin’ and you discover that Roberts has, in her own way, been trying to preserve Vermont-speak for years.
She has conducted scores of interviews and recordings and examined the factors “contributing to the erosion of Vermont’s folksy dialect among younger residents, including the influx of new residents from other states and countries.”
Her work has been featured in an impressive number of interviews, research and published studies. Her work has been held up as an example of historical and cultural significance.
What Roberts has uncovered, the website states, is that exposure to other accents due to new media and technology such as the internet has also contributed to a flattening of the classic Vermont accent. Her video “The Vermont Accent,” produced by The UVM Center for Vermont Studies, talks about the evolution of the Vermont accent. You can watch it at bit.ly/accent0224 online.
Roberts also looks at who, in the Vermont demographic, is more inclined to keep the accent going.
By way of history, Britt Peterson, a Boston Globe columnist, wrote: “Vermont, originally inhabited mostly by the Abenaki tribe, was taken over by the French in the 16th century. Two hundred years later, the British pushed the French out, planted their feet in Vermont’s stony dirt, and stayed put, often not venturing forth from their tiny farming villages for generations.” Peterson maintains that’s where we get our sound. “(R)rural Vermonters do still sound a little British, with fronted vowels and dipthongs that give the accent a swishy kind of musicality.”
Throw into the mix what linguists call t-glottalization — or dropping your t’s — and add some catchy sayings, and you’re on your way.
“When I ask Vermonters, what does Vermont speech sound like, they almost always say t-dropping,” Roberts told Peterson.
In a 2007 study, Roberts found that young people were the most likely to drop their t’s still. The vowel sounds, meanwhile, are mostly heard amongst elderly farmers at this point, she said.
It’s definitely worth preserving. It all adds up to the uniqueness of being from Vermont.
“Preserving local dialects is important not just for linguistic diversity, but for cultural preservation as well. Each state’s dialect is a reflection of its history, community, and identity. By valuing and protecting these linguistic variations, we are also valuing and protecting the diversity of perspectives and experiences that make our country so unique,” says Shaun Connell, founder and CEO of Writing Tips Institute.
Reckon he migh’ be righ’ aftah all.
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