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  • Language diversity in Michigan and Ohio: Towards two state linguistic profiles
Language diversity in Michigan and Ohio: Towards two state linguistic profiles. Ed. by Brian D. Joseph, Carol G. Preston, and Dennis R. Preston. Ann Arbor, MI: Caravan Books, 2005. Pp. xvi, 276. ISBN 9780882061108. $60.

The introduction to this volume begins by calling attention to the popular impression of northern states like Michigan and Ohio as 'overwhelmingly monolingual' (iii). That impression oversimplifies greatly, as does the notion that 'there are supposed to be no dialects' in the Midwest (vi). This book addresses both issues, growing from a 2001 conference at The Ohio State University. The volume supplements a just-published encyclopedia of the Midwest (Sisson et al. 2006, with a 'Language' section edited by Dennis Preston, a coeditor of the present volume), providing more in-depth information and 'more of the scientific background study that went into [End Page 211] the generalizations and survey information' in the encyclopedia (i). My own interest in this subject is more than passing: As part of a group beginning similar work on the dialects and languages of Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest (in part described here:, this book could serve as a direct model for us and many others.

A 'Preliminaries' section contains a preface and an introduction, laying out general background, noting the dearth of similar projects, and giving details on the conference the volume developed from. Underscoring the effort to make the work accessible to as many nonspecialists as possible, it also includes a four-page 'quick course in acoustic phonetics', by DENNIS PRESTON, about mapping vowels in the F1/F2 space, the focus of virtually all American sociophonetics.

The rest of the book is divided into two sections. The first, 'The Englishes of Michigan and Ohio', begins with 'Mapping Ohio: Dialect boundaries revisited' by BEVERLY OLSON FLANIGAN and 'Ohio dialectology' by TERRY LYNN IRONS. Both treat the pivotal role of Ohio among American dialects—the full swath of North Midlands sandwiched between thick slices of Northern (or Inland Northern) and South Midlands. Flanigan focuses on the historical development of Ohio Englishes (including settlement patterns) and changes in the boundaries posited (e.g. an expanding South Midlands area in the south). Irons concentrates on dialect diversity as captured in traditional lexical isoglosses like bucket and acoustic analysis of vowels.

Two of the volume's highlights are ERICA J. BENSON's 'Folk perceptions of dialects in Ohio' and JAMILA JONES's 'The vowel systems of African Americans in the urban North'. Building on the now-established tradition of 'folk linguistic' work on the United States as a whole, Benson reports on twelve interviews with speakers from different areas of Ohio about how they perceive English in the state and surrounding areas. It is striking how closely perceptions seem to match traditional dialect boundaries even in this relatively small area. Benson hypothesizes that perceptual differences would vary by the origins of the perceiver; this is supported by her findings, with those from southern Ohio drawing fewer distinctions while central and northwestern Ohioans drew more. She suggests that this may be tied to the greater linguistic security of the latter groups. Jones asks to what extent African American English (AAE) speakers are adopting or accommodating to regional patterns, such as the Northern Cities (vowel) Shift (NCS): 'I believe that urban northern AAE pronunciation, however identity-marking it may be, is a combination of the various systems it has derived from and come in contact with' (63). She examines vowel systems of African American speakers from contemporary Lansing, in particular the fronting and raising of /æ/—the traditional first link in the NCS. She compares these with systems of AAE speakers from other regions and historical periods, as well as to those of white Lansing speakers. She concludes that 'AAE speakers choose to adopt and adapt certain local features, which may perhaps grant them a regional label (i.e., they are from that area), yet they also maintain strictly AAE pronunciation features' (85).

SACHIE MIYAZAKI's 'Japanese children's acquisition of the local vowel system in a northwestern suburb of Detroit, Michigan' also focuses on /æ/ raising, and the young children studied show some limited raising. BETSY E. EVANS's 'Appalachian English in southeast Michigan' continues with /æ/ raising, a feature notably absent in Appalachian English. Age of immigration to Michigan and gender show surprisingly little connection to raising; instead, 'the most important unifying characteristic of the respondents who do not demonstrate a raised /æ/ is their strong affiliation with an Appalachian social network' (125). The section concludes with BETH SIMON's 'Dago, Finlander, Cousin Jack: Ethnicity and identity on Michigan's Upper Peninsula', a study of derogatory ethnic labels in a copper-mining community. Examining archival and interview data, she explores the labels in the title as they have been used in a place where ethnicity was (and remains) both salient and conflict-ridden.

The second main section, 'The other languages of Michigan and Ohio', provides case studies on immigrant languages, but unfortunately no Native languages. In 'Pronunciation of Spanish in Lorain, Ohio',MICHELLE F. RAMOS-PELLICIA treats a Puerto Rican community west of Cleveland. Distinctive characteristics in the vowel system continue base dialect trends and might also reflect contacts with Mexican-American speakers; consonant changes include possible English influence, like retroflex approximant realizations of coda /r/ and [v] realizations for expected [β]. [End Page 212]

JAAP VAN MARLE's 'On the divergence and maintenance of immigrant languages: Dutch in Michigan' examines an immigrant language brought to the Midwest in the nineteenth century. Much like the region's numerically larger German-speaking communities, we find not only a variety of base dialects, but variation along other parameters after a century and a half in the United States. Van Marle identifies 'Michigan Dialectal Dutch' (descendents of immigrant dialects), 'American Dutch' (a standard-like variety), and 'Yankee Dutch' ('a true "hybrid" ') (171). He contextualizes these communities in the landscape of American Dutch in other states, especially Iowa, and briefly treats Frisian in Michigan. Pennsylvania German is an even older immigrant tongue in Ohio, spoken there since the end of the eighteenth century, and the rapid growth of this language is underscored by the increasing visibility of Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonite settlements across the Midwest. STEVE HARTMAN KEISER's 'Pennsylvania German in Ohio' is therefore a particularly important contribution, and does a fine job of introducing the subject clearly, covering historical, sociolinguistic, and structural issues. CHARLOTTE SCHAENGOLD's 'Yiddish in Cincinnati' concisely describes the steadily evolving role that Yiddish has played in the long history of that city's Jewish community.

PEKKA HIRVONEN's 'Finnish in the Upper Midwest' takes intergenerational language maintenance and shift as a starting point to look at sociological aspects of shift, but he also covers contact phenomena, including reduction of the complex Finnish case system and the vocalic/ consonantal quantity systems, lexical borrowing, and codeswitching. He concludes that Finnish 'is dying out of the big picture but not dead yet, living on at some remote corner' (239). Indeed, 2000 US Census numbers on Finnish as 'home language' (unavailable to Hirvonen before publication) show, for whatever reasons, sharp increases in the Upper Midwest: Over twice as many people report using Finnish at home as in 1990 in Michigan and Minnesota, and Wisconsin numbers grew by over half, while national and Ohio numbers show continuing decline.

In two short contributions, PANAYIOTIS A. PAPPAS and JOHN A. C. GREPPIN treat 'Greek in Columbus, Ohio' and 'The state of the Armenian languages in northeast Ohio', respectively. Both authors treat these languages as being in the late stages of language shift, useful profiles in mapping the region's linguistic diversity. A 'transitory community' of Greek speakers continues to pass through The Ohio State University as the 'root community' has largely switched to English. Many of the most recent Armenian arrivals in the Cleveland area are speakers of other languages.

In 'Southeast Asian languages in Michigan and Ohio', MARTHA RATLIFF divides the many languages that fall under her purview into those whose speakers have formed more compact and homogenous communities (Lao, Hmong, Cambodians) and those that have not (Vietnamese and others), where the former group has established 'at least the precondition for native language maintenance' (258). While a number of chapters suggest general directions for future research, Ratliff gives detailed suggestions for possible projects.

The book closes with 'American Sign Language in central Ohio' by CHRISTINE A. EVENSON and CHARLES F. GRAMLY. Beyond covering expected issues like patterns of L1 acquisition (typically beginning with input from those outside the home rather than the immediate family) and regional lexical differences, the authors draw attention to central Ohio as 'a relative Mecca for Deaf people and their unique language' (276). A range of institutional supports and other factors have created an 'ASL-friendly environment', which draws new Deaf people to the area, leading to dialect mixing.

Mechanically, the book is relatively clean and most of the typographical errors I noted do not impair reading. (A few, like 'populated by Menominee nation Ojibwa' (130) ARE confusing: the Menominee and Ojibwa are distinct nations.) It contains many useful maps, charts, and graphics, although some are of suboptimal quality.

Overall, this book certainly succeeds in providing further reading for nonspecialists whose appetites have been whetted by the 'Language' section of The American Midwest. While my brief comments above have drawn attention to some of the chapters that advance linguistics, a number of others provide excellent state-of-the-art reports on particular issues and overviews of dialects/languages. Almost all are readily readable by people with minimal background in linguistics. [End Page 213] Overall, this book showcases not only the diversity of languages and dialects found in these states, but also the diversity of approaches to describing and understanding that diversity. Of course even in this project, there remain gaps. For example, a contribution on Michigan's thriving Arabic-speaking communities (noted on p. iv) would have been welcome. The success of this project should certainly encourage those in other states and areas to pursue similar work, and the book provides a very useful model. Ultimately, as Hirvonen points out, 'At the grassroots level there is more linguistic diversity in the Upper Midwest than meets the eye' (239).

Joseph C. Salmons
University of Wisconsin–Madison
Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures
901 University Bay Dr.
University of Wisconsin
Madison, WI 53705


SISSON, RICHARD; CHRISTIAN ZACHER; and ANDREW CLAYTON (eds.) 2006. The American Midwest: An interpretative encyclopedia. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. [End Page 214]

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