Accent Existentialism: Perceptual Dialectology within Ohio

Amber Torelli

The Ohio State University


Enregisterment, the process of a set of linguistic forms becoming a recognized accent, has been increasingly discussed in variation (Johnstone et al. 2006).  An effective way to study this is to observe the process in action.  As Johnstone et al. (2006) claims, these linguistic forms are noticed due to linguistic mobility.  I argue that as more people come into contact with language variations, they become more aware not only of what variations exist but also what the regional differences in their own speech are, which could cause them to start thinking of these differences as a discrete accent. 

Since people are inclined to say what they think on the Internet, this can be a useful tool to start gathering these language ideologies.  I focused on the Twitter community, which allows people to anonymously speak their minds in a few sentences and to share these thoughts with possibly hundreds of people, making this a new source of data that has not yet been extensively studied.  I qualitatively analyzed approximately 240 Tweets that were gathered between June 18, 2011 and October 31, 2011.  They were selected for having the word “accent” along with at least one of the following places: Ohio, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, or Dayton.

Within these Tweets, the most popular regional dialects discussed were the Ohio accent (67 Tweets), the Cleveland accent (64 Tweets), and the Southern accent (43 Tweets).  While the Southern accent is already enregistered (Benson 2005, Allbritten 2011), not everyone agreed that it exists in Ohio, with some people even taking offense at the mention of it.  This is probably due to the linguistic insecurity surrounding the Southern accent (Benson 2005, Hüttinger 2011). 

(1) when i talk 2 my cousins from cali they always say i gotta country accent like wtf ohio is not the country nor do we talk country   

Tweets about the Ohio and Cleveland accents however revealed that people are beginning to realize and acknowledge the fact that central Ohio and Cleveland do have particular ways of speaking, in accordance with Campbell-Kibler’s (forthcoming) claims that the Cleveland accent is partially enregistered.  Contact with variation seems to be the biggest motivation for the change. 

(2) @BrandyanSoSexy haha well I used to live in Ohio and now I live in mississippi and ppl make fun of my accent but you should hear there’s

(3) ppl keep telln me bout sum damn accent i secretly aquired frm livin n Cleveland lol i guesssss

Several Tweets did argue against the existence of these accents, claiming that Ohio simply had no accent.  Lippi-Green describes this idea that the Midwest has no accent as a myth because in reality everyone speaks with an accent.  Nonetheless the majority of the data shows that this enregisterment process is occurring in Ohio, as language contact encourages people to think about and become more aware of their own accent.  Several dialectology studies have been done but further research into this topic focusing on non-elicited language ideologies would certainly be valuable. 



Allbritten, Rachael M. 2011. Sounding Southern: Phonetic Features and Dialect

Perceptions. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University. PhD dissertation.

Benson, Erica J. Folk Perceptions of Dialects in Ohio. 2005. In Brian D. Joseph, Carol G.

Preston, and Dennis R. Preston (eds.) Language Diversity in Michigan and Ohio: Towards Two State Linguistic Profiles, 35–60. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Caravan Books.

Campbell-Kibler, Kathryn. 2011. Contestation and Enregisterment in Ohio’s Imagined

Dialects. The Ohio State University.

Hüttinger, Dorothea Evelyn. 2011. Attitudes Toward Standard and Non-standard Dialects

in Linguistically Stigmatized and Linguistically Prestigious Regions in the United

States and Germany. University of South Carolina. PhD dissertation.

Johnstone, Barbara, Jennifer Andrus & Andrew E. Danielson. 2006. Mobility, indexicality, and the enregisterment of “Pittsburghese.” Journal of English Linguistics 34(2). 77–104.

Lippi-Green, Rosina. 1997. English with an accent: Language, ideology, and discrimination in the United States. New York: Routledge.