Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Yoopers Identify with Sisu

Now that I am in Northern Michigan for a good part of the summer, I thought I would return to one of my favorite topics which is the dialect spoken in the Upper Peninsula by "Yoopers."
An aspect of this dialect that I have not previously mentioned is its use as a form of identity.

Though the Upper Peninsula dialect may be similar to those found in Canada and Wisconsin, Michigan as a state has a unique geography that enables it to have these two distinct dialectical regions in one state with a fairly definitive dividing line, the Great Lakes.

The Upper Peninsula dialect has not blended with the Lower Michigan dialect into one homogenous “Michigan accent” because of the way speakers use dialect variation as a symbol of identity. There is a growing belief in the field of dialectology that, in addition to region and social class, a speaker’s attitudes and the identity they want to project also have a great influence on their speech behavior.

The Upper Peninsula residents’ self-identity is based on their ethnic and cultural backgrounds and is embodied by the Finnish word sisu. Sisu has no exact translation but denotes a strong sense of pride and determination that is part of the Finnish culture in the Upper Peninsula. Residents of the Upper Peninsula are determined to have their own identity because they are proud of it. The dialect acts as a verbal marker of this identity.

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