The subject is still brought up in conversations. I’ll be having a lovely chat with someone when suddenly, “Oh, I forget you’re from Cleveland!” Then I realize, I said ‘dahd’ instead of dad or ‘cahllege’ instead of college.
Ohio is the home of a number of different dialects and accents. You can drive an hour and somebody will say a word you’ve never heard in your life. What’s a devil strip? It’s called a tree lawn! (If you don’t know what these terms mean, allow me to direct you).
However, it isn't just what words we use in conversation but how we say them. It’s certainly not as obvious as a Southern twang or Jersey accent, but it must be distinguishable enough to point it out in conversation. Cleveland isn’t the only city with this sort of accent. Many large midwestern and east coast cities such as Chicago, Illinois, Detroit, Michigan, and Buffalo New York, possess a dialect where vowel pronunciation shifts with sharper sounds, sometimes changing how the vowel sounds as a whole. For example, the word ‘not’ will most likely be pronounced by a person with a Cleveland accent as ‘naht.’ Our mouths make less of an ‘o' shape when we say words with the short ‘o’ sound.
So, why do we say them the way we do? The weird shift in vowel sounds in major northern cities was first noticed in the 1960s, and it wasn't until 1972 that linguists called this the Northern Cities Vowel Shift . Vowels, especially A's, started to sound more nasal. They began to take the place of other vowels in words. The word 'caught' might sound more similar to the word 'cat' then in 'cot.' Linguist William Labov says that the construction of the Erie Canal, which was built and completed from the late 1810s to mid-1820s, may have been the cause for such vocal shifts, as workers from many east coast states constructed the canal and communicated with midwestern workers. One thing must have lead to another, and accents were spread to places such as Cleveland, Ohio.
You may be thinking, oh my gosh, (or oh my gahsh), what a great accent. How do I speak in it? What can I do to master such a beautiful and definitely not nasally accent? Here are some tips and tricks from yours truly.
Every word with the short 'o' sound now sounds like how you would say 'cat.' If you're feeling up to the challenge, you can replace the 'o' with the 'aw' sound. Instead of 'dog', try 'dawwg.' What's up, dawg? (Sorry).
End every question with a preposition. Where are you guys at? When writing papers I often have to remember you shouldn't end sentences with prepositions. Don't blame me; blame Cleveland! They did this to me!
It's pop, not soda. Or, if you really want to master the Cleveland sound, 'pahp.'
Sure, the Cleveland accent isn't as attractive or admired as other tones and dialects, but for me, it emphasizes a large part of my identity: that I am Cleveland-bred. I still hope for successful sports seasons. I play cornhole like a boss, and I pronounce odyssey like "aahdyssey."