Droppin’ the U (and G): The Pacific Northwest Accent, Analyzed

us mapHere in the Northwest, we’ve got a real down-to-earth attitude. Yet, one thing that sets us apart from other working class woodsy types around the country is our belief that we don’t have an accent. However, studies show that just because we aren’t famed for over-the-top speech patterns like those of our brethren in regions such as New Jersey, Boston, or the Midwest, doesn’t mean that we don’t got ‘em.

According to linguistics experts, the longer we’ve lived here, the harder it is for us to pick up on the distinct subtleties of our own voices. But over the past five years, publications like the Dictionary of American Regional English have provided analysis that suggest that there is, in fact, a unique dialect that exists in natives to the Pacific Northwest, and that northern Oregon may be at the hub of our very special mode of speaking.

Perhaps the most distinct quality of the PNW accent is how we pronounce certain words with different meanings and spellings the same way. A good example is the caught vs. cot merger. In linguistics the term merger is used to describe the way that Northwesterners, for instance, say caught and cot exactly alike.

In Oregon, there’s no difference between the way we articulate those two words, and a foreigner who also knows American English might be confused by the way we pronounce caught without the U. Another distinction that may arise in Northwest dialogue is a tendency to drop the final G in words that end with –ing. During one six-minute speech by Washington native Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft can be heard dropping the G 16 different times.

According to researchers at Portland State University, there are even more subtle differences between the inflections of people from different regions in the Pacific Northwest. Those whose parents grew up here have a far stronger, more ingrained accent— and one less likely to change over time— than the children of parents from New York or Chicago.

Professors at Reed College found that the accents of Oregonians and Washingtonians can be similar, and are sometimes interchangeable with those of Californians and Canadians from British Columbia. Now, don’t feel special; overall, West Coast dialects are less distinct than those of the East, due to increased immigration in recent years. But rest assured, we are not above the accent scale, so the next time you decide to poke fun at a Georgia twang, consider the fact that if you caught on a cot, no one outside of the Northwest would know what the hell you were talking about.

By Kiki Genoa

Do you have a story for The Advocate? Email editor@corvallisadvocate.com