Un da’ Raynch: Revisiting Iron Range’s unique dialect

A handful of studies agree that the Iron Range has a distinct dialect within the English language, but one researcher who grew up here is coming back to determine how Iron Range English is changing within the current generation. (PHOTO: M.C. Morgan, Flickr C.C.)

A handful of studies agree that the Iron Range has a distinct dialect within the English language, but one researcher who grew up here is coming back to determine how Iron Range English is changing within the current generation. (PHOTO: M.C. Morgan, Flickr C.C.)

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

This time of year many people who grew up on the Iron Range come home to see family, friends and the summer splendor of Northern Minnesota. For these prodigal children, just a few minutes at the cafe, gas station or local street dance quickly reminds them that this isn’t the King’s English; it’s Iron Range English.

“During the Iron Range’s pioneer days, immigrants from all over Europe brought their home languages to the Iron Range,” said Dr. Sara Schmelzer Loss, a visiting professor of linguistics at Oklahoma State University and Hibbing native. “The speed and the extent to which speakers of different languages mixed on the Range has left its mark on the way we talk, even today. I’ve heard stories of people who go down to the cities and strangers ask them if they are from the Range.”

Loss has returned to her hometown this summer to research the unique way that Iron Rangers talk and see how that dialect has changed in recent decades.

“When I think about the dialect, I also think about the people I know up there – like my family. I think, “How would my dad say this?” Or “I think I’ve heard my cousin say something like that,” said Loss. “Only four linguists have done research on the Range [dialect]. And I’m the only one who grew up on the Range, so I can notice things that outsiders haven’t noticed. It’s exciting to think about all the things we have left to discover about this dialect.”

Loss said when she left the Range to attend college in Wisconsin, she began to notice that her pronunciation and sentence structure was noticeably different than her classmates. At the time, she didn’t even know what the word linguistics meant. But in her junior year, she took an introductory class which opened her eyes to how language connects our mind to communication.

“One of the ideas that drew me to linguistics is that it is descriptive,” said Loss. “Linguists don’t place values on forms. If we hear someone say, ‘I don’t got no money,’ we just think that the speaker’s dialect allows double negatives, like French or Old English. We don’t think to ourselves: ‘That person sounds uneducated.; In my linguistics class, I found a space where I could just say, ‘some of my ‘g’ sounds come out like ‘k’ sounds.’ Or I could say, ‘I don’t use prepositions in the same way as other speakers of English.’ I was starting to describe the Iron Range dialect. I loved this new way of looking at language. The idea that I was following rules I have in my head about language rather than rules from a book was interesting,” said Loss.

From there, Loss went to graduate school for linguistics where she developed further interest in dialects and noticed more connections with her home dialect.

“One day, I saw a sentence in a book, and the author marked the sentence as unacceptable,” said Loss. “I thought I found a typo in the book, because the sentence sounded great to me! I pointed out the typo to a friend of mine who grew up in the Cities. She told me that wasn’t a typo – she hated that sentence. I wondered – am I just weird? Or is this an Iron Range thing? Turns out, some other people on the Iron Range, but not all, also find the sentence acceptable. What’s really interesting, is this type of sentence, while dissimilar to English in the Cities, is similar to this type of sentence in Mandarin Chinese.”

Making those connections between unrelated languages is one way of showing how the human mind generates meaning, regardless of where you grew up or what language you speak. Loss eventually earned her Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota by studying elements of Iron Range English. Now, her dialect has pulled her home for a summer research project exploring how the dialect has changed in a world increasingly saturated by mass media.

“We all know that men and women don’t talk exactly the same,” said Loss. “And we know that teenagers don’t talk exactly like their parents or their grandparents. In order to get a true representation of what the Iron Range Dialect looks like today, I’ll interview men and women who are 15 years of age and older.”

Loss will record interviews and ask participants to recite a list of common words to distinguish pronunciation. To be a part of Loss’s study on the Iron Range dialect you need to be 15 years of age or older and have grown up on the Iron Range. The interviews will take place starting tomorrow through Aug. 3. There are a handful of other requirements as well, which you can check by e-mailing Loss at sara.loss@okstate.edu. Family or small groups are welcome, though interviews will be processed individually.

“For my dissertation, I studied how one word is used in the Iron Range dialect,” said Loss “Now that I’ve developed more research skills, I am ready to study much more than that one word – I want to know what the whole Iron Range dialect sounds like today. I am excited that my research is taking me home.”

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, July 12, 2015 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

 

Comments

  1. Jane Anderson Hooper says:

    Is Dr. Schmelzer Loss aware of the publications “Hawdaw Talk Rancher” issued in 1978 and 1979 by Mike Kalibabsky and the Hibbing Historical Society? I have volumes 1, 2 and 3 but I don’t know if any others were issued. They are a wealth of information on Ranger linguistics.

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