Culture, history created ‘Yooper Talk’: author

Katrice Perkins/Daily Mining Gazette Kathryn Remlinger speaks with community members, MTU students and faculty at the Dow Environmental Sciences and Engineering Building on Tuesday.

From “saw-na” versus “sow-na” and “pay-stee” versus “pass-tee,” the Upper Peninsula has a unique dialect that has changed over time, Michigan Tech University alumna Kathryn Remlinger said in a Tuesday presentation on her book titled “Yooper Talk.”

Sixteen years of research began when Remlinger, now a professor at Grand Valley State University, was a graduate student at MTU.

The book is about understanding regional language and culture in North America, Remlinger said.

“The goal in writing ‘Yooper Talk’ was to really create awareness and talk about linguistics in the Upper Peninsula,” she said in presenting some of her findings on U.P. history and showing how history shapes the language.

For the book’s research, the Columbus, Ohio, native conducted interviews with 75 lifelong U.P. residents who were mainly from the Baraga, Houghton, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties and learned what it really meant to have yooper pride.

The book covers yooper pride, the newfound appreciation for yooper pride, stereotypes and some negative attitudes toward outsiders.

Of her research, she really wanted to show dialect can bring out linguistic and social prejudice, because of the way it may show one’s social and economic status.

“Linguistic prejudice and social prejudice are tightly connected,” she said. “If we can be aware of our language attitudes, then maybe we can foster some positive social change,” which was her purpose in creating the book and bringing the conversation to light.

Throughout her presentation, Remlinger gave many examples of different pronunciations and how immigrants, miners, newcomers and time has influenced what yooper talk is today.

Some of the biggest influencers were Finnish people, Reminger said.

“Finnish has had a significant effect on English in the northwestern U.P. because of language contact,” she said.

After the presentation attendees shared their own experiences as U.P. residents.

Remlinger said the most important thing to understanding and making changes is through history.

“The more we understand the history of dialect, the better we understand the factors that have shaped it and the people who speak it,” she said, adding, “Hopefully we can understand it’s not bad English or improper.”