Wisconsin Linguist Not Too 'Fond' of Accents in SNL Sketch

Mar 9, 2016

If you've watched Saturday Night Live's "Fond du Lac Action News" newscast, you might have heard a semi-familiar accent. And while parts of the dialect were pretty spot-on, other parts were just off.

Marquette linguistics professor, Steve Hartman Keiser, says that could be due to a fundamental misunderstanding of Wisconsin’s location.

"Even though here in Milwaukee we are sitting 90 miles from Chicago, [people] think we are 9 miles from Ottawa or Winnipeg." - Steve Hartman Keiser

“I think they overshoot, right? They hit too far north because people think Wisconsin, and I think in the popular imagination of the rest of the country, it’s got to be almost to Canada,” he says.

"A lot of times Wisconsin gets linked with Minnesota and the upper plains - Fargo," Keiser says. "A lot of people in performing Wisconsin, hit too far north - hit the UP, hit Fargo instead and I think that came out in the SNL sketch."

Another part of the problem is that there isn’t just one Wisconsin accent. While it’s true that many Wisconsinites share similar speech patterns, accents can be very different throughout the Dairy State.

“Wisconsin is a big state with a rich and diverse history,” says Keiser. “Changes in geography influence how people sound. Changes in socioeconomic status, ethnicity, all of these connect and intersect to shape how any one person sounds.”

Keiser says the southeastern part of Wisconsin is strongly influenced by the Great Lakes region. One feature that connects the Milwaukee area up to almost as far as Green Bay and west to Madison is the "northern cities shift."

"This includes particular ways of pronouncing vowels," he says. "Wisconsin itself has the 'ah' vowel in the middle of it. For many speakers, including myself, who are not from Wisconsin.. it is WisCONsin, but it shifts in the direction of 'ah' for many Wisconsinities."