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Linguist seeks voices for research into Southwestern Ontario accent

Dale Carruthers

By Dale Carruthers, The London Free Press

Michael Iannozzi of Western is studying Southwestern Ontario linguistic tendencies in London, Ont. (MIKE HENSEN, The London Free Press)

Michael Iannozzi of Western is studying Southwestern Ontario linguistic tendencies in London, Ont. (MIKE HENSEN, The London Free Press)

Think Southwestern Ontarians don’t stand out when they open their mouths?

Think again.

A linguist at Western University says the region has a dialect unlike anywhere else in Ontario, and he’s hitting the road — recording device in hand — to gather the proof.

Graduate student Michael Iannozzi is documenting the dialect used in Southwestern Ontario — something he says hasn’t been done before — and exploring how the words we use, and they way we say them, shape our perceptions.

Dropping g’s, using double negatives and saying “ain’t” are just a few of the habits of Southwestern Ontario residents, who tend to speak with a rural twang that distinguishes them from their big-city counterparts, Iannozzi said.

“The more you do it, the more rural you sound,” he said.

But the way we talk changes depending on whom we’re speaking with, Iannozzi said, explaining how he’ll alter his language when conversing with his grandparents.

“And that’s something that’s normal for a lot of us,” he said.

The 27-year-old is visiting five counties — Middlesex, Lambton, Chatham-Kent, Essex and Elgin — to conduct one-on-one interviews.

He’s busy travelling around the region, setting up shop at weekend fairs to recruit participants for his study.

Participants must sign a consent form and have their conversation recorded — things that can make them nervous, Iannozzi said. To get people speaking naturally, Iannozzi asks them questions about their family history, pastimes and other light topics.

“It’s just questions about them to get them to feel comfortable,” he said. “So the goal for me is to get you casual as quickly as possible.”

Iannozzi has already interviewed 30 participants from Wallaceburg, Sarnia, Petrolia, Wyoming and Watford.

“People have an impression pretty quickly that they do sound different from people in big cities,” he said. “But when you ask them why, very few people can give you (examples).”

Born in Sarnia, Iannozzi studied linguistics at the University of Toronto before moving to London to complete his master’s degree at Western, allowing him to live in the region he’s studying.

Iannozzi plans on speaking to 100 people for his research, which he’ll continue while completing his PhD at Western next year. Then he’ll transcribe his interviews using software that breaks down words phonetically, enabling him to see how each syllable is pronounced.

That task, he said, will take hundreds of hours.

“I’ve been told it’s over-ambitious,” he said of his research project.

dcarruthers@sunmedia.com

twitter.com/DaleatLFPress

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Samples of Southwestern Ontario dialect:

Before a vowel, two consonant at the end of previous word reduction: “They mus’ always come that way.”

Adding an intrusive t: “I got mum sittin’ acrosst from me.”

Unstressed initial syllable loss: “She’d been ’round, but I ’spect somethin’ come up.”

Non-verbal nasal velar fronting: “Anymore, there’s always somethin’ new they’re tryin’.”

Using a double negative: “Nobody didn’t have no place to go.”

Absence of plural marker on measurement nouns: “He ran five mile.”

Object forms as demonstratives: “Back in them days it was different.”

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Readers share Southwestern Ontario lingo

• Yous (instead of you guys)

• Acrosst (instead of across)

• Tames (instead of Thames)

• The wife (instead of my wife)

• Crick (instead of creek)

• Melk (instead of milk)

• Alls I’m sayin’ (instead of all I’m saying)

• Them (instead of those)

• Seen (instead of saw)