Zelophehad’s Daughters

A Utah Mormon Manifesto

Posted by Eve

Hello! My name is Eve. I am a Utah Mormon.

I am part of a group that is increasingly, and rightly, overshadowed in the Church at large. I’m a seventh-generation descendant of pioneers and polygamists (through Benjamin Franklin Johnson alone I’m probably cousin to every fourth person reading this post), and I was raised in the heart of Utah County and the backyard of BYU. I sincerely hope that the minority of which I am a part continues to shrink. I absolutely want to see the Church become more and more linguistically and culturally diverse.

That said, let’s get a few stereotypes out of the way and review some basic good manners.

(1) I am not a dolt. Unsupririsingly enough, I speak in the dialect of the region of the country where I was raised. However, this truly amazing instance of linguistic cause-and-effect in my speech patterns really does not, in itself, constitute incontrovertible evidence that I was dropped on my head as child. Just because I speak like the Utahn I am doesn’t mean I’m stupid.

A brief review of the dread Utah Accent of which, like apostate levels of narrowminded, fundamentalist zeal, every good Utahn reflexively accuses some other part of Utah of harboring:

(a) The preposition “for” is equivalent to the evergreen; the verbs “feel” and “fill” are indistinguishable.
(b) “Sentence” has one n (the second one); neither “sentence” nor “mountain” has a t.
(c) Especially late in a seh-unce, the present participle is often signaled by a termimal in; in the summer one might frequently be found “goin’ swimmin’.”
(d) “Controversial” has five syllables.
(e) To make “aunt” inequivalent to “ant” or to pronounce either and neither with long is is to give oneself airs.
(f) Only because I didn’t grow up fifty miles further south do I not speak of the “Spart of the Lard.”

What can I say? This is my accent. I have no other.

(Oh, and to this day it makes me grin to hear Easterners say “Co-lor-ah-do” and “Ne-vah-da.” We are talking about the national gambling capital and the state of legalized prostitution here, right? That would be Ne-vaaa-da.)

(2) I am not hopelessly naive. Yes, I have heard of tank tops, miniskirts, vodka, crack, meth, raves, gangs, porn, and illicit sex. I have even viewed and been offered some of these substances and practices (and no, I won’t reveal which ones). No, I am not shocked by the very existence of divorce, alcoholism, poverty, homelessness, mental illness, child abuse, domestic violence, rape, prostitution, or the partaking of the sacrament with one’s left hand, to paraphrase Robert Kirby. My childhood was not conducted in a little Kleenex-box diorama in the basement of the Salt Lake Visitors’ Center.

(3) I am not plastic. Don’t mistake my congenital politeness and reserve in personal interactions for affectation or insincerity.

(4) I am not a hick. While I’m no connoisseur of the arts, nor even much of an informed amateur, I had the obligatory years of music lessons, went to conerts and recitals and art museums, and had access to just about anything I wanted to read through the BYU Library. And yes, I’ve heard of Marx and Darwin and Freud. Even (gasp!) Heidegger. Once or twice.

(5) I am not a theological oaf. I do not live and die by every word that proceeded out of the mouth of Elder Bruce R. McConkie in the first edition of Mormon Doctrine. I do not confuse the local Republican Party’s assemblies with fast and testimony meeting. I am literate and therefore capable of perusing the standard works, First-Presidency statements, and church handbooks and making distinctions between doctrinal principles and widespread cultural practices.

(6) I am neither a sheep nor a spoiled brat. Just because I didn’t walk uphill both ways through the snow to early-morning seminary or have to navigate high school norms that made alcohol more or less obligatory does not mean my faith has not met equally severe trials. Being born in the Church did not exempt me from finding my own conversion (and trust me, those of you who’ve never lived among a large concentration of Mormons–conversion at home has its own peculiar challenges, like seeing one’s faith daily blown off by people who embrace it in name only and having every single wart of the Church magnified and shoved in one’s face by the local press). Only in Utah has simply declaring my Mormonism been insufficient to exempt me from drugs, partying, or illicit sex (since so many other self-identified Mormons are happily indulging). Only in Utah have I ever had to endure the regular demolishment of my religious convictions in the classroom.

So those of you have never lived in Utah for any length of time, or who dropped in only for four quick years at BYU and never really saw the rest of the sate, please spare me the tales of how cushy my spiritual life has been. Trust me. It hasn’t.

(7) I’m painfully aware that Utah culture is weird. But a culture is like a family–unless you’re part of it, you ridicule it at your peril. I don’t make fun of Catholics, Hindus, Polacks, Jews, or Texans, and when these people make fun of themselves in my presence, I enjoy their ability to laugh at themselves, but I know better than to join in. I am unacquainted with any culture in which it is considered good manners to begin disparaging someone’s native place on very first acquaintance. When I introduce myself at church as from Utah, please don’t say, “I’m SO sorry!” and laugh at great length at the your own hilarity and at the ridiculousness of what is still–after all is said and done–my home.

(8) Finally, I am not unrepresentative. Don’t think you’re flattering me by telling me that I’m not really a Utah Mormon or that I’m refreshingly atypical of the denizens of my native state. That’s like praising me for my rigorous masculine intellect–or confiding in me in hushed tones your relief that I’m not like those effeminite, wussy women who crumple at the first sign of challenge or disagreement and dissolve into tears. Uh-uh. I am not going to stand idly by and smile thinly while you perform the intellectual gymnastics necessary to sustain your tenuous stereotype by rigorously excluding all of the data (i.e., me) that does not conform to it in every particular.

There! That’s much better. Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, can we be friends?

50 Responses to “A Utah Mormon Manifesto”

  1. 1.

    So when a non-Utah Mormon Relief Society President in a non-Utah ward says something to the combined priesthood-relief society like “It doesn’t matter if you gave two-weeks worth of meals to a new mother back in some ward in Utah, out here we only give two meals, and that’s just how it’s gonna be” how does that make you feel?

  2. 2.

    Glenn, heh heh heh. That one didn’t bother me at all, actually. I’m not in the poor RS president’s shoes, praise be, but I suspect it was something that probably needed to be said.

    While I’m a thoroughgoing Utah Mormon myself, I don’t see any reason at all to export Utah Mormonism to the world. And I see many compelling reasons not to. A lot of the weird cultural practices and kitsch we generate should definitely be left at home.

  3. 3.

    I am unacquainted with any culture in which it is considered good manners to begin disparaging someone’s native place on very first acquaintance.

    Here in New England, it’s perfectly acceptable to disparage anyone from New Jersey (with denizens of Long Island running close behind). In fact, it’s almost a requirement :)

    Speaking of Utah/Mormon stereotypes, one of my former employers thought all Mormon women were prohibited from working outside the home, and indicated that he thought I must be either a radical feminist or a social outcast for working (probably both). Another employer asked me in all seriousness whether I needed to ask my husband’s permission to go on a business trip to Washington, D.C. I laughed a little too heartily at that one.

  4. 4.

    Here in New England, it’s perfectly acceptable to disparage anyone from New Jersey (with denizens of Long Island running close behind). In fact, it’s almost a requirement

    ECS, you’re cracking me up. I thought it was just a New York thing to make fun of New Jersey. Who knew it spread so far up the coast!

    Eve, I really liked your point number eight. While some stereotypes give us fodder for good jokes, and can make for some fun, there is a more insidious and damaging side that can be very hurtful.

  5. 5.

    I also hate being thought of as an exceptional member of the group. I don’t like that many of my classmates think that since I’m a normal person, I’m not a normal Mormon. Mormons are normal people.

    As a proud Utahn, I haven’t personally witnessed any stereotyping of Utah Mormons by the non-Utah Mormons I associate with, nor have I heard knee-jerk disparaging of Utah. It could easily be there and I just haven’t seen it because I don’t get out enough or something. I suppose I might remember some of it around the blogs, though.

    You’ve reminded me of the challenge of being a Molly/Peter in Utah County. Makes me wonder if moving back there with my family is a good idea. That’s not really a goal of ours right now, but I sometimes think it might be nice. One good thing about it is that there are usually other Mollys/Peters that you can be friends with. It’s such a weird dynamic, though.

  6. 6.

    Eve,
    Nice post. Most of my closest friends here in Brooklyn are from Utah. As cool as they come.

  7. 7.

    This reminded me of the phone conversation I had with my convert mother while she was visiting Provo for the first time.

    To paraphrase, she said; “I have heard people say ‘all those black or asian people look the same’ and I never understood it. But here I am in Provo and all these little white girls look the same to me”

  8. 8.

    Eve, I know that people have a bad attitude about Utah Mormons. Everytime I mention that I want to move there one day I get crazy looks. But, in addition to you, I know many smart, open-minded Mormons in Utah, and several in Utah valley.
    So, there are people out there who dont’ think Utah Mormons are bad. But, I’m from Arizona, apparently we have our own reputation to live down . . .

  9. 9.

    Eve, thanks, this is great. We Utards need to stick together. And three cheers for B.F. Johnson! That makes us cousins of some kind. Have you ever read My Life’s Review? My mother gave each of her children a copy one year for Christmas.

    When I was growing up, I couldn’t wait to get out of the place. Now, many of the things that used to bother me are just endearing eccentricities. At reunions, I used to cringe when someone in my extended family would say “We seen him yesterdy”. Now I enjoy just sitting there and listening to them converse in my native tongue. Jeffrey R. Holland said it all when he said that Utah is the only place on earth where one can play the “horpsichard”.

    My economics textbook said that exports are what happens when more of a commodity is produced than can be consumed locally. Utah exports a lot of Mormons, and a sociologist could do some fascinating work explaining why, and how that has influenced the church.

    p.s. I was going to say that another endearing eccentricity of Utah Mormons is that they say demolishment when they mean to say demolition, but I looked it up, and demolishment is a fine word. That should teach me to challenge a grad student in language.

  10. 10.

    So glad to read your post! I’m moving from Arizona to Utah this month, and have been warned by nearly everyone I know about “those Utah Mormons”. I was actually starting to get really scared to raise children there (not to mention live there myself), but if you and your family lived there, it can’t be all bad!

  11. 11.

    Jessawhy,
    Did you say you live in Arizona and your husband is an MBA student? Same here – I wonder if we know each other? :)

  12. 12.

    “Tail” and “tell” are also indistinguishable.

  13. 13.

    Great post–thank you, Eve.

  14. 14.

    Amen, sista.

    (Only one thing: “Controversial” is pronounced in a way not 5-syllabled?)

  15. 15.

    Rilkerunning: That would be funny. We actually live on the Gilbert/Mesa border and my dh goes to Thunderbird (in Glendale). How about you?

  16. 16.

    Great post, Eve. True confessions time. It took me years after we got together before I could realize that Serenity Valley’s Utah accent wasn’t something I should feel negative about. It’s still something that occasionally — especially after a visit to Utah — leads me to not be able to understand our conversations, but I’ve had to confront my own prejudices here — and I hope I don’t have negative emotions about Utah accents anymore.

    On a less personal note, in my view, the discussion in this post actually understates the extent to which all vowels in the Utah accent are substantially similar in pronunciation. As an example, when we first lived in the San Francisco area, Serenity worked for a woman named Ellen. People would call on the phone and ask to speak with Ellen. Serenity would say, e.g., “I’m sorry, Ellen isn’t here.” Then the caller would say, “No, I’m not looking for Alan, I want to speak with Ellen.” So the vowel similarities are, perhaps, more extensive than many Utahns recognize. Most Utahns know that “corn” and “cairn” are pronounced in ways that sound, to Californians like me, quite similar — that’s stereotyped. But actually I think the pattern’s similar, if somewhat less pronounced, for all the vowels.

    Of course, absolutely everyone has an accent. What I need to do here is work to shed the class and regional prejudices that have led me to stigmatize specific accents — the accents aren’t the problem.

  17. 17.

    Jessawhy,
    I guess not! We’re in Tempe, he goes to ASU. What does DH stand for? I see it all over and know it means “husband”. Dear Husband? Devoted Husband?

  18. 18.

    Ok, here is something I don’t understand. How come the “Utah Accent” is primarily mocked by other Utahns who don’t have it, and who are from the same part of Utah? I’m serious, most Utah bashing that I am aware of comes from people who are Utahn. And why is the “Utah” accent more porminent in people from Idaho than people from Utah? And why does it seem to be more prominent in Women?

    As a guy from Indiana who gets ridiculed for going “acrosst” things, and for loving my “Dorter” I never really mind the accent issue, but I am curious.

  19. 19.

    That’s really interesting, Roasted Tomatoes. In American English in general vowels are homogenizing before liquids (l and r, especially r), such that in my dialect, “Mary,” “merry,” and “marry” are all homophonous; I believe, though, that there are still dialects of British English that distinguish all three? Likewise, the vowels in “girl,” “curl,” and “pearl” are identical for me (the three words rhyme in my dialect). Given that vowels in English are not very “pure” to begin with (we like to add glides like “y” at the end) and American “l” is quite velar (as opposed to the way the British pronounce this letter more in the front of their mouths), it seems almost inevitable that certain long/tense vowels such as the “ee” in “feel” either require anaptyctic vowels (vowels inserted to ease pronunciation) before liquids, or they come to resemble their short/lax counterparts (“feel” turning into “fill” or else “feeyel”). I wonder whether this homogenization is more advanced in Utah? Or whether it’s true before consonants other than liquids? I really have no idea–it’s not something I’ve noticed.

    In the northeast where I live now “orphan” and “often” are homophones! We Utahns pronounce these differently. :)

    /End of boring tangent–I’m really supposed to be studying . . . /

  20. 20.

    Rilkerunning, # 17,

    The reason you see DH all over is because it can mean anything you want, depending on your mood. Dear husband and devoted husband are both common. The ‘D’ can also stand for disgusting, deranged, d&@%, or dopey.

    Matt, # 18,

    The one that I have noticed Midwesterners have in common with Utahns is “warsh’ when they mean to say ‘wash’. There is a Utah variation that comes out as ‘worsh’. Jarge Worshington is the father of our country. And almost everybody I know who grew up east of the Mississippi says ‘dorter’.

    Regional pronunciations are fascinating to me. Where I live now, there is an ongoing feud as to whether the state’s name is pronounced Missourey or Missourah. I had a roommate at BYU from South Carolina who cooked with Wesson ohl. And I could never stop laughing at my other roommate from Massachusetts who simply could not pronounce terminal ‘R’s, except when he shouldn’t. Car came out as ‘cah’, but Cuba came out as ‘Cuber’. I still think it’s funny.

  21. 21.

    I’m probably going to wear out my welcome (if I had one ;) ) by saying this, but in a post that’s specifically about “Hey, don’t stereotype people,” isn’t this phrase a little incongruous? :

    “like apostate levels of narrowminded, fundamentalist zeal”

    On an unrelated note, I talked about “Utah Mormon” stereotypes a little on my guide to different types of Mormons post. I wrote it from my perspective as someone who grew up Mormon in the midwest, so if you have a moment, perhaps you could take a look and tell me what you think.

  22. 22.

    What I need to do here is work to shed the class and regional prejudices that have led me to stigmatize specific accents

    RT, I read somewhere that businesses actually take advantage of our tendency to stigmatize on account of language. Most of us assume that slow-talking = slow-thinking, and businesses use that assumption strategically. They will often use as their spokesman in negotiations a man from the South. He will convey the image that he is just a poor, ignorant bumpkin trying hard to keep up with all the sophisticated people on the other side of the table. To the extent they buy his schtick, even unconsciously, he has an advantage. And airlines have coached their pilots to speak s-l-o-w-l-y, and with something of a drawl, when addressing the passengers on the PA. Think Wilford Brimley. Flying is unsettling, and people seem to want some grandfatherly assurance that everything is OK.

  23. 23.

    It was always intriguing (and occasionally enraging) to me, while I was at BYU, how many people assured me that I was not a Utah Mormon. In fact, my senior years (there were two of them) I lived in a house with four other girls from Utah Valley; turned out that none of us, according to visitors, were Utah Mormons. Where do they keep the Utah Mormons, then, I once wondered aloud, and my one non-Utahn roommate responded, “Wisconsin.”

    (No offense, of course, to fine state of Wisconsin.)

    Also, as I understand it, the laxing of the /i/ vowel (as in “feel”) is creeping across the midwest generally; the really endemically Utahn twist is a similar reduction before liquid-stop clusters, as from “milk” to “melk”. (I could be totally making this up, though; I’ve been away from the phonoticians of BYU for far too long.) And there’s almost no dialect of English that doesn’t reduce the /t/ (as in “mountain” or “kitten”) to some extent; Estuary (“Cockney”) English and, I believe, Hawaiian English both fully glottalize it as well.

  24. 24.

    My annoyance with Intermountain West Mormons (because Arizona, Idaho, and some parts of California are just as stereotypical) is somewhat doctrinal: In Sacrament Meeting the bishop gets up and reads a letter from the General Authorities chastising the membership for some weird behavior we in the midwest haven’t heard of nor are likely to. We’re all left looking at each blankly and scratching our heads, thinking, “Where did THAT come from?”

    And then the information trickles down: It’s an Intermountain West thing. Well. We still don’t know what the chastisement was actually FOR, but at least now we don’t have to worry about it.

  25. 25.

    I spent many years trying to get rid of the utah accent. Overemphasis on the “t” in mounTain, founTain. LayTon, etc.

  26. 26.

    I heard someone talking on NPR about the difference in prounouncing “do” and “dew” and that they sound different if you’re trained to hear them that way. Now I hear it everywhere, even on NPR some folks say “News” and others “Noos” Not sure if it’s a Mormon problem, but people who pronounce those vowels differently come from where?
    Also, Maren, I agree with pronouncing the Ts. I try very hard and refuse to name a child “Payton” or something similar because I know everyone will call him “Pay-uhn.”
    As for where the Utah Mormons live, I think there are a lot in Arizona, but not me of course. :)

  27. 27.

    I am white-faced at discovering that I have adopted a Utah accent. Ah, the inhumanity of it all!

    Oh . . . Emily – “contravershul” is four syllables. :)

    I still feel nauseous.

    “Someone, get me away from this awful place!” (Name that movie, and I’ll have proven that I’m irrevocably a Utah Mormon geek, though not the only one.)

  28. 28.

    SilverRain,

    Is that from Labyrinth?

    Of course in that movie I think the statement is “take me away from this awful place” so I could be wrong.

  29. 29.

    Ziff – right in one. Of course, you realize that not only could you name the movie, you also caught the error in the quote.

    You deserve the ultimate geek star.

  30. 30.

    As an aside, once we get the obligatory Mormon jokes out of the way and the complaints about restrictive drinking laws, most people have very positive things to say about Utah – the skiing, the mountains, the national parks, etc. In many ways, being from Utah is like being from Colorado, except for that pesky Mormon connection.

  31. 31.

    Thanks, as always, to all responders.

    ECS, Matt W. and others mention the fascinating phenomenon of attempting to deflect charges of parochialism by denigrating the next region over–that is, in Utah you’ll quickly be assured that it’s not Utahns who are hicks, it’s Idahoans. In South Dakota it was Iowans who were hopelessly backward. And as Matt W. mentioned noted, of course it happens within Utah as well. I’ve been repeatedly assured by southern Utahns that it’s really northern Utah that’s rigid and doctrinaire, and by Salt Lakers that it’s Utah County that gives the state a bad name. In short, the embarrassing peculiarities are always somewhere else just down the road.

    Along those lines: C.L. Hanson, actually, the phrase in question isn’t incongruous with my argument because I’m not applying it to anyone, simply noting that Utahns reflexively apply it to one another.

    But I do hope you won’t consider your welcome here worn out.

    Mark IV, my long-lost cousin! I confess I’ve never read My Life’s Review, but the family family historian Elbereth very well may have.

    I too am absolutely fascinated by regional differences in speech and by different varieties of English (and of other languages). One of my profs from this last school year is a British expat, and it was all I could do not to pelt him constantly with questions about his dialect. Similarly, when I was in Atlanta a couple of months ago, I was fascinated by the way my hosts talked: “hootenany,” which I had always thought was a social gathering of some kind, was used as a synonym for “odds and ends,” and my friend who grew up there kept talking about running to the “grocery.”

    RT, thanks for your candor and for your always thoughtful reflections. That is the dark side of regional variation, of course; the imputations we make to people who say “horpsichord” or “I seen” or “I says.”

    SilverRain, welcome to Mormonism’s very own Received Pronunciation, in which controversial does indeed have five syllables.

    ECS, I’ve had the same experience. Once we get past the peculiar people thing, there’s much to praise about Utah. And much to miss about it. This time of year I always get terribly nostalgic for the mountains and believe I should be able to drive up a canyon somewhere into some pines and aspen trees.

    We do have lots and lots of beautiful green out here east of the Mississippi, but it comes at the price of such constant depressing rain, and it just isn’t the same. Sigh.

  32. 32.

    You deserve the ultimate geek star.

    Thanks SilverRain! I’ll wear it with pride. :)

    In fairness, I should have to share it with my wife because I hadn’t even heard of the movie until we were married and she told me it was one of her favorites.

  33. 33.

    Actually most Utahns make a substitution, rather than a deletion, in their pronunciation of words like mountain. Instead of the t, they make a very soft glottal stop– which means that you close your glottis for just a split second and stop the air from coming through there, rather than stopping the air flow with your tongue and alveolar ridge– which is a how a t is made. We don’t interpret it as a consonant, but it is. It’s written in the International Phonetic Alphabet as a backwards question mark with no dot under it. It’s used quite a bit in Arabic and Cockney English (think of how a cockney might pronounce the t in bottle).

    I’m from Trenton, Utah, and still pronounce it with that glottal stop even though I haven’t lived there for 25 years. And I was probably 25 before I figured out that Star and War don’t rhyme in most places.

  34. 34.

    Melyngoch:
    You’re right that nearly every variety of English reduces the /t/ to some extent in “mountain” and “kitten.” I’m from the West Coast, and I say the /t/ in “mountain” as a glottal stop. Some reduce the consonant more than others, but those who say they pronounce a full-on voiceless alvealor stop are either in denial or just not very linguistically self aware.

    Kiskilili:
    Utah English is indeed making its own advances in vowel homogenization before liquids. Utah English has one particularly prominent feature–what is commonly called the “fail-fell merger.” The tense vowels in words like “fail,” “dale,” “pail,” and “hail,” become lax and thus merge with “fell,” “dell,” “pell,” and “hell” (hence the joke that Utah Mormons sing “We’ll Sing all Hell to Jesus’ Name”). This isn’t an uncommon kind of merger, as you’ve mentioned. Many varieties of American English merge the vowels in “pole” and “pull” and in “meal” and “mill,” for example.

    Studying varieties of English is super fun. Did you know, by the way, that LDS linguist David Bowie has made a study of L. Tom Perry’s speech for years? He regularly presents at conferences on his favorite research subject, whom he calls “LTP.” It’s really fun for the LDS linguists who attend those conferences, from what I hear. David Bowie and Wendy Baker both study Utah English. For anyone interested in the topic, check out Bowie’s curriculum vitae to find articles on the topic.

  35. 35.

    Am I the only one who thinks that “David Bowie” is an extraordinarily unfortunate name for an LDS linguist?

    I mean . . . considering we already mentioned Labyrinth in this post?

  36. 36.

    My theory about the Utah pronunciation of “mountain” is that we actually say the word more often than many other westerners, so people notice the pronunication more and assume that we say it differently from the rest of the region.

    SilverRain – I don’t think it’s “unfortunate,” I think it’s awesome! :) (To be fair, I think he says it BOO-ey, not BOW-ey.)

  37. 37.

    Okay, Eve. All the linguistic (or, as my former discipline would call it, “folk speech”) evidence has me really confused now. Are you saying that there IS such a thing as a “Utah Mormon” but you are not one of them, or are you saying that there is not really such a thing as a “Utah Mormon?”

  38. 38.

    Glenn, ah, the thorny problem of the one and the many. I guess the relatively short answer is yes, there is such a thing as a Utah Mormon, and yes, I’m one by definition, and proud to be one.

    But in the same way that there is such a thing as a woman, and I’m proud to be a woman, I’m probably very, very different in many important respects from many, many other people who are women and who are proud to be women.

    Does that make any sense?

  39. 39.

    It makes perfect sense, and reminds me of the essay “On Being Human: The Folklore of Mormon Missionaries” where Bert Wilson talks about different social identities:

    “…some folklorists have begun to speak not of different folk groups but of different social identities. For example, I am a Mormon; but I am also a father, a teacher, a Democrat, an Idahoan, a tennis fan, a photography nut, and so on. To assume that one can know me fully simply by identifying me as a Mormon is to assume too much. It seems safer to say that in certain situations my Mormon identity will become dominant and my other identities will be forced into the background, though never fully suppressed that is, even in my most intense Mormon moments I will not cease entirely to be a Democrat, and conversely, when I play the role of Democrat, I will not cease to be a Mormon. “

  40. 40.

    Thanks, Sternklar!

    /Second boring tangent to follow:/

    I find it interesting that (a) there’s a fair amount of anxiety regarding intervocalic glottalized t’s followed by n as in “kitten,” “written,” and “mountain,” but, in my admittedly limited experience, no similar anxiety surrounding glottalized t’s before consonants, as in “lightning,” “witness,” “basketball,” or better yet, strings of words, such as “at least” or “hit men” or “fat cat;” and (b) that this extremely widespread feature is associated with Utah speech particularly. (Not only is it not confined to Utah–it’s not even confined to the English language! Speakers of German are doing something similar in words like “verboten” and “Weihnachten.”) What I mean is that it’s interesting what our linguistic anxieties latch onto particularly–nobody (in my hearing) is mourning not just the glottalization but the outright loss of the t in “mortgage,” for example, or worried conversely about the insertion of a glottal stop into numbers like “thirteen.” We could always fret over the frequent voicing of t’s or the devoicing of d’s, but we don’t seem interested. And in “castle” and “listen” we’ve long since forgotten we ever pronounced the t.

    And speaking of the pronunciation of “controversial,” I’ve read that in the nineteenth century the word “controversy” was accented on the second syllable–evidently there was an uproar when the accent started shifting to the first. One might suspect that the pronunciation of this word has never been entirely uncontroversial. :)

    /And with that, I’d better get off the bloggernacle and get some work done . . . cheerio!/

  41. 41.

    Kiskilili, some English-speakers from England continue to stress the second syllable of “controversy.”

  42. 42.

    Thanks, RT! That’s one I haven’t encountered. Sort of like “reNAIssance” and “ByZANtine”?

    Sometime we should conduct a linguist poll (pronounced identically, by the way, to “pull” and “pole” in my dialect) on our blog . . .

  43. 43.

    I agree completely with this statement, by the way:

    “Of course, absolutely everyone has an accent. What I need to do here is work to shed the class and regional prejudices that have led me to stigmatize specific accents, the accents aren’t the problem.”

    I’m a committed descriptivist, and I don’t consider pronunciation a moral decision. Still, it can be difficult to overcome linguistic prejudices. Sometimes it’s (unfortunately) hard to take people seriously when their accent differs significantly from your own, as when people in my corner of the country call something “harrid” or claim to be “all set” if they don’t want to be bothered.

    It interests me to read, for example, that Black English makes grammatical distinctions lacking in Standard American English: in Black English, “she happy” means “she’s happy in the moment,” where “she be happy” means “she’s a generally happy person.” It’s a good reminder that what sounds to my ears like ignorance may have its own legitimate value.

  44. 44.

    Wow, Mark! We’re related! Whaddaya know. And I wasn’t even aware I had an ancestor named B.F. Johnson! (I’m still not entirely sure who he is.)

    I learn some of the most surprising things from Eve’s posts. I guess I must be a seventh-generation descendant of pioneers and polygamists too, and I come from a line of women who don’t like to cook.

    I am Exhibit A of what happens to people who don’t know the meaning of family history.

  45. 45.

    Kiskilili,

    Yup, I guess we’re fambly. (That is another Utah-ism. So is fandamnily, as in “We took the whole fandamnily to Disneyland”.) You have my condolences. For my part, I can’t think of anybody I would rather have in my family tree.

    It has been at least 10 years since I read My Life’s Review, but I’m pretty sure I remember reading that B.F. got upset with some of his wives now and then and sent them away because, quote, they won’t obey my priesthood, closed quote. Wouldn’t it be funny to find out that the Zelophehad branch of the family descends from one of the independent-minded wives? That would make me laugh until my sides hurt.

  46. 46.

    Well, if you also say “fambly” then you’ll fit in well! Of course we’re nothing but honored to discover you’re a member of our clan.

    Wouldn’t it be funny to find out that the Zelophehad branch of the family descends from one of the independent-minded wives?

    I love it–it would be hilarious!

  47. 47.

    When I was in grad school I almost took on researching the “Mormon O” for a dialects class (ended up researching college-student genderlects instead). I was kinda horrified that this regional dialect was identified as “Mormon,” but I had to grudgingly admit that I’d heard my share of “Clark Fark” and “barn in a born,” and mostly from fellow Marmons. I even got made fun of in YW once because I pronounce “warm” as rhyming with “farm” and not sounding like “worm.” Oh well.

    And how did the word “ignernt” (a manglation of “ignorant”) take on the meaning of “rude” in the Intermountain West? I also want to know why I can distinguish between “sell” and “sale” when I talk but many of the folks I grew up with didn’t–maybe because my mom and both grandmothers were schoolteachers? I really don’t know. But then again, I pronounce “cot” and “caught” interchangeably.

    I just spent ten days Down Under and enjoyed listening to all the twisted vowels there (along with all the other obvious enjoyments one gets on vaca). Good times.

  48. 48.

    As a Utah Mormon who was “exported” away from Utah to go to college (so not BYU), my Utah accent was constantly ridiculed by my California college dormmates. In addition to some of the Utahisms already mentioned, other ridiculed Utah-isms include:
    1) Aig — the Utahism for “egg”
    2) Laig — the Utahism for “leg”
    3) Ruf — the Utahism for “roof”
    4) Crick — the Utahism for “creek”
    5) Faltse — the Utahism for “false”
    6) Eltse — the Utahism for “else”

    And the 2 worst of all — in Utah (at that time — maybe it has changed since) a “hickey” meant slugging someone in a muscle so it hurt. I learned it meant something entirely different outside Utah. For some reason, no one outside Utah understood “monkey bite.”

    And finally, “thongs” are things Utahns wear on their feet (“flip-flops” outside Utah) — not what Brazilian women wear to the beach.

  49. 49.

    I am a native, my family is about as pioneer as they come, but I can’t stand the cultural myopism, nor the dreaded twang.

    I think I’ll move….

  50. 50.

    From thefreedictonary.com

    Polack 1. Offensive Slang Used as a disparaging term for a person of Polish birth or descent.
    2. Obsolete A native of Poland; a Pole.”

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