Nov 8, 2012

Utah Speak

By Susan Knight

Before you get the impression I disparage "Utahn," let me first admit that I come from a place in the United States with the worst dialect—Philadelphia. Hands down, it is the ugliest. My hometown is about 40 miles away from Philly, so I grew up with it; i.e., wooder = water, at/dat = that. I've spent my whole life trying not to talk that way.

Like New Orleans speak, nobody can fake the Philly vernacular. It does not sound like a New York City accent thanks to Benjamin Franklin, who wanted Philadelphians to be far removed from anything British.
Philly people pronounce “r” like a pirate; i.e. arrr. It gets swallowed into the back of the throat, along with most vowels and consonants. New Yorkers, like Bostonians—and the British—say “ah; i.e. pahk the cah. If you watch a television show that takes place in Philadelphia, note how they say their “r’s.” You’ll know if they’re faking it.

 Enter Utah. Rather, I entered Utah about two years ago. I can’t figure out the accent or where it comes from, and have denoted several dialects in or around the Great Salt Lake. Diphthongs seem to be the main problem, or lack of them.

 Some pronunciations here sound like a southern drawl; i.e. say-id = said (where there shouldn't be a diphthong), some are decidedly cowboy; i.e. thee-ay’-ter = theater; and some might come from Scandinavian influence; i.e. yah = yeah. Or maybe it means "yes?"

 Below are some conventions of the English language in Utah that have made me pause as I have tried to stay in conversations. I have about a five-second lapse, so please be kind to me if ever I’m immersed in a chat with you. s.m.i.l.e.

her = here
ther = there
            Usage: I didn’t get her until 1:00. Before that, I was over ther.

filling = feeling (Not to be confused with dental work.)
            Usage: I have a filling this is the rill dill
the rill dill = the real deal (Not to be confused with a type of pickle, which is what I think they’re talking about and wonder, how does a pickle relate to their dental work? By the time I give up trying to figure it out, they’re on to the next topic.)
mill will = mill wheel (Not to be confused with a will reading where someone is left a mill in a will, which is what I thought.)

peenk = pink
      The short “i” sound is pronounced like long “e,” such as theenk, meaning think; but the long “e” sound  is pronounced like short “i,” such as filling, meaning feeling; i.e. apple pill is not a flavored medication.

mell = mail or male
sell = sale
            Usage: I got this mell box at a garage sell. It was a rill dill.
hell = hail
      The long “a” sound is pronounced like short “e.” I once heard a hymn pronounced from the pulpit as “We’ll Sing All Hell to Jesus’ Name.” Even the Utahns balked at that.

Conversely, the short “a” sound, like in apple, is often pronounced with a long "a" sound, like “ay;” i.e. bank, thank, sank = baynk, thaynk, saynk.

pitcher = picture

excetera = etcetera

buh-in = button
mouh-in = mountain (I can’t even simulate this sound. It is an enigma to me.)

hooware/hoowat = where/what (The “h” sound is first, instead of silent.)

I was walking in the mouh-ins with my frind, Gell, when I fond a buh-in in a fild off the trell. It's pell peenk. Her, I took a pitcher of it to put in the pepper. I have a filling someone will thaynk me that I fond it.

 Can you see why I lag behind? 
I love Utah. The people are great, but—diphthongs can be very useful. Hoowat do you theenk?


  1. I love Utah too, (and lived there for 10 years before moving to Washington) but your post made me really laugh because it's so true! I've chuckled at some of those pronunciations as well. If it makes any Utahns feel better, many of those pronunciations are very common here in Eastern Washington. Maybe it's a western states thing?

  2. Leslie, I have a feeling Utahns migrated there and brought their accent with them. :)
    Thanks for your comment.

  3. Hahaha, Susan!I almost fell off my chair laughing!I lived there too, so it's legal for me to laugh about it. I am guilty of dropping the "t" in words like mountain. It is common in Idaho and Montana, too -- I have found it to be a Northwestern accent..although it does vary from state to state. You forgot a couple:
    pellow (pillow)
    warsh (wash)
    fark (fork)Harse (horse)
    crick (creek)
    ruff (roof)
    Thanks for your perspective, Susan! You rock!

    1. Kari, I only mentioned the tip of the iceburg. Thanks for your additions.

  4. So funny!

    But - the girl I know most guilty of the majority of these is from Oklahoma! And if I make fun of her for it, she swears everyone in her town talks that way...

    1. Elizabeth, I'm from the east so we have a different set of "isms" when we speak. But it is sometimes like living in a foreign country. I have to take time deciphering it in my mind, just as someone else from here would have to in Philadelphia.
      Thanks for your comment!

  5. One of the language oddities we found living in south central Utah was the use of "rather" (often pronounced "rether") instead of whether. "You have to do that rether you want to or not." We found out it wasn't just a mistake of hearing and confusing the two words. It's a language peculiarity of the Danish, many of whom settled that area. I was raised in Oregon and noticed the peculiarities you have listed whenever I came to family reunions in Utah. Foreign language, foreign country. Now I've spent more than half of my life in Utah... and it doesn't get any easier hearing that stuff all the time.

    1. Pam, thanks for you comment, but it's disheartening to know it won't get easier :(
      I guess I'm doomed to lagging behind in conversations, or just asking, "What?" after every questions.

  6. I've always wondered why my Utah roommates thought I had an accent...Wisconsin/Michigan.
    After living for years near Philly, I'm just glad I never started saying "Yo".

    1. HA-HA! I can just hear you say that with a Wisconsin accent :) The perfect rounded "o" sound; not like Philly.
      Thanks for commenting. Comments make me feel good :)

  7. You've nailed it.
    Another one that I can't quite figure out is the way they pronounce the word "Ornery." "On-ry" is how they say it here in UT. i.e.: "He gets really onry when he's hungry." I bet if you asked any of the people here how you spell that word, they would all get it wrong. It's not only the fact that they pronounce the work incorrectly, but that they use it at all! No where else have I ever heard someone use that word in normal, everyday speech.


Thank you for visiting. Feel free to comment on our blogger's posts.*

*We do not allow commercial links, however. If that's not clear, we mean "don't spam us with a link to your totally unrelated-to-writing site." We delete those comments.