Minnesota Iron Range Dialect

EngL 3851
Fall 1998

I am a Minnesotan. I have lived here all my life and may continue to do so. Stereotype me:
The 10 o'clock news is my window dressing for the 10 o'clock weather (Mohr, 9). You betcha it is. Yah. I wouldn't want you to think that I'm not happy here-it could be worse. Lutefisk. . . umm, my favorite.
Are you close; is this representative of myself and most my fellow Minnesotans? Forgive us, but this is slightly, no this is completely ludicrous. For these and all the numerous other stereotypes alike, whom can we blame? Can the Kohan brothers be blamed for their depiction of Minnesotan's in the movie Fargo? No, it goes much farther back than that. Better yet then, why not blame the Minnesotan of the north-the Iron Rangers. Surely most of them do fit the stereotypes. Most of their speech does indeed portray the above dialect which is a "consistently systematic, regional or social variation of a language" (Shepherd, ix) . . . where language is the vehicle of our expression, personality and culture. In this paper I intend to examine the dialect of the Minnesota Iron Range. I intend to tell you why I am analyzing this and where the distinct dialect comes from-its' history. As proof of existence I will offer numerous examples from both secondary information and primary observation. What I will attempt to prove is that no amount of education will change the dialect of the range because its development and use is culturally and regionally based, it begins prior to education, and it will continue as long as the speaker is tied to the region.
To begin, I want to express why I chose to focus on the dialect of the Minnesota Iron Range. Honestly, I did it because the way English is spoken on the Range is insane; it sounds illiterate and idiotic. I had grown tired of the Minnesota generalized jokes uttered by family and friends from, or living out of state, when I myself do not exhibit this dialect. I wanted an explanation; tangible evidence that proved that proper education could change Range dialect. Until very recently I was under the wrong assumption that education was failing the Iron Range Minnesotan. I have a godchild in Hibbing who I want nothing but the best for, especially an education. However, as a direct result of research for this paper I became convinced, as I have already stated, that no amount of education will influentially change this Range dialect.
In The Origin And Development Of The Iron Range Dialect In Minnesota William Labov said that "one cannot understand the development of a language change apart from the social life of the community in which it occurs"(qtd. In Linn, 75). Certainly the Iron Range is no exception. The history of the area is rich and must be at least briefly examined. In the 1800's migrating Americans and European immigrants were seeking agricultural land in Minnesota (Underwood, 1). The Range at this time was a densely forested, almost unpopulated region not appealing to agricultural seeking individuals. The area would continue this way until the late 1800's-1880's and 1890's-when ore was discovered and mines began to open (Underwood, 1). The unique Range dialect essentially starts here. Michael Linn proclaims that "By 1900 operations had increased and the desire for cheap labor forced mining companies to import large numbers of immigrants from Europe. Until 1929 there was [also] a thriving lumber industry which too brought in large numbers of immigrants" (75). As can be imagined such change in such a short amount of time had an enormous impact. The area was not being settled by residents of our nation, but rather by immigrants of numerous ethnic backgrounds. "There was no base of English speaking residents in the area . . . during the settlement period" (Linn, 75). And thus, "the number of languages and dialects spoken on the Range had been estimated as high as Forty-three" (Linn, 76). All these non-English speaking immigrants were employed by a small number of English speaking bosses (Linn, 76). The relations formed were surely not that different from those of plantation slaves of the past. However, one clear distinction was that these non-English speaking workers "had the hope of, and aspiration for, moving into the main stream of American life. To do this,