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Missour-ee Or Missour-uh? Talking About Talking In St. Louis And Beyond

Kelsey Proud / St. Louis Public Radio

Is it Missour-ee or Missour-uh?

Those two pronunciations of the state, according to linguist John Baugh of Washington University in St. Louis, peacefully co-exist and are “indicative of all of the linguistic collisions from the rest of the country that happen in our wonderful city.”

Baugh and linguist Cindy Brantmeier of Washington University joined host Don Marsh to talk about how language forms, evolves, and is spoken differently throughout the United States.

“When the state was first settled, the Missour-uh pronunciation was prevalent and pervasive,” Baugh said.  “There were others who moved from the East to St. Louis that used the Missour-ee pronunciation though because the city of the St. Louis was so crucial to westward movement, the rural dialects from the South and from the West merged at the same time that you had travelers coming from other parts of the country.”

A robust discussion with examples of regional dialect from wash vs. worsh and farty-four vs. forty-four to sink vs. zink and chawklet vs. chocolate took place on our Facebook page.

Feel free to check it out and join the discussion.

Role Of Technology

While relatively new technological communication trends such as using “internet language” and texting impact language, technological advances have long influenced communication.

“The people from England who settled Boston came from a different part of the dialect regions of England than those who settled the South.  And because the eastern part of the (United States) was settled prior to the Industrial Revolution, people got around by horse and buggy or on foot and, as a result of that, the dialect regions fossilized,” said John Baugh.

Cindy Brantmeier explained how recent technological advances in communication influence language.  “If you look at technological influences in written English, as a linguist, I’m fascinated by the texts I get from friends.  I don’t look at the content of what they’re saying, but rather the linguistic morphological aspects of what they’re sending me over texts,” she said.

Noticing Changes In Language

“(Linguistic) changes are difficult to detect within one’s lifetime.  It’s like the erosion process. You can look at rocks and know intellectually they are suffering erosion but not be able to detect it physically and depending upon the linguistic change we’re considering, it’s difficult at times for people who are actively using the language to sense those changes as they’re ongoing.” – John Baugh

St. Louis Language Is Unique

“We know from linguistic evidence that St. Louis is the one place in the country where all of the regions seem to collide. It’s where the south meets the north, it’s where the east meets the west and as the Gateway City, from a linguistic point of view, it’s absolutely rich and fascinating.” – John Baugh

More Information About Our Guests

John Baugh

Margaret Bush Wilson Professor in Arts & Sciences and Professor of Linguistics at Washington University in St. Louis.  John was recently named a founding co-editor of a new electronic journal on linguistics and public policy. Language, the official journal of the Linguistic Society of America, will publish in three new areas: Teaching Linguistics, Public Policy and Perspectives. John will serve as co-editor of Public Policy. 

Baugh has also completed groundbreaking research concerning voice discrimination, as we talked about toward the end of the show.

Cindy Brantmeier

Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at Washington University in St. Louis.

Brantmeier was recently honored as Washington University’s recipient of the 2012 Emerson Excellence in Teaching Award. The annual award from Emerson recognizes top educators from the St. Louis region for their passion for teaching, their impact on student learning, and their knowledge and creativity.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
Mary Edwards came to St. Louis Public Radio in 1974, just after finishing her Bachelor of Music degree at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She has served the station in a number of capacities over the years. From 1988-2014 she also taught an undergraduate class in radio production at Webster University. Mary was inducted into the St. Louis Media History Foundation Media Hall of Fame in April, 2017 and received the Gateway Media Literacy Partners' Charles Klotzer Media Literacy Award in 2012. Mary retired from St. Louis Public Radio in 2018, but still serves the station as a St. Louis Symphony Producer.
Don Marsh served as host of St. Louis Public Radio’s “St. Louis on the Air" from 2005 to 2019, bringing discussions of significant topics to listeners' ears at noon Monday through Friday. Don has been an active journalist for 58 years in print, radio and television. He has won 12 Regional Emmy Awards for writing, reporting, and producing. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, was inducted into the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame in 2013, and named “Media Person of the Year” by the St. Louis Press Club in 2015. He has published three books: his most recent, “Coming of Age, Liver Spots and All: A Humorous Look at the Wonders of Getting Old,” “Flash Frames: Journey of a Journeyman Journalist” and “How to be Rude (Politely).” He holds an honorary Doctor of Arts and Letters degree from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
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