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Is Sarah Palin's Unusual Accent Proof Of Canadian Influence On Alaskans?

Impersonators on "Saturday Night Live" are probably having a field day right now, because they once again have a potential Vice President who has a unique look and way of talking. Yes, you can already envision Tina Fey doing that distinctive accent some people have noticed in John McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Listening to her myself in various speeches and her Republican convention acceptance speech, I noticed certain inflections in her voice that sound reminiscent of how we know Canadians to talk...with a hint of Minnesotan thrown in for whatever measure. Considering Alaska is almost connected to Canada, we may have to start looking into what influence Canadians may have had on how Alaskans talk.

This is obviously something most people haven't thought of before. And that's mainly because Alaska itself has, until now, barely been thought of in any major news events or everyday conversation, despite having a lot of important things going on up there that will affect us down the road. Is it true, though, that Alaskans have a certain dialect akin to the dialects you hear depending on where you are in the U.S.? Apparently there is an official Alaskan language, per se. Some of the ways they pronounce words, too, are somewhat similar to Canadian, yet has its own distinctiveness.

It's certainly not out of the question that Canada may have played a part in influencing how some Alaskans talk. After all, Alaska is really almost a separate entity on its own and could have seceded from America on several occasions had things been timed just right. With Canada right nearby, undoubtedly generations of Canadians have moved into Alaska and probably married many an Alaskan besides. After a while, the language would get intertwined into the Alaskan DNA or just picked up on naturally by residents visiting Canada frequently--considering the nearest U.S. state from Alaska would be Washington state a hundred miles down to the south.

If there was a strong Canadian influence on Alaska, then their standard "oo" sound on words with "ou" in the middle didn't get assimilated. If you listen carefully, they say "ou" words exactly like us and even write them the same way. The biggest similarities are in the how they don't emphasize the "t" in words with that letter--plus making words ending with "er" much more emphasized. Most words with the double "tt" sound like dd" instead and words ending in "er" would sound akin to an emphasized "ur."

That's where the confusion lies in Sarah Palin when bloggers around the net started asking why she sounded like a character from the movie "Fargo." Well, her accent isn't quite that strong and she reportedly has no ties to Minnesota or North Dakota where the remnants of the Swedish accent still remain. This may very well be the revelation to many Americans that Alaska has their own nuanced language with a combination of various languages. ____

That other particular language influence is the more likely Native-Alaskan accent that's also evolved into an interesting mix of English and nuances they created on their own. One of the most distinctive you'll notice when talking to Native-Alaskans who speak English is that they almost always make a "sh" sound on all words containing an "s." Some might assume they have a diction problem because of it, but it's a natural trait. They also tend to end all words ending in "k" with a "kh" sound that almost gives hints of the populace in Israel who sometimes do the same thing.

Overall, though, people in Alaska will tell you that much of their language influence comes from nearby Russia and all of the different Native-Alaskan tribes who still thrive in the area. Hearing Sarah Palin, however, emphasizes that Canadian language has, for the first time, crept into the forefront of U.S. politics. Perhaps a lot of Canadians cringe when hearing nuances of their language in a potential Vice Presidential candidate, yet probably secretly love it.

You can be sure anyway that Palin, no matter if she and McCain win or not, will be one of the most parodied political candidates in many a year. You'll be seeing plenty of people writing about that accent of hers that some people contend sounds more Midwestern in places. Those people are going to ultimately discover that Alaska has had a lot of interesting things going on up there for decades while we weren't paying any attention...


By Greg Brian - Freelance writer who currently writes daily columns for Yahoo! Movies. Former Yahoo! TV analysis is on hiatus until further notice. In April 2012, the author had an article referenced in an upstart newspaper...  

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