William Labov, Sharon Ash, and Charles Boberg in their website “A National Map of the Regional Dialects of America” (http://www.ling.upenn.edu/phono_atlas /NationalMap/NationalMap.html ) explain that the Midland is split into the North and South Midland dialects, showing that the Midland dialect itself is not one single dialect. However, South Midland is very similar to its linguistic cousin, Southern dialect. They continue to say that North Midland (of which Indianapolis is technically a part of) has some of the least distinguishing features of all of the Nation’s dialects. This, however, is debatable.
Deena Fogle lists a criteria for Midland dialects to meet in her article “Indianapolis, Indiana: A Prototype of Midland Convergence” (http://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1027&context=pwpl.) These include the “ay” sound being replaced with something of an “ah” sound, and the cot/caught merger. (In the general Midland dialect, the “o” sound in the word “cot” and the “augh” sound in “caught” are pronounced the same.)
Regional influence or dialect merger?
Despite the fact that these are the “distinguishing features” of the Midland dialect, the dialect itself varies from area to area. It is influenced heavily by the dialect regions around it. The North Midland will be more influenced by Northern dialect patterns and the South Midland will, naturally, be more heavily influenced by Southern dialect patterns. This example of direct dialectical differences has been the source of some controversy among linguists who debate the authenticity of the Midland dialects existence at all.
There are some who will argue that the Midland is not it’s own dialect region, but rather an area in which the Northern and Southern dialects slowly merge and transition from one to the other. Charles Houck says that “We in fact are not dealing here with subdialects at all, but with a large geographical area in which, as we move southward, the dialects become more Southern and, conversely, as we move northward, dialects become more Northern,” which can be found in his article “Is There a Midland Dialect Area?-Again.” Though this is a distinct possibility, many researchers and linguists feel that this is not true. The overall debate on the legitimacy of the Midland dialect’s existence will be discussed further on the “Misconceptions” page.
Debates aside, because there are some specific indications of individual dialect traits in the Midland, it is safe to assume that it is at least its own unique dialect area. And indeed, it is certainly developed from a mixture of many dialects. Indianapolis, the focus of our website, is slightly different from the rest of the North Midland and is a good example of the linguistic concoction that makes the Midland interesting and varied in its dialectal attributes.