Kathryn Remlinger, professor of English, did not want to title her new book Yooper Talk. She said it fed into the stereotypes of the very people she researched for more than 16 years.
"The word 'Yooper' has positive connotations for many and it's a negative term for others," Remlinger said during a September 14 presentation about the book, Yooper Talk: Dialect as Identity in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, centered on the language and culture of Upper Peninsula residents.
Photo by Bri Luginbill
Kathryn Remlinger discusses her book, 'Yooper Talk,' in the Kirkhof Center during an event sponsored by the Kutsche Office of Local History
She had a more academic title in mind, but in the end, the publisher, University of Wisconsin Press, won, saying it fit with similar titles in a series.
Remlinger, a native of Ohio, explained how her research started shortly after she earned a doctorate in gender, language and sexuality from Michigan Tech. "My Ph.D. gave me a perspective of how to study language in regard to place, and not a lot of research had been done about the dialect," she said. "This was a way for me to give back to the community that had given me so much."
The uniqueness of the language does not solely exist within the U.P., Remlinger said. Influenced by immigrants from Finland, Sweden, Germany and other countries, elements of the language can be found throughout the Midwest and Canada.
Her research focused on how the dialect and culture played roles in shaping the regional identity of U.P. residents. Remlinger interviewed 75 lifelong residents in a longitudinal study to gauge if their perceptions of the Yooper identity have changed.
Debbie Morrow, Grand Valley liaison librarian, lived in the U.P. from 1984-1991 while working in the MTU library. She attended Remlinger's presentation and said her Tech colleagues quickly introduced her to terms like "pank" (pat until flat) and "bakery" (any type of baked item).
"When I started working at Grand Valley, I noticed parallels between the effects of the Finnish heritage in the western U.P. and the strong Dutch heritage in West Michigan," Morrow said. "Pride in family and cultural traditions, and connection to the locale were evident in colleagues and neighbors in both places."
For more information about Yooper Talk, visit uwpress.wisc.edu.