Grammar Moses: Is there an Illinois dialect, and is it worth protecting?

Updated 2/11/2023 5:02 PM

Do you speak Illinoisan?

More to the point, do you speak Chicagoan?


Heck, I could just as easily ask whether you speak North Sidese or South Sidese.

Perhaps it's the 59 years I've spent listening to and speaking to Illinoisans, but during a brief conversation I can safely guess whether you spent much of your life north or south of the Loop. I can even tell most Minnesotans from North Dakotans, which is a rare skill.

So I am of a mind that there is no such thing as an Illinois dialect. It's too broad. I know people from northern, central and southern Illinois, and we barely sound like we're from the same country.

I grew up in Arlington Heights, but this column's editor, Michelle Holdway, hails from downstate Herrin. And she has kept her southern twang for decades since moving to the Chicago area.

What I've been doing so far in this column is filling a bucket with cold water to dump on a study done by an outfit called Writing Tips Institute, which polled 3,000 Americans on whether they would support a law protecting the states' individual dialects.

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Its conclusion: In Illinois, 54% of respondents said they would favor such a law.

I imagine that if those 54% of Illinoisans participating in the survey had given more than a passing thought to their answer or weren't afraid of appearing unenthusiastic about their state, they might have said, "Who came up with such a preposterous question, and how would such a law be enforced?"

I learned about this from one of the 36 zillion PR releases I receive each year. It's a way to get people to click on I figure because I'm teasing them about it, I owe them a hyperlink.

I'll let WTI founder and CEO Shaun Connell explain the idea behind the study:

"Preserving local dialects is important not just for linguistic diversity, but for cultural preservation as well. Each state's dialect is a reflection of its history, community and identity. By valuing and protecting these linguistic variations, we are also valuing and protecting the diversity of perspectives and experiences that make our country so unique."

I buy the first part of Shaun's argument, but then he loses me.

When people move about the country, they spread their culture and linguistic variations with them like so many McDonald'ses and T.J. Maxxes. Some people try to shed their old way of saying things to fit in. Some, like Michelle, will never lose that twang.


Freedom of dialect is kind of like freedom of religion. You don't TELL someone how to talk.

Were we to create a bunch of laws to protect dialects, we'd miss out on the opportunity to share who we are with people different from us. We'd become insular. Or more insular.

We certainly don't need any more of that.

I can certainly understand why Navajos would want to preserve their language. I can understand why 82% of Hawaiians (the highest percentage in the study) said they would opt for a law to preserve their dialect. They had their own language before Captain Cook happened upon Kauai, for Pete's sake.

But 54% is a pretty meh response for Illinois. I would not expect any of our legislators to try to introduce a bill to preserve Illinois' dialect unless they were looking for the kind of fan base noted congressman, peanut butter inventor and astronaut George Santos is enjoying.

Imagine if a bill were introduced. There would be endless arguing about just what an Illinois dialect is.

People from Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin -- yes, Wisconsin -- all were split down the middle on the question.

With the vast majority of my kin growing up and living in Wisconsin, I can tell you this is a dialect that deserves to be preserved. Ya, hey!

Either Arkansans are the savviest people in this survey, or they couldn't give a rat's patootey about their dialect. Just 33% of those surveyed favored a law protecting it.

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/executive editor of the Daily Herald. You can buy Jim's book, "Grammar Moses: A humorous guide to grammar and usage," at Write him at and put "Grammar Moses" in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at

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