A Linguistic Insight: Oklahoma Dialect Features

By Makenzie Relford

Jon Bakos, Lecturer in Linguistics/TESL, gave a presentation on October 15 entitled “A Look at Three Oklahoma Dialect Features” that featured work based on his dissertation research. Bakos studied at Oklahoma State University where he completed his PhD in 2013. His primary areas of interest include dialect acquisition and usage-based language theory. In addition to teaching courses at UWEC, Bakos also studies how players of games, such as World of Warcraft, procure the language of the online world.

During his time in Oklahoma, he discovered that, linguistically, the state had not been well-studied. Consequently, he wanted more information about the people and their linguistic identities. Bakos quickly realized that the dialect region into which Oklahoma fits is not easy to define as it has characteristics of Southern, Midwestern, and Western dialect regions. An aspect that he looked at was whether or not Southern tendencies existed in speakers’ speech patterns; many of the original settlers had been Southern, but that did not guarantee that there would be Southern speech characteristics in Oklahoma. He chose to study this area because of the influx and outflux of the dialect in addition to his interest in the identity that the youth want to have – are they choosing to embrace or abandon their “Southern-ness?”

In preparation for his presentation at the New Ways of Analyzing Variation Conference in Chicago on the weekend of October 24, Bakos shared his findings to an overflowing room in Centennial Hall. His focus was on Back Vowel Fronting, the Cot/Caught Merger, and the Southern Shift. He gathered a lot of useful information from his research, but also recognized that research is used to give insights about the general changes and patterns of an area, not to explicitly state what the region or the people arelike. One thing he explained was that stylistic context and formality will be important to future research.

Bakos’ presentation was informative and engaging. The linguistic features that he focused on were ones that most were familiar with, yet his commitment to the data was extensive and complete. The energy that Bakos brought into his presentation was obvious and contagious; even the attendants who were not linguistics majors were visibly interested and focused on the content of his work.

Overall, the first linguistics presentation of the fall semester was a huge success. Students and faculty brought in extra chairs to fill the back of the room and the conversations were bright before and after the presentation. The discussion was then brought to Water Street Deli where some of the listeners met with Bakos for dinner. A good time was had by those who attended, and the audience was able to see and experience the enthusiasm that Lecturer Jon Bakos has for linguistics.

Linguistics Colloquium-10-15-2014