BYU linguist delves into the history of ‘Utahisms’ | News, Sports, Jobs

Photo illustration by Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo

“Spanish Fark” is a common Spanish Fork nickname and pronunciation that may have Irish roots.

Just in time for Pioneer Day, a Brigham Young University linguistics professor released a book detailing the history of what Utahns consider some of the state‘s most bizarre phrases.

David Eddington, author of “Utahisms: Unique Expressions, Inventions, Place Names & More,” is an Utah native who wanted to delve into the intricacies of the state’s language and history.

“I started hearing people say, ‘well in Utah, they do this, or they say this, or they say that,'” Eddington said. “It made me think, ‘Is this unique or not?’ Or ‘is it true or not?’

Although the use of the term “sluffing school” instead of “skipping school” and “scones” to describe fried bread is rather unique to the hive state, this may be the boundaries of what distinguishes Utah, linguistically.

After surveying 1,700 Utahans about their vocabulary and speech patterns, Eddington found that, overall, Utah isn’t as unique as many of its residents think.

For example, the specific pronunciation, or lack thereof, of the letter “T” in the mountain is not unique to Utahns, but rather is the standard American pronunciation of the word. This is thanks to what linguists call a “glottis stop”, which is a sound produced by a closure in the throat. However, Utahns are prone to a unique quirk after the glottal stop.

“Pronouncing a T a glottal stop is not something unique to Utah,” Eddington said. “But if I release it through my mouth, it sounds like, ‘moun-un’…that’s what people call T drop.”

Eddington also discovered that some of the phrases that Utahns believe set the state apart actually link the state to other regions vital to its history.

Phrases used by older Utahns — such as “for cute” or “for cool” — are also common in states like Minnesota and Iowa. These three states are connected by their large Scandinavian immigrant populations.

Additionally, the pronunciation of some Utah town names also refers to the state’s early settlers. For example, Eddington believes that the hurricane’s pronunciation as “Hur-ah-kun” is due to the English heritage of many Utah pioneers. The increasingly rare pronunciation of Spanish Fork as Spanish “Fark” can be traced to the accents of early Irish settlers.

While some Utahans may be bothered by the state’s linguistic quirks, Eddington encourages Utahns to be proud of their dialects and the unique history that influences them.

“People feel there’s only one right way to say things, and as linguists we realize ‘well, that makes as much sense as saying there’s a outfit you’re wearing that’s okay,'” Eddington said. “That makes no sense at all.”

Eddington’s “Utahisms: Unique Expressions, Inventions, Place Names & More” will be published this month.


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