LINGUIST List 3.994

Wed 16 Dec 1992

Sum: Midwest

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  1. Michael Kac, The Midwest: Summary

Message 1: The Midwest: Summary

Date: 16 Dec 1992 11:12:47 -0600The Midwest: Summary
From: Michael Kac <>
Subject: The Midwest: Summary

Not surprisingly, I got a lot of responses, and equally unsurprisingly they
were all over the map (so to speak). Some of the most fascinating tidbits had
to do with questions not directly pertaining to where the boundaries of the
Midwest are and I'll pass those on too. Let me also issue apologies up front to
some people I can't identify by name because they either didn't sign their
letters or signed only with first names, and had e-mail addresses from which
I could not recover a full name. And this being an academic enterprise, I
can't quite bring myself to the level of "Bill, from South Dakota, writes ..."

One issue I was interested in was whether Ohio and Michigan are considered
to be part of the Midwest or not. Re the former, Lynn Burley writes "I was
born and raised in Canton, Ohio, which was always referred to as the
midwest by those of us who lived there--never the east. " Re the latter,
Lynda Milne reports as follows: "I grew up in suburban Detroit 1952-1966 ...
and always heard and thought of Detroit as an Eastern city. ... Then I lived in

Arizona and California for the next 24 years and always heard of Michigan as
being in the Midwest. Now that I'm back here, it seems that Michiganders
have gotten the word: this is the Midwest, and they are Michiganians. "

What now about the perspective of outsiders? Interestingly, my two
Minnesota correspondents came down on opposite sides of the question.
"Most Minnesotans believe that Ohio is definitely part of the
Midwest. 'Back East' starts somewhere around Philadelphia; it's
Pittsburgh that we Minnesotans can't quite figure out what to do with."
(Amy Anderson, originally of Minneapolis, now resident in San Jose, CA) But
compare "The midwest doesn't include Ohio and Indiana; they're just Ohio
and Indiana." (Christine Kamprath, originally of St. Cloud)

>From J. Michael Lake, who's lived in NW Ohio, Indiana and Illinois: "For me,
the eastern edge of the Midwest is somewhere around Columbus, Ohio.
Starting there, go north to Toledo, west to Chicago, and follow the Iowa-
Minnesota border, entering Wisconsin only as necessary. Starting from
Columbus again, go southwest to Cincinnati, and draw a line from there
through the point on the northwestern corner of Arkansas through
Oklahoma, stopping at the Oklahoma-Texas border. I've never really given
much thought to where the western border of the Midwest is, but Denver is
too far west. (Kentucky is a Southern state.)" Comment: placing Columbus at
the eastern edge of the Midwest could help explain why OSU has been an
ESCOL site.

But Ohio has added complexities. Thus David Bergdahl, now resident in
Athens, OH, "Gateway to West Virginia" (on his account): "Athens is non-
EAST. But is it Midwest? Students differ. Some see us as so close to W.Va.
that we're part of the border states... if not South. (The local population has
both Penn & Ky roots) Others agree that the Midwest is up past Lake
Wobegon. My hunch is that midwest means two things: farming land,
predominantly grain & corn, and a population not ethnic. Hence Pittsburgh
and Cleveland are not in the Midwest the way Columbus and Indianapolis
are. In fact, I don't think 'midwest city' computes for many Midwesterners."

The peripatetic Paul Saka, native of Michigan but now in Illinois, reports as
follows: "During the time I lived in CA I was inclined to refer to MI (my
home state) as 'back east'. This was true too during my years in AZ. "

A correspondent I can't identify by name (please accept my apologies) who
grew up in Waterloo, IA says: "For me, michigan, indiana, and ohio had a
'hazy' status: i wasn't sure how to classify them. midwest? east? something

Now, what about the western boundaries?

"My parents grew up in Nebraska, which they called the Midwest, and from
them I learned to think of the Midwest as Nebraska, the Dakotas, Kansas,
Iowa, Minnesota, and maybe a few other states around there." (Margaret
Luebs, native Californian, who adds the following interesting tidbit: "Then I
came out to Michigan to go to school and to my surprise found that out here
Michigan is considered the Midwest, along with Ohio, Indiana, Illinois,
Wisconsin, and I guess Minnesota and Iowa. What's Nebraska? A 'great
plains' state. Do you know Michigan's fight song? 'Hail hail to Michigan, the
champions of the west' -- it drives me crazy."

Hans Gilde: My feeling for the term would have it include the area in the
Central Time Zone. The western portion of the Midwest is known as the
Great Plains. In Nebraska people tend to think Colorado and Wyoming
definitely are in the West. There are quite a few people who think
western Nebraska is in the west since it is in the Mountain Time Zone.
Thus the West begins at North Platte, Nebraska, the last city in the
Central Time Zone. " Anne Lazaraton: "The western most state that could be
Midwest? Iowa, I guess ..." She also reports that the locals where she now
lives (central Pennsylvania) don't consider themselves to be in the east.

Jim Jenkins, a native of St. Louis includes Kansas in the midwest (and also

Stavros Macrakis: (native Bostonian) "Beyond the Mississippi is the West,
isn't it? (Or is it beyond the Connecticut?)"

Paul Saka again: "Idiolectal info: for me, the Midwest goes as far as WI and
IL and no further. MN is part of the Central states or the Plains." He adds:
"Yet these genuine differences [between the east and the Midwest] are --
let's face it! -- minor compared to the differences between ANY state
in the sunbelt and ANY state in the snowbelt."

Another correspondent I can't identify by name, from Boston, places both
North Dakota and Montana in the Midwest. But Vern Lindblad uses a
topographical criterion that would exclude Montana: the protoypical Midwest
is flat. That excludes places like Colorado and Montana and puts Missouri in a
very iffy category for him.

A number of people commented that the Midwest does not include the entire
midsection of the country -- it's the middle of the northern part.

>From here on it's pretty much potpourri.

Steven Schaufele wrote to remind me of Joel Garreau's book The Nine
Nations of North America. Garreau's thesis is that the U.S. really consists not
of fifty states naturally set off from one another but of nine mega-regions
(which he calls nations and which transcend current national boundaries)
bound by ties of culture, the nature of the local economy and so on. On his
analysis, Ohio and Michigan belong to the nation he calls The Foundry while
Minnesota is part of The Breadbasket. Chicago is more or less at the
boundary of the two but definitely belongs to the former. He considers it to
be a defining cultural characteristic of New Englanders that they're incapable
of giving directions.

Don Webb writes from San Diego: "Here in California, the West is *east* of us,
from the Sierra to the Rockies," an opnion seconded by Karen van Hoek,
writing from Michigan: "As a native Californian, I differentiate "the West"
(which includes Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, etc.) from "the West Coast", which
is only the three states on the Pacific Ocean." She adds: "If I were up in the
Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I might not call it 'the Midwest'."

Dennis Preston reports on work by cultural geographers, "especially some
very clever work by Wilbur Zelinsky (who looked at Yellow Pages company
names to find out local preferences)." He has also done some work himself
on the question from a linguistic perspective (see D. Preston, Perceptual
Dialectology, Foris, 1989.)

Patricia Donegan: "My mother's brother George didn't live in Baltimore (my
home town). As the family spoke of it, 'He didn't want to work in your
grandfather's bakery, so he ran away out West.' ... I was grown up before I
realized that he'd moved to Cleveland."

I even got the benefit of a Canadian perspective. They don't have a midwest
of their own, poor dears, so it seems that we Statesiders have had to create
one for them. Thus, Geoff Nathan, who hails from Toronto and considers it
definitely to be an eastern city (partly on the basis of the ready availability
of pastrami), reports getting into arguments with "Americans" (I HATE that
term) who want to include Toronto in the Midwest.

All of this reminded me of something I heard on the radio a couple of years
ago, an interview with a singer/songwriter whose name I never caught but
who told the following story as the lead-in to a song called "Where the Hell is
Boston?" She was watching a television quiz show in which the contestants
were asked to name a city important in colonial times. Everyone was
stumped. "Virginia?" said one contestant finally. Then, later, the first time
she ever played in Boston, she got lost somewhere west of the city and it
took her hours to get properly directed. I wish I could remember all the
words to the song, but I do remember one verse which begins:

 The great state of Chicago, that's where I want to go.
 It's capital is Illinois, as everybody knows ...

My thanks to everyone who contributed.

Michael Kac
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