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The Notre Dame Accent

“Listen to a classroom full of first-semester freshman,” my Psych professor says, “And you will hear a jumble of different dialects. But when I have my second-semester freshmen in here, you hear it—the Notre Dame accent.”

What is this Notre Dame accent I speak of? Basically, it’s the idea that we all start to sound the same, say the same words, and use the same catchphrases by means of living in each other’s vicinity 24/7.

There are different ways we pick up this accent that I’ve seen. For one, we have some regions that are very largely represented: Chicago suburbs, Southern California, and Texas being among the most visible. As a student body, we tend to adopt aspects of each.

This is not to say that I’m immediately going to start calling sneakers “tennis shoes” because that’s how people from Indiana say it. But after countless times of getting quizzical responses to announcements that I was making “Muddy Buddies,” I finally adopted “Puppy Chow” as the name of the delicious peanut butter Chex® mix wonder.

In addition, though none of my section mates hail from anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon line, “Y’all” has certainly become a staple in our group text. It’s as if we found the utility in the word and adopted it as our own!

In another way, people’s strong regional accents will fade over time, whether it’s on purpose or subconsciously. For example, listen over time to a Chicago native with an A in his or her name use the Midwestern “a” – a vowel sound reminiscent of the word “yeah” or “cat” or “bag.” When he or she first moves in and gives a hundred Notre Dame introductions per day, you will hear the distinct Midwestern “a” (ex: Hi, I’m Alexaaandra from Chicaaago).* But with time the person will tone down the accent, realizing there are actually different ways of making the short “a” sound after all.

*Note: Dramatization added for self-deprecation humor. I figured I could do this since I am a native Midwesterner (Buffalonian to be specific) and totally culpable of this toning-down-the-accent phenomenon.

A major way, though, that the Notre Dame accent really manifests itself is through our many abbreviations of campus locations. If there were an unspoken book of DuLac, I am convinced it would include a policy of never using more than two syllables to refer to a location. Debart. Como. Welsh Fam. PE. P Dub (They can’t even say the full “W?!”).

Our campus, abundant with beautiful buildings dubbed official names by the philanthropic families who sponsored them—and look what we do to the names! Even “library,” only three syllables, is shortened to two-syllable nicknames like Club Hes and The Lib. Answer me this, though, the biggest confusion I’ve come across in my study of the Notre Dame accent: What did the classroom building funded by a family with four-syllable last name— Pasquerilla— do to deserve to be pronounced in its entirety? Pas-quer-ill-a Cen-ter. Six syllables. This is an outrage.

And finally, probably the most noticeable way to see that we all speak the Notre Dame accent is in the synchronizing of our filler words. “Um” is a longer word here at ND, probably better characterized by “Uuuuuuuuum” the way we tend to use it. This goes especially for the leaders of meetings: RAs, rectors, club presidents. The “um” serves as a long filler, a chance to gather thoughts: an “um, let me think.”

It’s even used to segway the conversation when no better, more essay-worthy transition word comes to mind: “Uuum so the next thing I wanted to talk about…”Similarly, we are first-class abusers of the words “like” and “literally” and ardent advocates of using “so yeah” to end a sentence or “okay, so” to start one. This could be some SoCal flavor entering the ND culture. Or maybe it’s just the tricks of the trade when signaling the beginning or end of a long rant (ex: “Okay, so, I was on my way to…*25 minutes later*…so yeah.”) or trying to overdramatize a mundane situation (ex: “It took me literally 15 minutes to get a coffee this morning.”), in Notre Dame language. Either way, for a bunch of literate, well-read college students, we sure learn filler words faster than we’ve ever learned any other vocab lists back in high school!

Maybe “accent” is the wrong word; dialect may be more fitting. Just as a person studying abroad in Spain does not sound like a native after four months, so do we not sound like Hoosiers after our first semester at a college in Indiana. I think there is something to be said in this phenomenon–that we are all pretty adaptable people! Insider secret, first years: from the moment you got here, you’ve been signed up for a course in ND-ese 101. So enjoy the ride!

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Images: 1 (provided by author), 2, 3 (provided by author)


An avid writer since I learned to form complete sentences, I write off the cuff to entertain, to humor, and to inspire. As a freshman on the Notre Dame campus, I'm here to offer a fresh (no pun intended) perspective on college life and provide prevalent information on how to get into the collegiate scene.
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