I grew up in Kalamazoo, MI, where (according to Wikipedia and other sources), many speakers have something called the Northern Cities Vowel Shift (NCS). So I'm trying to figure out if I'm one of them.

I'm running into two difficulties with this:

  • The written descriptions of it all seem to be from the standpoint of, and written for, people who unambiguously don't have it; they'll say things like "they pronounce job like jab", meaning "NCS speakers' job is somewhere between non-NCS speakers' job and jab".
  • According to everything I've read, one interesting difference between NCS and most other regional accents is that people from regions with NCS speakers don't notice the difference; NCS and non-NCS both sound the same to them. (And that's true of me; when I tried watching a Youtube video of examples of NCS speech, I found that several of the examples sounded completely normal to me, but I certainly don't notice anything strange about non-NCS speech, either!)

So, how would I go about figuring this out?

  • Do you speak any other languages?
    – phoog
    May 11, 2016 at 5:22
  • A fellow Michigander here would also like to know. May 11, 2016 at 5:26
  • 1
    @phoog: Hebrew and French well, and a bit of Spanish. But I'm not sure if that'll help at all: English's vowel space is very different from any of theirs, so I think the difference between NCS and non-NCS Midwestern accents will be trivial by comparison. (Also, ideally I think an answer here should be useful to anyone else with the same question, whether or not they speak any other languages.)
    – ruakh
    May 11, 2016 at 5:28
  • 2
    I found the audio test which the first link talks about. Fun to hear and do! pbs.org/speak/ahead/change/vowelpower/vowel.html. If you don't make any "mistakes" in the transcription, you're probably a NCS speaker, I guess. I had to click on the hint link to "guess" the word, 4 out 5 correct. But without the hint, it would have been 0/5
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 11, 2016 at 7:34
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA: Oh, and -- thanks! Would you like to turn that into an answer?
    – ruakh
    May 13, 2016 at 4:33

2 Answers 2


I'm also born and raised in Kalamazoo, MI. From my understanding of NCVS, I don't think I have it (can't entirely decide), but I'm sure my parents don't.

Considering my friend group of people who are from the cities (excluding suburbs) of Chicago, Detroit, and New York (the Bronx), I find NCVS:

  • very noticeable from New Yorkers
  • not at all noticeable from Detroit people
  • somewhat noticeable from Chicagoans

Interesting, since Kalamazoo is the half-way point between Chicago/Detroit.


I agree with Nenookaasi. I grew up in the Detroit metro area and do notice a different pronunciation between people from Chicago and New York. I do not think people in the lower peninsula have the pronunciation you describe.

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