Ask an American what accents/dialects they think are the most distinct, and you probably will get answers that include Boston and New York first, followed by either Minnesota or Texas. If you ask the hearer to tell you what a Minnesota accent sounds like, odds are that they will either try to do a line from the movie Fargo or they will elongate the /o/ sound and say “Minnesoooooooota”. If you ask somebody who has actually been there, they might give you a “oh ya, you know” or a “yah sure, you betcha”, two phrases which are stereotypically Minnesotan, or at least representative of North Central American English.
My girlfriend is from a small town in rural Minnesota about eighty miles north of the Twin Cities so she is a perfect person to study not only because she is native to Minnesota, but also the fact that we live together makes observation and data collection rather simple. We have been together three years and have lived in the same house for the vast majority of that time, during which I have noticed how her speech patterns vary – not just from mine, but how the strength of her accent can vary from time to time. Her accent becomes more pronounced when she has a few (or more) alcoholic beverages and also after she has spoken with a fellow Minnesotan for any extended period of time, either on the phone or in person. I believe this to be a common occurrence for anyone who moves away from where they learned how to speak, that when they are re-assimilated, their accent comes back temporarily as stronger. Aside from accent, there are many other differences in the way(s) we speak. I also lived in the Midwest, but I learned English overseas, so I believe my accent to be a blend of all sorts of things, although people can often tell I lived in the Midwest.
The most readily noticeable differences are often found in the colloquialisms employed by Minnesotans, many of which identify the speaker as such. Some of the most common examples include “uff-da”, which is a Norwegian expression that can be used to mean anything from expressing sorrow, excitement, dismay, exhaustion and any number of feelings. It is a true catch-all expression, the meaning of which is expressed by the speaker’s tone. Another common one is “you betcha” or the longer, friendlier “oh yah, you betcha”, which is used in affirmation. Instead of saying that something which cost a lot of money was expensive, it very common for “spendy” to be the adjective used to describe cost. One of the more ubiquitous Minnesotan phrases has to be “hot dish”, a term used to describe any type of casserole.
The above examples are common ones, all of which I had heard before living with my Minnesotan girlfriend, and I have heard her use every single one of those multiple times. In our conversations, I have noticed a couple of phrases that she uses which are the only variants I have heard on what I consider to be fairly common phrases. One is the way she says “kitty-wonka” in an instance where everybody I know would use “caddywampus”, to describe a situation in which affairs are out of order. Some internet research led me to a definition of caddywampus as meaning the same as kitty-corner, and I also found it spelled “kittywampus” and defined as “utter chaos, as if a kitten had run through the room”. Another phrase that really jumped out at me was her term for the (usually teenage male) practice of skidding one’s car around in an empty parking lot, leaving skid marks in the snow. I have always heard it referred to as “doing donuts”, but Laura calls it “whipping shitties”. The first time she said it, I was more than a little bit confused, to say the least. Internet research shows that it is a term used in the Upper Midwest, but it was a new one to me!
Aside from the differences in colloquialisms, there are many phonetic differences between North Central American English (the regional dialect that includes Minnesota) and American English. One of the more common words by which a Minnesotan can be identified is the word “boat”, which to speakers of American English contains the /oʊ/ sound commonly found in “go home”. In Minnesota, the vowel sound becomes more of a close-mid back rounded vowel /o/, which is not a common sound in English; this is likely some residual effect of Canadian raising that has (geographically) worked its way down to Minnesota.
Another linguistic feature is that of the Northern Cities Shift; the caught/cot merger is present, as is the dipthongization of the /æ/ vowel sound when it occurs before a consonant, resulting in what almost sounds like a Southern drawl, but just for that one word. For some speakers, the /æ/ sound merges with /eɪ/ when the vowel is followed directly by the consonant /g/, such that words like “bag” and “flag” rhyme with “vague” and have the same vowel sound as in the word “race”.
Speakers from Minnesota are often readily identifiable by their accent, which they of course don’t think they have. That is probably the case pretty much everywhere, though – if everybody in your immediate surroundings speaks the same way as you do, you don’t think of it as an accent. An accent is what everybody else has – that seems to me to be the belief in most regions of the United States.