How is the "Ch" in "Chicago" pronounced?

Over here in, the “marry, Mary, merry” vowel regional pronunciations is being hacked around again, with specific reference to local favorite Berry Obama. This is a spin-off, which I’m wondering is just me or is for real:

I’ve sensed the opening of the word “Chicago” not as a pure “sh” as westerners know how that as pure. I’ve heard – and this is a difficult thing to describe – a touch of “ch” as in “chatter.” The tiniest suggestion.

In my experience/aural and written, the letters “Xi,” freestanding, stand for a sound in Chinese that is in between “s” and “sh.” What I’m getting at is that kind of mixture, but with different sounds.

It is possible I only heard this from one person, which imprinted me: my Mother, who would have given Dr. Ruth a run for her money as to German accent.

It’s also worth a note how vowels have the vast majority of regional variation, but so do consonants. Why is that?

I’ve bugged Chicagoans about it, if that was their thing, but they’ve said no.

Sh all the way. Some Puerto Ricans and other Spanish speakers will a bit of harder tch sound but that’s about it.

Now the pronunciation of the i sound is harder to pin down. Some say it correctly as shih cah go, while the mentally differently abled say she caw go.

Lifelong Chicagoan

Not a Chicagoan, but I’ve always heard it pronounced like the first two letters in “shoe.”

Is that the President’s favorite gum?

Let’s hear the natives speak.

Here’s the legendary Mayor Richard J. Daley, with as pure a Chicago accent as ever existed.

His son,Mayor Richard M. Daley, with a Chicago accent that went to college.
Mayor Jane Byrne

Legendary coloumnist Mike Royko.

Finally, author Studs Terkel, who was nice enough to say “Chicago” right at the beginning of the clip.

Note that all of them pronounce the ch as “sh.” (Okay, one of Richard J’s uses may have had a slight “tch” sound, but just one time.)

The distinctive thing about a Chicago accent is how to pronounce the “a” sound.

Thanks to all, particularly kinilou for researching and posting the cites.

I’ve lived in Chicago all my life, and I’ve never heard a native say it differently than shi cah go.

You’ve got to remember that the name Chicago comes from the word for the region used by the original Indian residents. They did not have a written language. When the first Europeans came to the region, they had to make up a spelling based on the local pronunciation. Keep in mind that these were French speakers. So when they wrote a CH, they were documenting the same sound used in words like chalet, chapeau, and champagne. In other words, a modern SH sound.

That cah can be the difference, though, as kunilou mentioned. Of course my reference is the “Da Bears” sketch from SNL.

Amen. And by the way, you’re an hour south of Wis-con’-sin. Though some natives pronounce it “Wis-gon’-sin”… that’s harmless.

But it’s not WESS’-con-sen! Not sure where that comes from. Maybe those people say “Ill-i-NOISE” too…

Having mentioned the “marry, Mary, merry” issue I’m wondering if your spelling of the President’s name is connected to this thread

In other words, “Barry, Berry, Bury”??? :slight_smile:

Yeah, the first syllable is always “shih,” unless it’s spoken by a recent immigrant, in which case it can be “chih” or even “chee.” My parents have lived here since the late 60s/early 70s, but still have very strong Polish accents, and they’ll say “chee-CAH-go.” But people born and raised here say “shih.” I don’t know anything about this “in between” sound. It’s a plain “sh” as known around the US. Now, the second syllable often is something approaching an “aw” sound. I grew up with kind of a nasally “ah” sound for that syllable, but “aw” is especially prominent, too, and probably more associated with the stereotypical Chicago accent (although Superfans goes the “ah” route.)


ETA: but when used as one thought as a sequence was not in my mind, however one might concoct something unpleasant with “bury.”

Eta: that thread I cite in OP. What I don’t cite is the poster in that thread who made that apropos word joke which I stole.

That second syllable is a lot easier to parody than it is to describe. To me, it’s somewhere between “aww” and “aaah” (but somehow going right past “ah.”)

I wonder, though if there might be some sort of North Side, South Side split? My father grew up on the far South Side with Slavs, Slovakians, Bohemians, etc. and typically had that “nasally ah” sound. In the clips I linked to, Daley and Byrne had more of an “aww.” Although Daley grew up on the South Side and Byrne grew up on the North Side, both were Irish. Royko grew up on the North Side and Terkel Near North, and they, too, are more “aww” than “aaah.”

Yeah, I was going to say, there definitely is some sort of split; I’m not entirely sure whether it’s North-South Side or ethnic, but, like your father, I grew up around the Polish and Bohemians and other Eastern Europeans, where the “ah” sound exists in their native language, while the “aw” sound does not (to my knowledge. Hungarian does have a vowel that’s pretty similar, but Hungarians are few and far between in Chicago compared with Slavs.) I’m assuming that’s where the nasally “ah” influence comes from. My more Hibero-Anglo-ancestry friends tends to say it with at “aw” or “aw-like” sound, whereas my Eastern European brethren tend to go the “ah” route. My own accent over time has slightly shifted now that I will use the “ah” and “aw” pronunciations interchangeably, but I definitely grew up saying it with “ah.”

Some Irish people mispronounce it as shicargo (with an r).

My best guess at the reason is that many Irish accents don’t have the /ɑː/ sound unless it is followed by an r. For example, father is pronounced /fæ:ðər/; can’t is pronounced /kæ:nt/. So when Irish people hear the sound “ca” pronounced as /kɑː/ they assume it is a non-rhotic speaker saying “car”, and when they repeat the word they put the “missing” r sound back in. A similar sequence leads them to pronounce Las Vegas as if it were Los Vegas.

This Chicago lifer says it with an indisputable SH and more aw than ah.

I also say Devawn Avenue.

I agree, but it’s not entirely the same as a SH sound. The tongue slightly rolls a little bit, whereas with a true SH sound the tongue is more relaxed and rests all the way up against the roof of the mouth. The Americanized version of the pronunciation is more towards a SH sound, but it is still not entirely a SH sound. If you do not know how to pronounce French words, the best way I can describe it is somewhere between a soft C and a CH sound.

Huh. For me, the Americanized/English pronunciations are exactly an English “sh” sound. My tongue is in the same position for both “champagne” and “ship.”

Interesting kick around of “ch” words in English and French etymology:

But not spot-on for our question, of the subtle phonetics within that “sh” sound.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard the /t/ (which is what separates CH from SH in English), but I have noticed that it can be shorter than most SH sounds, and perhaps with a bit more pressure. But I think that comes from trying not to devoice the short I next to it. Otherwise, you can come up with soemthing that sounds like Sh’KAWgo.

The same thing happens when I say shiitake, albeit to a lesser extent.