Strong accents have always fascinated Michael Ianozzi. 

In fact, the graduate student at Western University credited his grandparents, who live on a farm outside Sarnia, as the inspiration for his groundbreaking study that looks at how the people of southwestern Ontario speak. 

"[My grandparents] were born about 20 minutes outside Sarnia and they always had an interesting way of speaking to me," he told The Morning Edition host Craig Norris. 

"People who hear it say it sounds very relaxed," he says of the southwestern Ontario accent, noting most people who live outside the region don't even know it exists. 

"That seems to be something that's agreed upon by people," he said. "They sort of see it as Toronto and then it's America south of there." 

According to Iannozzi's research however, that's not the case. He's interviewed 30 people so far in order to document the distinct patterns of speech that are native to southwestern Ontario and the researcher has already noticed some particularities.  

Let's have a dart

"A term like 'dart' is regional to certain areas," he said. 'Dart' is used in some parts of southwestern Ontario instead of the word cigarette.

"One that's been interesting is 'acrosst' and that's one that's provoked a strong reaction," he said. "'I got mum sittin' acrosst from me.'"

Iannozzi has also noticed some of the regional speech patterns spread across generations and not necessarily in the way you might think. 

'It isn't an uneducated or silly way of speaking, or a wrong way, it's just a local way of speaking and it's something people should be proud of and happy about.' - Michael Iannozzi, a Western University linguist who is studying the southwestern Ontario accent

"The older speakers are picking up things from the younger speakers," he said. "I had an 84-year-old woman a while ago that used 'yeah, no' at the start of sentences, which is relatively new thing that younger people use a lot."

"So if someone says, 'I saw Mary the other day' and the other person says, 'Oh, is Mary the one from the store?'

"'Yeah, no. It's the other one.'"

How our accent took root

The origins of the southwestern Ontario accent are a mystery, but linguists like Iannozzi believe it may have its roots in the waves of Irish, Scottish, German and Dutch immigrants who came to the region from as far back as the American Revolution, right up to the Second World War.  

"You can look back at the settlement patterns and that tends to be something that can help," he said, which is part of the reason he's studying local speech patterns.

Iannozzi believes there's strong connection between our dialect and our identity and the way we speak reveals who we are.

"I believe that very much," he said, saying he hopes his research on local dialects accomplishes two things.

"One is to show people from outside this area that there is a dialect here and it isn't the same as everywhere else. It isn't just Toronto south. 

"The second part is to show people that it isn't wrong," he said. "It isn't an uneducated or silly way of speaking, or a wrong way, it's just a local way of speaking and it's something people should be proud of and happy about."

Examples of the southwestern Ontario accent: 

  • "Melk" instead of milk.
  • "Sairdee" instead of Saturday.
  • "Acrosst" instead of across.
  • "Zink" instead of sink.
  • Dropping the 'g' in words like takin' and goin'.

Examples of southwestern Ontario dialect:

  • "Dart" instead of cigarette in some areas.
  • "Anymore" used to describe the now, such as "Anymore strawberries are so good." 
  • "Learn" used as learn, know and teach such as "that will learn you," or "did he learn you that?" 
  • "Them" instead of those, "Look at them dogs over there."