Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

How to sound like a local

If you are new to Spokane – welcome.

Two things you should know.

1. We do not require that you sound like a local right away.

2. But with just a little help, you can. If you want to.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, you choose to pursue the latter. Where do you begin?

We’ll take for granted that you know how to pronounce “Spokane” and “Gonzaga.” And that you are familiar with our exhaustively chronicled “Going to the lake” code. Which is to say, never actually referring to a lake by name.

So perhaps the best place to start is with the Spokane accent. Does it even exist?

This has been debated for decades. Some say Inland Northwest residents sound like Canadians. Others insist one hears linguistic echoes of the Midwest here.

But the prevailing view seems to be, a few pronunciation quirks aside, Spokane residents do not speak with an accent. At least not in the same sense as, say, many in Boston or the South.

A local woman once described our speech patterns as being as close to neutral as anywhere in America.

Even if you think you detect evidence of the Spokane accent’s existence – say, pronouncing “fur” and “for” identically – the usage examples are far from universal.

Years ago, a Spokane executive attending IBM management training sessions in New York was pressed into service as a translator when two other attendees, one from Brooklyn and one from Atlanta, found it difficult to understand one another.

Oh sure, you can still hear debates about the authenticity and heritage of saying Washington as if it is spelled “WaRshington.” Same goes for referring to the neighboring city across the Idaho state line as “Cur d’Alene” instead of “Core d’Alene.”

But that probably doesn’t qualify as an accent.

Of course, there is more to sounding like a local than that. There’s vocabulary.

Take, for instance, Spokane residents’ celebrated reputation for thrift. This can be expressed by simply referring to almost any prospective purchase as “spendy.”

Let’s use it in a sentence: “The broken crockery and headless dolls at that yard sale seemed pretty spendy.”

Language also describes the Spokane perspective on geography. That’s why you will sound right at home here if you refer to Wisconsin or Nebraska as “back East,” even if this practice baffles those originally from New England or the Atlantic Seaboard.

If you are from certain parts of the country, you might not be familiar with “feed” as a description of fundraising meals sponsored by civic organizations or fraternal orders. You know, as in “Sausage feed” or “Hamburger feed.”

But there’s no doubt place names are the undoing of many newcomers.

The Northwest abounds with colorful tongue twisters. It’s easy to get tripped up. Here is my Top 5.

Pend Oreille: Pond-o-ray, not any one of the 14 other ways you were thinking of saying it. Or just go with “The lake.”

Cheney: Chee-ny, not Chay-ny.

Moscow: Mos-co. Ends with the same sound as the last syllable of Idaho. Remember, “No cow in Moscow.”

Boise: A reader shared this more than 20 years ago. “Real Idahoans pronounce the name of our state capital ‘Boy-see,’ whereas every out-of-stater I have ever met uses the pronunciation ‘Boy-zee.’”

Colville: As if it were Callville, the town in “No Time for Sergeants.”

There you go. That’s a start at least. Have fun getting to know the Lilac City.

(Some say “Li-lack,” some say “Li-lock.”)