Sarah Palin & intermittent Gunderson syndrome

[Note 6/26/09: A check of my stats shows that yesterday someone visited this post. I couldn’t remember what it was about so visited it myself. Discovered that on porting this post from an older blog site, the code for the embedded YouTube videos had dissappeared. I’ve readded, & also included links to their original home pages on YouTube in case this happens again.]

“Gunderson” is a reference to the character Marge Gunderson played by Frances McDormand in the Coen Brothers’ film “Fargo” — famous for her midwest/Minnesota accent. Sarah Palin sometimes sounds more like her than at other times, which is why the creators of this video refer to her accent as “intermittent Gunderson syndrome.”

Sarah Palin & intermittent Gunderson syndrome blogger Andrew Sullivan asks readers to compare Palin’s “folksy” presentations during her VP debate with Joe Biden with her manner of speaking during a candidate debate during her 2006 run for Alaska governor. Palin’s first answer is about two minutes in. (Compare her accent also with her two opponents, Andrew Halcro, who was born in California & attended high school in Anchorage, & Tony Knowles, born in Oklahoma & came to Alaska in the late ’60s after his graduation from Yale.)

2006 Alaska gubernatorial debate
(Andrew Halcro, Sarah Palin, Tony Knowles)

Sullivan comments:

Just compare this recording of Palin in Alaska in 2006 to what you heard last night. Ask yourself where the folksiness is. See how many times she says “doggone” in 2006. Or “betcha”. Or “Joe Six-Pack”. Make up your own mind. In my judgment she is the biggest fraud we have seen in national politics in generations. She makes the Clintons look honest, and Nixon look as if he has nothing to hide.

As for myself, I can hear the “Gunderson” accent in there, but much more subtly than how she’s been speaking to the national public. It’s clear that nowadays she’s playing it up for the “folksy” vote. In that, I agree 100% with Andrew Sullivan. (About Palin, not necessarily about the Clintons.) And as an Alaskan myself (since 1982, but born & bred in Montana), I seldom if ever come across people who talk like that. I certainly wouldn’t call her accent — whether the authentic version or the exaggerated “folksy” version, an “Alaskan” accent.

How, then, did she come by the authentic parts of her accent? Slate has an accurate explanation:

Others have wondered whether her accent hails from Idaho, where her parents are from. But dialect features tend to come from one’s peers, not one’s parents, and Palin spent her childhood in Alaska’s Mat-Su Valley, which is where she got her distinctive manner of speaking. The next town over from Wasilla, Palmer, has a large settlement of Minnesotans—who were moved there by a government relief program in the 1930s—and features of the Minnesotan dialect are thus prominent in the Mat-Su Valley area. Hence the Fargo-like elements in Palin’s speech, in particular the sound of her “O” vowel. (Despite its name, Fargo took place mostly in Brainerd, Minn.) However, even in the area, many people speak a more general Alaskan English, the sort one would find in nearby Anchorage. Palin’s frequent dropping of the final G in -ing words and her pronunciation of terrorist with two syllables instead of three are characteristic of general Alaskan English (and Western English) rather than the specific Mat-Su Valley speech.

(I say terrorist as three syllables, myself.)

There’s a few other YouTubes out there remarking on Palin’s Gunderson accent. Here’s a selection. Give ’em a watch, they’re pretty funny! Especially if you’ve seen “Fargo.”

McCain/Gunderson ’08

Sarah Palin meets Fargo (Sarah Palin’s Fargo Interview)

Palin of Fargo – A VP Can Happen in the Middle of Nowhere

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