Post # 16

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Quote of the Day: "Ann Arbor was at the extreme west end of the habitable world, beyond which the sun went down into a boundless, bottomless morass, where the frightful sound of yelling indians, howling wolves, croaking frogs, rattling massaugers, and buzzing mosquitoes added to the awful horror of the dismal place." Henry Little, an early pioneer recalling the settling of Michigan in the 1830s. 


Yooper Talk: Dialect as Identity in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
by Kathryn A. Remlinger

Remlinger's book is undeniably a significant contribution to the study of a unique aspect of Michigan history and culture. It is also very interesting and equally frustrating.

First, the good news.  The book is the first comprehensive study of what has become known as the UP's Yooper dialect and how the dialect has become inseparable from identity and place. Anyone interested in the Yooper phenomenon will find plenty to mentally chew on here, as well as some fascinating insights into how dialects develop, language works, and different languages intermingle in remote areas giving birth to a new dialect that becomes a defining aspect of the culture and the region. 

The author gives a short history of the UP and the wide variety of ethnic groups that settled there in the 1800s. The mixing of the languages and the inclusion of both slang and proper foreign words from Canada, Cornwall, Finland, Native America, and Slovenia into English formed a regional dialect. Surprisingly, the new distinct dialect went unrecognized as such until after World War II, when tourism to the Upper Peninsula increased and downstaters came into contact with it.

It wasn't until 1978 that the word Yoop found its way into the Detroit Free Press and became the first known printing of the word. Magazine articles, tourist guides, and professional linguistic journals were soon writing about Yoopanese and Yooper country. By 1980 Yooperism had become a tourist marketing tool. The UP was sold as scenic, wild, and identified as Yooper country.  Coffee mugs, t-shirts, buttons, refrigerator magnets, and hats featuring Yooper words became souvenirs and marketing tools. The "Say yah to da UP, eh!" bumper sticker was first sold in 1985 and has since become ubiquitous. A popular Yooper magnet reads, " It's Not Pay-Stree.., It's Not Pay-stees, It's Pass-tees!!!, Yooper Food of Da Gods!' Even billboards and homemade signs spouting Yooper dialect now dot the landscape north of the Big Mac.  

The author also addresses the pride people take in the dialect, which includes the belief that the more Yoopanese a person uses the more authentic a Yooper it makes them. Many believe the Yooper dialect possess positive cultural values. But there are more than a few who are embarrassed by use of the dialect in their conversation. The author also reveals how the dialect differs depending on whether the speaker is from the Soo, Marquette, or Escanaba. The book is a fascinating glimpse into a unique piece of Michigan culture and the language that helps make it so unique.

That said the reader almost has to take a weed-wacker to the book's often overgrown and convoluted sentences and professional jargon. The book is rife with words this fairly well-read reviewer has never previously encountered such as, "commodification, indexicality, and metadiscursive." Then there is the following sentence, and others like it, that are strewn throughout the book. "Another example of shifting indexical values is presented in the syntax, or grammatical structures, specifically illative phrases, which are prepositional phrases that show movement to or toward a place and yet do not contain prepositions, and noun phrases that lack determiners." I accept on blind faith that the aforementioned quote succeeds, at some level, in explaining the Yooper sentence or phrase, "Let's go post office." 

For those who are fascinated by language or Yooper culture and dialect, there is gold to be mined in this book. But be forewarned, at times, the book makes for hard digging. I would have also very much appreciated an appendix of Yooper words.

Yooper Talk: Dialect as Identity in Michigan's Upper Peninsula by Kathryn A.Remlinger. University of Wisconsin Press, 2017, $24.95. 

The Buried Book
by D. M. Pulley

This refreshingly original novel is part mystery, part novel of suspense, and an entirely satisfying novel of family and farm life as seen through the eyes of a bewildered and frightened nine-year-old boy. Jasper Leary lives in Detroit in 1952. His mom, Althea, is unpredictable. She has tasted the seamy side of life, and on several occasions in the past, has inexplicably disappeared for days at a time. Jasper's dad is a WW I veteran, considerably older than Althea, and early in the book one gets the feeling Jasper’s father may have been throwing Althea a life ring, instead of a diamond ring when he proposed to her.

As the book opens Jasper is awakened by his mother in the middle of the night and told to pack a suitcase because they have to get out of town fast. Jasper’s mom takes him to his uncle’s hardscrabble farm north of Port Huron where she drops him off. She tells Jasper she’ll be back in a few days, but the days stretch to weeks, then months, and a year.

Uncle Leo’s farm is hardly more than a three-room shack with no running water and an outhouse a few steps away. It turns out the family home was set afire by Jasper’s mom years ago and although partially standing is uninhabitable.  As the days stretch into months Jasper overhears odd bits of conversation with locals about his wayward mother, the police come looking for her, and the mystery deepens as to where she is and why she has disappeared.  Jasper begins to worry about her safety and wonders if she’s even still alive. Exploring the burned hulk of the family house Jasper discovers a diary his mother kept as a child and reads it for clues.

Jasper’s determination to discover where his mother is and why leads the young boy into situations and places no child should ever find themselves. Jasper faces increasing danger as he continues to poke his nose into his mother’s childhood and the unsavory life she seems to have led. The boy is knocked unconscious when exploring the ruins of the old family home and doesn’t or can’t remember whether it was the result of a fall or someone attacked him. As the story unfolds Pulley slowly and expertly amps up the suspense to the nail-biting conclusion.

What makes this book something special is the authentic and seldom depicted life on a poor family farm in the early 1950s. Uncle Leo, his wife, and their son Wayne work sunup ‘til sundown scratching a living out of 40 acres. The insecure, timid, and frightened Jasper is expected to do his part around the farm. He had no idea the work could be so hard, endless, and at times dangerous. He and his cousin walk a couple of miles each way to attend a one-room school and then return home after school to do the evening chores. Between natural and man-made disasters the young boy is badly burned, suffers a life-threatening infection, and other grievous injuries. Yet the farm work goes on as Jasper finds some comfort in the rhythms of farm life to offset the growing concern and danger associated with his mother’s disappearance.

The author did considerable research into rural life in Michigan in the 1950s and it shows on nearly every page. The life on a Michigan farm in post-WW II Michigan is seldom depicted in novels. The author has done a remarkable job of melding life on a Michigan farm with a novel of suspense in which a young woman slips into a life on the wrong side of the law and how her attempt at redemption affects her entire family. This is a novel that deserved inclusion in the Michigan Notable Books list for 2017.
The Buried Book by D. M. Pulley. Lake Union Publishing, 2016, $14.95

Wildlife 911: On Patrol
by John Borkovich

To hear John Borkovich tell it, and reading this book is like listening to the author tell stories over a cup of coffee, being a Michigan Conservation Officer is a great job. And to prove it, the author invites the reader on a virtual ride-along as he recounts some of the more dangerous, strange, perplexing, humorous, and challenging enforcement cases he’s dealt with in his 27-year career.

Like all law enforcement work, it can be dangerous but it’s almost a given that when Conservation Officers approach an illegal hunter or poacher the officer is confronting an armed lawbreaker and in some cases a drunken, armed lawbreaker. Not infrequently the officer is walking alone into a group of armed men, and these confrontations occur out in the country without backup or any witnesses.  Borkovich has the ability to figuratively disarm these potentially dangerous situations by being polite, gregarious, fair-minded, and in many cases making the perpetrators feel so guilty they confess.

The book left this reader with the troubling impression that a large number of hunters simply flaunt hunting laws and regulations. Borkovich recounts numerous cases of hunters who hunt out of season, shine deer from moving vehicles at night, hunt without a license, shoot more than the legal limit. In one case that took Borkovich months to solve, a small group of thrill killers shot dozens of deer and then left them rotting in the field.

Over the years Borkovich has had more than his share of wild car chases, the tackling and takedown of armed poachers fleeing through the woods on foot, and excuses that range from the ridiculous to the laughable. One hunter said he thought the deer he just shot was a squirrel, another deer hunter said he couldn’t afford a deer license as he stood in front of a mountain of carrots he had purchased to lure deer into his killing field and his $40,000 truck was parked a few feet away. One man caught killing dozens of robins said he did it because they made good eating. And a pair of walleye fishermen on Lake St. Clair was shocked when Borovich discovered an out of season, five-foot sturgeon tucked under their boat’s seats. They claimed the sturgeon must have, “hid itself in the boat.”

Among the author’s most unusual cases are the poachers who trapped salmon on a stream by stretching a tennis net across the creek. The group that illegally killed wildlife to serve as symbols in a weird religious ceremony, the man who used potato chips to lure geese to their doom, and months spent by Borkovich looking for the culprit who stole newspaper vending machines, pried open the change box, and dumped the empty vending machines in rivers and streams. By the time the author caught the man and charged him with littering he had thrown 54 newspaper boxes into St. Clair County waterways.

The author is very proud of his work in protecting wildlife and serving the public. It shows on every page of this fascinating book. You don’t have to be a hunter or fisherman to read and enjoy this eye-opening glimpse into the extraordinary workday of a Michigan Conservation Officer. If the book is ordered from the following website the author will sign and add a personal note -

Wildlife 911: On Patrol by John Borkovich, Arbutus Press, 2017.  $19.95

As before, you can order any of the above books, if you so choose, by simply clicking on the cover which will take you to Amazon.

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