Who Speaks the Chicago Dialect?
Or rather, who doesn't? The answer, of course, is African Americans in the Chicago region, who have their own (and infinitely more interesting) dialect. Though this may be obvious, I point this out because African Americans are the largest population group in Chicago, and it would be irresponsible to overlook the fact that the Chicago dialect is not used by the largest sector of the city's population.
The most salient feature of the Chicago dialect is that it is undergoing the Northern Cities Vowel Shift. This is most noticeable in words with the /ae/ vowel, which gets "raised" so that it's close to /e/. Thus, 'bad' sounds a bit like 'bed,' or, to my ears, 'beead.' Another notable aspect of this vowel shift is that /o/ is "fronted" so that it is closer to /ah/. So hot sounds a lttle like 'hat.' As an ongoing change, it is more prevalent and more pronounced among young people, middle-class people, and females, but it is quite widespread. nearly all white Chicagoans exhibit this vowel shift, at least to some extent. A more local vowel development is a monophthongization of /ow/ to /oh/, so that 'south' becomes 'soth' and 'down' becomes 'don.' This is more conservative and less widespread.
The stereotype about Chicagoans is that they say "dis" instead of "this," but that's not entirely accurate. The real pronunciation is somewhere in between. To approximate it, first pronounce /th/ the standard way, with the tip of your tongue between your teeth. Then, keeping your teeth apart, move the tip of your tongue to the back of your teeth. That's the typical Chicago /th/. Contrast it with /d/, which is made with the teeth closed, and the tongue against the roof of the mouth. This is a conservative trait, and is more common among older people, working class people, and males. The unvoiced equivalent, that is, the /th/ of in the word 'thick' is even more conservative.
Chicago vocabulary is fairly unremarkable. As a cosmopolitan place, the vocabulary is more generalized than in rural areas, so that Chicagoans are at least familiar with words that were formerly used by dialectologists as markers of Southern dialect or "Midland" - that is, the dialect in between Northern and Southern. Nevertheless, there are a few localisms which are worth mentioning:
What other people call rubbernecking, Chicagoans call "gaping" - thus an accident on the side of the road can cause a "gapers' delay" or "gapers' block."
Also, Chicagoans are more likely to use the term "gym shoes." I remember thinking of this as a "fancy" word as a kid.
In Chicago, like in other American cities that had lots of German-speaking immigrants, "with" can be used more frequently as a verbal complement. Thus, while most Americans might say "come with," Chicagoans can also say "take with" and "have with." Consider the following bit of dialogue from Chicagoan David Mamet's play "American Buffalo," reconstructed from my fallible memory:
Donny: (Talking about a gun) I don't want it with.In the 1996 film version, Donny's line sounds fine when delivered by Chicagoan Dennis Franz, but Angeleno Dustin Hoffman has trouble making Teach's line sound natural; he's clearly uncomfortable saying it.
Teach: Well, I want it with.
My only qualification for writing this is that I am from Chicago; I am no expert on the subject, but some of my readers are. Check the comments for edifying additions and corrections which are sure to come.
Hear Chicagoans Online
Here are two good samples. This one is relatively mild, but it is a recording of fairly natural speech. This one is an informant reading a text, which means it isn't totally natural speech, but the informant has a beautifully extreme form of the dialect. I don't think he's exaggerating.