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updated: 7/30/2020 5:58 AM

Constable: Alexa and Siri don't speak Chicago so good

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  • The signature burger at Wahlburgers, newly opened in St. Charles with Donnie Wahlberg and wife Jenny McCarthy greeting customers, is the O.F.D., Originally from 'Dorchestah' -- a Boston pronunciation of the kind apparently preferred by smart devices like Alexa.

    The signature burger at Wahlburgers, newly opened in St. Charles with Donnie Wahlberg and wife Jenny McCarthy greeting customers, is the O.F.D., Originally from 'Dorchestah' -- a Boston pronunciation of the kind apparently preferred by smart devices like Alexa.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 

Does the woman in your life understand you?

"Alexa, where is the nearest yoga place?" you ask.

And your smart-home device gives you directions to an ice cream shop 14.9 miles away. Perhaps, Alexa thinks you will achieve a higher level of inner peace with sprinkles on a scoop of mint chocolate than you'd get from a downward dog pose. It's more likely she just didn't understand your accent and couldn't decipher whether you meant "yoga"or "yogurt."

Alexa, Siri and other artificial intelligence devices find Chicago accents among the hardest to understand, according to a survey by GearHungry.com, a digital magazine that tells guys what gadgets and gear they simply must have.

The Chicago accent is the fifth-hardest to understand, according to the opinions of 3,000 owners of smart-home devices.

Residents of Maine, where "Ayuh" means "Yes" and "Bar Harbor" is pronounced "Bah Hahbah," have the most misunderstood accent. Alaskans, Northwesterners and New Mexicans finish just ahead of Chicago, which beats out the accent from the Ozarks. The easiest accents to understand are something called "General American," St. Louis and Long Island.

I think the Chicago accent and the broader Midwestern accent (12th-most misunderstood) are very easy to understand. That's why I have a bone to pick with this survey. Boston finished way down the list in 32nd place.

How is that possible? The Bostonian accent was profiled in that Super Bowl commercial where Boston celebrities Chris Evans, Rachel Dratch, John Krasinski and David Ortiz raved about the "smaht pahk" feature on the new Hyundai Sonata. This entire city takes the R sound out of normal words, changing "car" to "cah," and sticks them onto words where they don't belong, such as changing "banana" into "bananer."

We tend not to be fans of the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox or Boston Celtics, but we're very welcoming to Bostonians. People started lining up hours before the new Wahlburgers restaurant opened Tuesday in St. Charles.

It's owned by the brothers Wahlberg, actors Mark and Donnie and chef Paul, who grew up in the tough Boston neighborhood of Dorchester. The chain's half-pound hamburger with Swiss cheese, bacon, sautéed mushrooms and housemade tomato jam is called the O.F.D., which stands for "Originally From Dorchestah."

Donnie lives in St. Charles (perhaps he calls it "St. Chahles") with his wife, Jenny McCarthy ("McCahthy") Wahlberg, a Chicagoan who turned her stint as Playboy's 1994 Playmate of the Year into a career as actress, model, television host, radio broadcaster, activist and author.

Clearly programmed on a coast, Alexa doesn't always understand the meaning of our words.

"How far am I from the nearest expressway?" I ask Alexa, wondering if she'll direct me to I-90 or I-290. Instead, I'm not sure where she is taking me with her answer of "4,346 miles."

I ask her, "Who's Ditka?" And Alexa replies, "An American musician."

I ask her, "What's deep dish?" and Alexa gives me the history of an American electronic music duo. I give Alexa partial credit for knowing that "Mr. Cub" is "Earnest" Banks.

But I have no right to criticize Bostonians for the way they talk. My Hoosier accent shows itself from time to time, such as when I call a "wash cloth" a "warsh rag."

And this probably says more about me than it does about smart devices, but I've never given my Alexa the opportunity to look for yogurt or yoga.