Collaborative Primary Research
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Hotdish or Casserole: What is your Preference?
Vickie Conner, English Studies Graduate Student
Bailey Brazier, English Studies Undergraduate Student
Abby Hammes, English/Political Science Undergraduate Student
Jenae Valvoda, English Studies Undergraduate Student
Dr. Bruce Maylath, English Dept.
North Dakota State University
History of the English Language
10 May 2012
The researchers of this study aimed to find identifiable isoglosses in the Upper Midwest
region based on the term provided by the participants: hotdish or casserole. Furthermore, the
research team also set out to find definitive denotations that encompass the complexity of food
naming in the Upper Midwest. A mixed methods research design was utilized, and these data
were collected from 85 participants through guided conversations, participant interviews, and
surveys of demographic data. Responses from guided conversations revealed the term hotdish or
casserole, and sometimes exhibited the term goulash. Interview questions then were utilized to
elicit specific ingredients and possible different methods of cooking a hotdish or a casserole.
However, whether a person used the term hotdish or casserole was based mostly on demographic
factors, such as childhood residence and familial lower, middle class, and high class
socioeconomic status. This demographic information was collected through a demographic
survey after the completion of the guided questions and the interview questions. interviews
revealed that some participants had used a word that they normally would not use in daily
language, conforming to prestige. The results suggest that usage of the term hotdish to be most
common along the eastern North Dakota border and cutting off north of Minneapolis/St.Paul but
inclusive of Duluth. Furthermore, the results of the interview questions suggest that the term
hotdish fails to have a definitive denotation; rather, the term hotdish connotes the specific ways
each cultural community defines the way they prepare the dish pertaining to ingredients as well
as cooking method.
The purpose of this study was to identify whether residents of the Upper Midwest prefer
the term hotdish (See Appendix A) or casserole and finding whether ethnicity/heritage, age,
socioeconomic status, place of upbringing, and gender have an influence on those preferences.
Furthermore, the research investigators looked for any correlations between ingredients used and
labeling of a hotdish or casserole.
Hotdish has been labeled as a regional term particular to the upper Midwest, especially
northern Minnesota, and recent linguistic research has provided supported evidence for the trend.
This study was intended to either confirm existing research that hotdish remains the standard
term, or provide evidence that casserole has gained currency in the upper Midwest. Researchers
also aimed to determine if any specific isoglosses are evident in the naming of specific main
dishes specifically containing pasta, tomato-based sauces, canned soups, vegetables, and ground
beef or main dishes containing tuna, cheese, or rice in the Upper Midwest region of the Unites
It might be a universal agreement that leaving a dialect at home, so to speak, is an
arduous task. Language is developed as we converse with family members, teachers, community
leaders, peers, and media. Malmstrom and Ashley present informative insight as to what might
be a reason for dialect differences: people tend to model the language spoken in their homes and
what parents tend to speak; however, Malmstrom and Ashley say that even children will not
speak entirely like their parents. This is why we do not speak in language similar to
Shakespeares over time we tend to develop new dialects to contribute to society (5). Much
evidence of language assimilation is found in the school systems. For example, those students
who are native English speakers, yet speak a vernacular in the home, will struggle in school
because the dialects are different (Boghossian).
Dialect differences are also prevalent when analyzing specific regions of an area. Allen
claims that the size of a community culture could be an independent variable that perhaps affects
the boundary of usage of specific words and is postulated by many. Group size is powerful
because these members are likely to intertwine with other groups and spread the usage of
specific language (77). In changing geographical location, such as in immigration, it is expected
that a dialect would disappear if no longer spoken. However, Malmstrom and Ashley have found
that even though a culture shares a language, it is not guaranteed that all members will speak the
exact dialect (1).
Reed reports that dialects are formed by additional means aside from geographical areas.
Socio-economic status or specific ethnic groups create a personal line of communication that is
understood by the culture community (3). According to Crystal, simply assuming the idea that
language is immobile because of lack of linguistic changes is dangerous. On the contrary,
regional dialects are continuously changing over time (425). Furthermore, proponents of
language development such as Crystal are right to argue that the relationship between sameness
and difference is at the heart of historical linguistics (425).
These regional differences are especially noticeable in the area of the Upper Midwest
United States. In the Upper Midwest, food-related terms are different from other areas of the
country. For example, a barbeque sandwich is not understood to those individuals living outside
the western North Dakota region. Instead, these individuals may understand the hot sandwich to
be a sloppy Joe. Perhaps one of the most interesting food word choices is between the use of the
terms hotdish and casserole. The term hotdish likely originated in and is primarily used in
the Upper Midwest region of the United States with the denotation of a specific dish,
synonymous with what is known as a casserole throughout the rest of the English speaking
world. The term casserole is defined as a ceramic baking dish itself or any baked dish that is
prepared in a specific dish. Currently, it seems that Upper Midwest residents know and
understand the terms casserole and hotdish in more regional-specific ways in which these words
are used interchangeably. Residents of the Upper Midwest connote a hotdish mainly as a food
that likely contains pasta, a type of meat, soup, and vegetables, and this is understood among
community members. However, the regional dialects in this Upper Midwest region continue to
change in this area as well, especially with those individuals currently under the age of 25, due to
changing diets, cooking preparation, and increased restaurant dining in many families. In
addition, it is important to note the chief linguistic reasons for this changein migration by
people who use the term casserole, travel outside the region by those who use the word hotdish
but become acquainted with the term casserole, and also the media (print, film, etc) in which the
term casserole is more common.
The origination of the word casserole derives from the Italian root casserola, from the
Spanish cacerola, and from the French casse, which means an open-mouthed pot fit to boil
things in, but its actual history is obscure. Another denotation of the word casserole is a kind of
stew pan; today, a casserole is referred to a dish that is cooked and served in a casserole
(Casserole). According to the Dictionary of American Regional English word hotdish,
however, is referred to as a casserole or main dish. In Wisconsin, this word is an extremely
common local word covering main dish, usually with a macaroni paste foundation (1125). The
word casserole originates in 1706, from Fr. casserole "sauce pan" (16c.), dim. of M.Fr. casse
"pan" (14c.), from Prov. cassa "melting pan," from M.L. cattia "pan, vessel," possibly from Gk.
kyathion, dim. of kyathos "cup for the wine bowl." Originally referring to the pan, but as of
1958, casserole has taken on the meaning of the food cooked in the pan as well. Interestingly,
Campbell Soup suggests this secondary meaning may have been developing much earlier; in the
first edition of Joy of Cooking in 1931, the original casserole recipe was listed, and by 1958,
58 different recipes for casseroles made their way into the cookbook (York 2).
The January 22, 2012 Sunday issue of the Fargo Forum reports that most Upper Midwest
residents have eaten the concoctions of various foods that create one main food creation, in what
York refers to as the one-dish wonder(York 1). Unlike the theory of the hotdish being a dish of
four foods thrown together, a casserole is much fancier. For example, if the food contains cheese
or is considered one of the famous Paula Deens dishes, it is considered a casserole (D1).
Furthermore, as stated in the Fargo Forum, the farther east, south, or extreme west one travels,