What we can learn from dialect maps

My dialect — the sound, vocabulary, and grammatical structure of the way I speak English — is most similar to the dialect spoken by people in Topeka, Kansas. That’s according to a popular survey and data visualization making the rounds on social media, and the result makes sense. I was born in Topeka and spent the first 12 years of my life there.

It’s pretty cool that a dataset can figure out that connection based solely on my answers to a series of 25 questions. Do I pronounce “caught” and “cot” the same? (Yes.) Do I think it’s acceptable to say something like, “I write exclusively about science anymore”? (Yes. Haters can hate.) Do I call carbonated beverages “soda”, “pop”, or “coke”? (I think I say “soda” sometimes and “pop” other times and I’m not sure why.)

But those questions — and our collective answers — are good for a lot more than simply performing “guess your hometown” parlor tricks. You can learn a lot about where we’re going and how we’re changing as a society. Because, here’s the thing, contrary to what you might think, the United States isn’t losing its dialects. We’re not all speaking more similarly to one another. In fact, sociolinguists say the opposite is true. Even in a world where people in Topeka, Kansas and Brooklyn, New York listen to the same music, watch the same movies, and share words instantly, the way those people talk isn’t merging into a single, consumer-culture voice. Read the rest

Rise of the Valleyguy

To linguists, the central feature of Valleygirl Dialect is the tendency to make a statement sound like a question. For decades, this has been considered not just part of Valleyspeak, but part of female speech. That's changing. Like, dudes are totally doing it, too. Read the rest

The BBC discovers the Texas Germans — and a dying dialect

My great-grandmother, Hedwig Nietzsche Koerth, never spoke English. My Grandpa Gustav didn't learn the language until he entered first grade. But, by the time I was in grade school — and was going through a brief fling of learning German — Grandpa no longer remembered much of what had once been his first language. Today, nobody in my immediate family speaks any German, much less the dying dialect of Texas German that my great-grandmother spoke. The BBC has an interesting story about the history and linguistics of Texas German, which will probably die out in the next couple generations — largely because the German Germans started a couple world wars in a row and changed the idea of what was and wasn't socially acceptable speech in America. Read the rest