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