Education
Another Reason to Love Maps! American Dialect Maps Show Our Language Quirks
Image: Joshua Katz, North Carolina State University Department of Statistics.

This fascinates me–not because of the soda vs. pop dividing lines (I went to college right on the dividing line in central Pennsylvania), but because of the bullseyes of “soda” in St. Louis and Milwaukee. I would guess it’s related to the cities’ beer brewing histories. Image: Joshua Katz, North Carolina State University Department of Statistics.

Have you heard of a bubbler? What about a hoagie? Do you pronounce that favored nut “PEE-can” or “pee-KHAN”?

I happened across an article on the North Carolina State University research blog featuring one of their statistics graduate students who has taken data from a decade-old Harvard University linguistics survey and turned it into graphical magic.

The survey is Dr. Bert Vaux’s Dialect Survey, which was conducted in 2002 and included over 30,000 Americans from all 50 states (even though the maps only show the contiguous 48 states).

What NCSU student Joshua Katz did was take the geolocated data from that survey and apply a “k-nearest neighbor” smoothing algorithm to estimate the likelihood of a person at every point in the U.S. using a particular dialect or word choice.

This survey included many dialect differences to which I never gave that much thought, such as this one. Image: Joshua Katz, North Carolina State University Department of Statistics.

This survey included many dialect differences to which I never gave that much thought, such as this one. Image: Joshua Katz, North Carolina State University Department of Statistics.

Katz then mapped the results for each of 122 survey questions. The results are very interesting and might even surprise you a bit. At the original results page, you can even drill down to each of several hundred contiguous U.S. cities and see the precise number of responses.

The official results of Katz’s project are shown at this website, with some fun summaries available through Businessinsider.com and the North Carolina State University research blog, Abstract.

Patricia Vollmer

Patricia Vollmer is a geeky meteorologist mother of two emerging geek sons, ages 9 & 11. She is a proud U.S. Air Force wife and part time Air Force Reservist who blogs about her family's military life at Ground Control to Major Mom. Home is always where the Air Force sends her family, which for now is in Colorado Springs, Colorado (her 8th home in 18 years). Hobbies include running, playing her violin, needlecrafts and exploring the world with her boys.

3 Comments
Ryan

June 7, 2013 1:18 pm Reply

I love this! Being a military brat and moving all around my entire childhood I have a very interesting amalgam of dialects. The one I always get flack for is Aunt. I say it like ont not ant.

    Patricia Vollmer
    Patricia Vollmer

    June 7, 2013 2:18 pm Reply

    Thank you for reading Ryan! I was also a military brat but my father is from Philadelphia. I ended up taking on a lot of his language habits since he was one of the primary folks teaching me English. Living around the country (Virginia, Ohio, Nebraska, Louisiana, North Carolina, Hawaii, Florida and soon Colorado), these maps fascinate me as well.

rockinlibrarian

June 9, 2013 11:22 pm Reply

Hah, I took this survey! I remember most of these questions, and there were a few I honestly thought, “wait, people DON’T pronounce it like that?” It’s interesting to see where those people actually are!

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