“Soda/Pop/Coke,” A Creative Visual Remix of Harvard’s Famous 2003 Survey of American Dialects

Tomor­row, friends and rel­a­tives from far-flung cor­ners of the coun­try will gath­er as they do this time each year—stuff them­selves sil­ly, trim Christ­mas trees, watch foot­ball, online shop, etc. And depend­ing on how far-flung those assem­bled are, there may be in cer­tain homes some clan­des­tine chuck­ling over a cer­tain guest’s request for “pop” instead of soda, or the oth­er way around, or some oth­er fun­ny way of say­ing things. Because in this gar­gan­tu­an expanse we call the Unit­ed States, we’ve got a wealth of region­al variants—some dif­fer­ences sub­tle, some quite notice­able (though with­out nec­es­sar­i­ly the degree of socioe­co­nom­ic bag­gage as the UK, I’m con­vinced).

I recall, for instance, mov­ing to New York City over a decade ago and grap­pling for the next sev­er­al years with New York­ers’ insis­tence on say­ing “stand­ing on line” instead of “in line.” As “online” acquired an entire­ly new mean­ing, this lin­guis­tic odd­i­ty took on an even more con­fus­ing dimen­sion for out­siders. And hav­ing grown up hear­ing the sec­ond per­son plur­al as rough­ly half “you guy”s and half “y’all,”s I’ve been amused by the New York “youse.” As we learn from The Atlantic’s “Soda/Pop/Coke” above, these dif­fer­ences in word­ing cor­re­spond to region­al dif­fer­ences in pro­nun­ci­a­tion of words like “bag,” “pecan,” and “coupon.”

Inform­ing us that “at least 10 dis­tinct dialects of Eng­lish are spo­ken in the Unit­ed States,” “Soda/Pop/Coke” draws on the 2003 Har­vard Dialect Sur­vey, con­duct­ed by lin­guist Bert Vaux. As the film’s inter­view­ers ask callers Vaux’s sur­vey ques­tions, their region­al affil­i­a­tions appear graph­i­cal­ly on a map of the con­ti­nen­tal Unit­ed States, based on grad­u­ate stu­dent Joshua Katz’s heat map­ping of Vaux’s work.  You can see the more than one hun­dred vari­ants Vaux’s sur­vey mea­sures here, and The Atlantic points us to U Penn’s dense (and spe­cial­ized) Nation­al Map of the Region­al Dialects of Amer­i­can Eng­lish. It’s a com­pli­cat­ed and rar­efied sci­ence, lin­guis­tics, but we’re all at least ama­teur soci­ol­o­gists of lan­guage (some­times bad ones) as we sort and size each oth­er up—or com­plete­ly mis­hear each other—based on com­plete­ly uncon­scious choic­es in word­ing and pro­nun­ci­a­tion.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Do You Drink Soda, Pop or Soft Drinks?: 122 Heatmaps Visu­al­ize How Peo­ple Talk in Amer­i­ca

The His­to­ry of the Eng­lish Lan­guage in Ten Ani­mat­ed Min­utes

What Shake­speare Sound­ed Like to Shake­speare: Recon­struct­ing the Bard’s Orig­i­nal Pro­nun­ci­a­tion

Learn 46 Lan­guages Online for Free: Span­ish, Chi­nese, Eng­lish & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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