What we can learn from dialect maps


I did this at work with friends yesterday, and got California. All three cities, Santa Rosa, Modesto and Fresno.

I did live in Monterey for a year and a half, but I’m not from there. But I have been away from ‘home’ longer than I was there, so… hard to say.

It pretty much had me narrowed down to west of the Mississippi. Everything west was a pretty uniform red, everything east was yellow tending to blue. The three closest cities were spread around the west and I have no connection to any of them. Heh.

Yes, this is my superpower: the ability to linguistically blend anywhere in the western half of the united states.

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My in-laws live in Shawnee, so not too far from where you grew up. I thought it was interesting that many of the older family members could hardly understand me at all, while I had no trouble understanding their accent or dialect. (I grew up in the South of Ireland to British parents, so I have a strange mix of those accents and some US English from my wife). The last time we visited I had to make a conscious effort to use some of the terms they used in order to communicate.


I am from Wisconsin (or “Wiscansin”) and my wife is from Tulsa, OK. She does not have any real “accent” as such, at least compared to others of her family from there, but does say things like “the laundry needs done” as opposed to what sounds to me more correct “the laundry needs doing”. Does that construction fit into these patterns here?

Also, absolutely fascinating subject, not least (to me) because it makes us all a lot less boring to each other. I lived in Germany for a few years, in an area (Rhineland-Pfalz) with a very heavy dialect (“kleine” said “klee” (pronounced “clay”) or “zwo” not “zwei”) and the changes in pattern across the relatively small country of Germany are very pronounced.

Would be interesting to see a comparison of dialect maps of the US and other English-speaking countries. I have read that in England the dialects change over a much smaller distance than they do in the US. And what about Australia? Or even India, where English is at least an official language? Are there dialects of Indian English, as there are of American, Australian, or British? And if so, how large are the areas and how pronounced the differences?

Thanks for writing about this - I always look forward to reading your articles.


We’ve seen this data set before, but not in quiz form. This is fun!

But in my case, the test went haywire. It gave me a huge dark-red area in the middle, and put me in the center of it. I talk like both coasts, apparently. Not surprising, since I grew up in Washington DC. (Is it Washington, or DC?)

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We’ve seen this data set before, but not in quiz form.

Really? I’ve taken similar quizess probably a dozen times or more.

These sorts of dialect maps, and assertions about who says “soda” and who says “pop” always annoy me for some reason. For one thing, they often get over-generalized, to the point where people will say “oh, you’re from the South? You must call everything “Coke!””

Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, I knew growing up on the gulf coast of Florida called things “Coke” unless it was actual Coca-Cola, or at the very least, a half-decent knockoff brand. The only kid I knew who called it “pop” had moved from New York. I heard “soda pop” from a few, but not as common as “soft drinks” or “soda”. To my grandma, it was “cold drinks.”

Florida is not a monoculture. Very broadly, areas of northern and central Florida share more culturally with “the South” while the coast is more Midwestern-ish, except areas of the keys and west coast which are kind of their own thing. And “the South” itself is not a monoculture either; there are places in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi which have their own distinct accents – sometimes half indecipherable even if you’re from somewhere else in the same state.

Anyway. This quiz decided I was either from North Florida or Raleigh – and it also highlighted parts of New England and Colorado. Nope. Bradenton, and I’ve been living in St. Louis for 15 years (and aside from a couple of vowel sounds from people who’ve lived here for a long time, those dialects are pretty close to identical).

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I’m always bothered by the soda/pop/coke maps too. I supposedly live right on the edge of “pop” country, and often venture into the heart of it during road trips and for other reasons, and I’ve never once in my entire life heard anyone refer to soda as “pop”.

[Commence Rant]

This just goes on to prove something I’ve been telling people for a while: The southern Midwest is NOT the South. I moved to Southern Indiana a few years ago from Atlanta. As I became acquainted with strange new customs and idioms, one conclusion kept popping up. A conversation would go like this:

Me: “Oh that’s pretty cool. Never heard it said like that before.”

Them: “Oh, that’s because you’re not from the South.”

Me: [Blank Stare]

Okay, I get that I have a funny name and don’t have a strong regional accent. But my last place of residence was At-fuckin-lanta, Georgia. In fact, while I did live overseas for a spell, my American life pretty much goes like this:

Martin, Tennessee
Charlotte, North Carolina
Atlanta, Georgia.

My parents, both immigrants whose first language was not English, either learned or perfected their English at the University of Alabama in Tusca-fucking-loosa.

Yet here I am, in the MIDWEST, and people are telling me that I’m hearing something because I’ve never lived in the South. No sorry, what’s happening here is that you’ve never lived in the South. Evidence? Pie. You have it. Any self-respecting southerner turns fruit into cobbler. Pie is something you buy at the store.

[Ends rant panting.]


My tendency to use “anymore” as a positive part of speech — I do “x” anymore — as opposed to purely using it in the negative — I don’t do “x” anymore — is part of the Midlands dialect.

All very well, but what does it mean? I’ve never encountered this so have no examples to help. I’d guess at some continuous rather than momentary aspect, i.e. still rather than yet. As in ‘I still do x’ (or ‘I do x still’) rather than ‘I will do x from now on’ as a more exact semantic opposite of ‘I will not do x from now on’.

I find it interesting that if you use “traffic circle” you are likely from the Tulsa area because there is only one traffic circle in the state of Oklahoma and it’s in Tulsa.

As for me, the survey said I was from Grand Rapids… which I have been to only once.

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“the laundry needs done” as opposed to what sounds to me more correct “the laundry needs doing”

Neither of these would be appropriate in the northeast. We would say “I need to do laundry”. So yes, I would say this qualifies as a regionally-distinct phrase.


One thing the premise of the quiz elides is that how you speak differs depending on context and who you’re speaking to, somewhat in pronounciation but especially in word choice. I was raised calling it soda, but sometimes I’ll say soda pop if it makes the lilt of the sentence better. I live on the bank of a creek (although it’s really a navigable inlet; to me a creek is something you can walk across without getting your shirt wet, not something with drawbridges. But I digress.) but if I’m traipsing through the woods I might come across a crick. If I’m trying to intimidate someone on the street I speak differently than I do at a cocktail party.

Some of this is affectation, some is mimesis, some is making yourself understood to the listener. (The latter two overlap.)

I guess my point is that what constitutes one’s native accent/dialect is more fluid now that most of us are routinely exposed to others. It’s not jarring to hear someone say tennis shoes instead of sneakers. If someone mentions a hoagie you know what they’re talking about even if you don’t call it that. Our verbal palettes are larger.

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Very interesting. Evidently my dialect is most similar to three areas: Miami/Hialeah, Pembroke Pines and Boston. I’ve been to Boston, but never to Florida. Apparently the distinctive term is “sun shower”…

As a Montrealer born and raised (and an old Habs fan), I find the Boston similarity a bit disconcerting, though. However, I am living not too far from Pembroke (drop the “Pines”) these days…

Yeah, I was throwing a spanner in the works, but I find myself wondering if generations of snowbirds from Quebec have had an effect on Florida dialect (and vice versa, perhaps).

It turns out I have the dialect of either Honolulu, Boston or San Jose. However I was just trolling the software cause I’ve never step foot on the states and I have only been educated from Holywood movies and a Canadian teacher (mostly).

I grew up in Atlanta, but the quiz didn’t even place me in Georgia. But here’s the thing about these dialect maps that always bothers me - especially with regards to the soda/pop/coke thing:

I’ve lived throughout the South my entire life (Also, apparently Southerners consider Texas “the South,” but I’ve since learned that Texans DO NOT consider themselves part of the South. They’re Texas. Don’t make this mistake like I did). No one I know, not even relatives who have grown up in rural Southern areas, refers to ALL soda as “coke.” When we say “Coke,” we mean Coca-Cola. It’s just that we prefer the actual drink to other brands of soda. The only times I have experienced this mix-up, where “Coke” has meant any soda in general, is when I’ve been in the North, or in Florida. In both regions, Pepsi products are more likely to be served in restaurants than Coca-Cola products. Very frequently, if I order a “Coke” in the North or Florida, I will be served a Pepsi product without warning (which sends me into a blind rage, being from Atlanta). If I order a “Coke” from a restaurant that serves Pepsi products anywhere else in the South, my server will first say “Oh, sorry, we only have Pepsi products. Is that okay?” I think this dialectical distinction is a false dichotomy perpetrated by Northerners who don’t understand the prevalence of Coke products in the South.


It had me pegged as a Clevelander (having lived there until 1972). The telling question was answering “tree lawn” for the grass between the sidewalk and the road.

Hey! I’d also like an accent map for the UK (England being a part of the UK, and the UK on the whole being English speaking). Of course, that’s to see if I can manage to get a match on my hybrid northern accent. But you can take 2 accents - Mancunian (From Manchester) and Scouse (Liverpool), and the difference is incredibly noticable, and that’s only over a distance of 27 miles. We’re a relatively small country in terms of pure landmass, so what may be considered a short distance in a larger country (Canada, USA, Australia) is a fairly large gap here.

However, it’s generally true that accents are split between cities - and since we have a lot of them very close to each other here (Especially on the line between London and Manchester), the accents tend to be varied but packed very close to each other. You often see that a larger area of countryside (Such as the Lake District) the accents of the locals are similar for a fairly large radius.

And that’s enough rambling from me now. Adios =)

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I think there’s more truth in your post than is usually acknowledged, but the party line does apply, it just varies place to place/family to family.

when I moved from metro Detroit to Nashville, they didn’t understand what I meant when I said “pop” and a boy in my class told me that they said “coke” in his house even if all that was in the fridge was Sprite or whatever. this was related to me in a group discussion, and the other kids present backed him up. “If I asked my Mom for a pop, she’d probably hit me!” he said. not, like, that she’d take offense that he was using a yankee word or something, but to her a “pop”= a strike, not a soft drink.

I went to a different school district for high school, and the accents were less pronounced and the southern regionalisms less prevalent, though. So I know these things can change even within a small city like 80s Nashville.