When I first met my husband, we had a lot of fun comparing dialects. You see, he’s from the Midwest, and I’m from New England (or “out East,” as his family still calls it), and, when it comes to verbalizing certain words and phrases, it seems like we come from entirely different countries.
“Say ‘coffee,’” his siblings would goad me on my first visits to his home. “Caw-fee,” I’d oblige.
“Order a soda,” my friends and I would urge him. And he’d humor us with a “pop, please”—much to the chagrin of our New England waitress, who figured he wanted a popsicle or a lollypop.
Recently, Joshua Katz, a Ph.D. student in statistics at North Carolina State University, published a group of visualizations that examine regional dialect variation in the continental United States. You can view the maps on his website.
The results I found the most fascinating include answers to the following questions:
How do you pronounce Mary/merry/marry?
According to the results map, 99% of the country believes the answer is “the same.” This shocked me because I live in the 1% that believes all three are different!
What do you call a sale of unwanted items?
To me, it’s always a “yard sale,” whether it’s on your front yard, in your garage, or on your porch. To my husband’s family, it’s a “garage sale”—even though they always have theirs in their driveway.
What do you call a traffic situation in which several roads meet in a circle and you have to get off at a certain point?
Here in New England, where the roads are tight, crowded, and anything but parallel or perpendicular, these things are everywhere. We call them “rotaries.” People in the mid-Atlantic call them “traffic circles”; people out West call them “roundabouts.” The first time my husband encountered one, while driving in a particularly busy area, he had another word for it—one I can’t repeat here.