Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Eastern Dialects

Hans Kurath did the initial work on a linguistic atlas of the United States in the 1930's. It turned out to be much more involved than expected, and he only finished the section from the Appalachian Mountains eastward. He recorded not only pronunciation - do you say aunt or ant, pecahn or pecan -but word-frequency: whether people said "cellar" or "basement" or used both, observing a distinction between the two. Whether one says "firefly" or "lightning bug." This is how it looked in 1939.

The back-tracing to the 19th C involve a lot of guesswork, but suggest something similar.  Language and dialect are always changing, especially as immigrants are moving in from one continent, and people born in a place are moving west in search of land, but this was likely approximately the same.

 This is how the whole country looks today. If you go to professional linguist and Christian missionary Rick Aschmann's site you use this map in interactive form.  This is is hobby of decades, and it is quite remarkable. 

One can see the settlement pattern of Americans from the eastern regions moving pretty much WSW across half the country, until it all fragments around the Mississippi River, becoming less distinct.

My personal favorite is bubbler, the eastern New England word for a water fountain. It is not used in the rest of the country, except one small patch of Wisconsin. I have no idea why. Make up your own theory on that.


karrde said...

I was amused by 'bubbler' when I met someone from Wisconsin.

I was also amused by 'sled' referring to what is often called 'snowmobile', when talking to someone from the northern half of Michigan.

Sponge-headed ScienceMan said...

Years ago I worked with a woman who maintained a fairly strong New England accent and was proud of the region's character, history and traditions. For a short period of time the family moved to the South for work reasons and of course her two young children began to pick up Southern slang and expressions from their school mates. One day the family dentist asked her son what kind of costume he was planning for Halloween and he replied, "I'm fixin' to go as Batman." To which his frustrated mother forcefully corrected, "You're not 'fixin' to do anything! You are GOING as Batman!" The family moved back up North not long after.

Ymar said...

I was around Valley Forge or something in Tennesse and the accents there were incomprehensible to this Southerner.

terri said...

My husband uses the term "hopper" to denote a bpx that you put something in.

I always thought this was the weirdest word I had ever heard and swore he just mad it up....until I heard someone else use it one day! He's from Maryland.

In the South they call grocery carts "buggies"....they don't turn on a light, the "cut" on a light.

They don't use a toilet, they use a "commode".

Oh memories of my time in the South!

Roy Lofquist said...

My family moved from the Boston area to California in 1957. I was 13 at the time and was struck by the differences in terms dear to me.

Tonic was soda pop, a frappe was a milkshake. There were more but those stand out.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Roy, the soda/tonic/pop/coke variations are one of the most noticed differences by people moving around the country. Strange Maps has the visual here: http://bigthink.com/ideas/21360

Anna said...

Ayuh, that's about the size of it.

The Virginia Piedmont area does have a bit of a different accent than the regular south, especially a portion known as the "northern neck" area.

Although I am curious why there is not the secondary southern accent listed. We all know the Southern Drawl, however there is another southern accent that is characterized as being rapid, quiet, mumbly, and difficult to understand. Think Boomhauer on King of the Hill. Usually found in far-inland farming towns.

Erin said...

Interesting. I was just sharing bits of the Pittsburghese accent with my AP students yesterday. Here are some of my personal favorites for yinz guys from my experiences down dere in college 'nat.

gum bands = rubber bands
et = ate
fool = full
arn = iron
sill = steel (it's the Pikksburg Sillers that we're playing this weekend)

They also have an amusing playfulness with verb forms. The dog needs washed (or worshed), the bed needs made, the house needs vacuumed...

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Erin, that verb-form may descend from Pennsylvania Dutch (which is actually German). I'll see if I can find out.

Der Hahn said...

My native Iowa is a real mess of changing dialects, at least in the southern half. I vaugely remember an article about specific differences from many years ago. Some of the language differences that I've noticed when people from different parts of the state start talking ...

is a small stream a 'creek' or a 'crick'?

Is it lunchtime or dinnertime at noon? Supper or dinner in the evening? (this is good for creating an endless debate on which designation is correct)

Are you sitting on the sofa or the couch in the living room? Bonus points for being in the parlor on the davenport :)

A fair number of people throw additional 'R's in the middle some words, 'war-sh' being one where it stands out.

Roy Lofquist said...

Der Hahn,

Yankee talking to southern farmer:

What's the name of this creek?

Suh, around these parts that's called a branch.

OK, what's the name of that branch?

Dawson Creek.

Gringo said...

"Dinner" and "supper" can create misunderstandings. One version: breakfast, lunch, dinner. Another version: breakfast, dinner, supper. If in a different region of the country, and you are told to come for dinner, ask what time of day you mean.

Otherwise, you may get someone pissed off at you for blowing off dinner. At least that was my experience.

There are some resemblances between certain rural Southern and Downeast, Bert 'n I accents. "Dollah" for dollar can also be heard in the rural South, especially among old timers. Both places talk slowly.

Accents can be preserved or lost, depending on the motivation. Heard tell of someone who moved north from TX who lost her accent. The reason was that she was a somewhat reserved person who didn't like perfect strangers in the north who, upon hearing her speak, put their arms around her and asked, "What part of TX are YOU from, honey?"

Those from TX and environs who move to places with more standard speech patterns may put themselves in danger of being considered drunk via their accent. Happened to Hall of Fame QB Bobby Layne in Detroit. "A'hm not drunk officer. A'hm from Texas." In Bobby Layne's case, that may have been an excuse, but I know of that happening to someone who was stone cold sober.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

The er and ah reversal is still heard in northern New England, but it's becoming rare. "Five dollahs foah a dump stickah? We won't pay that, mistah!" versus "Florider" or "South Dakoter," culminating in words that switch both: the winter clothing "pahker," and the woman's name "Mahther." The er is only heard at the ends of words now, if at all. I can remember my Gramma Helen saying "Coker-Coler," but even "Coca-coler" would be unusual now. They sound odd even to me. The pronunciation "ideer" will likely be one of the ones that hangs on longest, as it is still common.

As to dinner and supper, it's just a mash here. I grew up saying "supper," (or suppah) but my mother's second husband was from CT and used "dinner" for that meal. The British use "supper" for a late night half-meal. My wife, from the South Shore in MA, doesn't use "supper" much at all. Dinner is now the word for the larger, more formal meal, whatever time it falls, and the other meal becomes lunch or supper to accommodate the day. But no congregation would have a Church Dinner, nor would anyone go out for supper (though we did when I was a boy).

Sam L. said...

My sister moved from Missouri to Dallas in '63. Went back about 2K. Says Texans could always tell she wasn't from there. She has a bit of the sound left.

Portland OR has bubblers--one of the rich guys from the early 1900s paid for them.

My wife learned to talk in Texas. Meeting a Texan, it comes right back to her.

Donna B. said...

Thank you Anna for mentioning that secondary southern accent. I never understood a word my maternal grandfather said except "Amen".

Der Hahn said...

My family tended to use the breakfast-lunch-supper variation. Dinner usually refered to a more formal or festive meal served anytime after the first meal of the day.

My German-American dad kept up the practice of taking a break from field work or chores at mid morning and mid afternoon. If I recall correctly people who used the breakfast-dinner-supper designation sometimes called this a 'lunch' though we refered to it as 'coffee' (break was not appended). That was the principal beverage, with cookies or other sweets, fruit in season, and often light sandwiches in the afternoon if we were engaged in vigorus labor.

Texan99 said...

Interesting about lunch and dinner. My folks were from rural East Texas and rural North Carolina; our family was in Houston. We used "lunch" for midday and "supper" for evening. "Dinner" normally meant supper. But until you mentioned it, it never occurred to me that we'd never have gone out for supper, only for dinner. We might have said either "What's for dinner" or "What's for supper," interchangeably. Also, Thanksgiving dinner is neither lunch nor supper, regardless of when it's served.

Sally said...

The er-ah reversal is alive and well on the Nahth Shoah of Boston; we don't put -er on *every* word but it is still there. People still drink Coker-Coler, although the generic term of "tonic" is dying out in favor of "soder". And we think people from the South Shore talk funny.

My mom was from northern Ohio and we had supper in the evenings unless we went out somewhere fancy in which case it was dinner. I don't think I've heard anyone call it "supper" around here, though.

I lived in Charleston, SC for a few years and can confirm there is a very fast, mumbly Boomhauer-esque accent in the inland rural areas. We called it a "country" accent, and my Charleston friends found it almost as incomprehensible as I did. It was very different from the coastal drawl. One thing I remember about it was that if you asked a country-accented people where they lived, they invariable would say "I stay in St. George" or wherever. They always "stayed" somewhere, vs. lived there. They also had some colorful idioms; I recall an older gent telling me that "it were rainin' so hard out there, it were frog-chokin'!"