You say tomato, I say soda. Or is it pop?

06.04.2013 |


Soda, pop, or coke? Josh Katz’ dialect map lets you see who says what, where.
(Click on image to go to interactive map)

Here’s a nifty new way of looking at some old regional differences in dialect. NC State graduate student Joshua Katz was looking for an idea for his end-of-year statistics project, when he came across interesting linguistics data from Dr. Bert Vaux of Cambridge University. Vaux had collected data on regional dialects in the U.S. via a 120-question survey that asked about everything from the pronunciation of “caught” to whether “y’all” is preferred over “you.” Then he had mapped that data, to indicate where particular dialect differences were more prevalent.

“Dr. Vaux’s maps showed each response as a single color-coded point, so you could see individual instances of each answer,” Katz says. “I wondered if there was a way to take the existing data and create maps that gave a more complete picture of national dialect differences.”

Katz created a statistical algorithm that weighted the responses around a particular location. The approach let Katz create colorful maps that show how regional dialects are spread across the country.

So what do you call a sweetened, carbonated beverage?  According to the map, coastal residents are predominately soda people, the pop drinkers are concentrated in the upper Midwest, and a few solid coke holdouts dwell in the southern states.

Beyond the soda question, Katz has created an interactive map which lets you explore the responses to each of Vaux’s 120 questions.  Katz has also created a map with a pull-down menu which lets you see the “aggregate dialect difference” in selected cities. Basically, “aggregate dialect difference” just means, “Who else in the U.S. talks like me?”

Katz hopes to continue collaborating with Vaux on future projects. As for why a statistician decided to tackle language? “I’ve always found variations in dialect fascinating – language says so much about who a person is,” Katz says. “To me, dialect is a badge of pride – it’s something that says, ‘This is who I am; this is where I come from.’”

69 Responses to “You say tomato, I say soda. Or is it pop?”

  1. [...] at the end of the academic year. From there, The Abstract, a research blog at North Carolina State, wrote about Katz’s project on Tuesday, and Redditor Detsl then discovered and posted them to the subreddit r/linguistics on [...]

  2. Tia says:

    How can I take the test? Is there one?

  3. Morris W Hirsch says:

    Fascinating work. But the linguistic map on addressing a group left out “Youse guys”, common in Brooklyn when I was living in New York65 years ago. But maybe it’s now obsolete!

  4. [...] results were first published on Abstract, the N.C. State research [...]

  5. [...] university’s media relations professionals, who helped light the fire under a grad student’s research project on regional dialects this month, resulting in an Internal viral sensation. News of the project got [...]

  6. Meg McCann says:

    Actually, in the South, the old-timers actually say “co-cola” rather than coke.
    What a fun project! I love maps and linguistics, so the combination is very cool. Thanks!

  7. [...] results were first published on Abstract, the N.C. State research [...]

  8. David Carter says:

    Actually it gets more regional then that. The small corner of Massachusetts I am from refers to all soft drinks as “tonic”. As in “Can I have a tonic? Sure what kind”? LOL

  9. Ruth says:

    Fascinating research! Here are a couple more that stump my NC born husband (I was raised in NY):

    I wait “on” not “in” line when waiting to get into a theater or restaurant

    He has his picture “made” vs “taken” when having a photo done

  10. Debbie Boone says:

    We had a fun discussion at Myrtle Beach with our group about “hose pipe” vs. “garden hose” and “drop cord” vs. ” extension cord”. In upper Piedmont NC and Danville, VA area the hose pipe and drop cord are common…we also call soda – soft drinks. I travel for a living and find the differences in language fun to discuss. Unfortunately with mass media and a more mobile population some of the local dialects are being lost. It makes me sad.

  11. Perry Ervin says:

    Fascinating work! I teach English as a Foreign Language in Germany. Information like this helps me communicate to my students that there is great variation in spoken English usage.

    Perry Ervin
    NCSU Textiles 1988

  12. Tom says:

    When I lived in Massachusetts, they made fun of me for saying “pop.” But a lot of them with Boston accents didn’t really say “soda,” it came out as “soder.” Also, they referred to “shopping carts” as “carriages.”

    I would be interested in the pronunciation of “coyote,” whether as two syllables or three. My girlfriend says three and I say two. Her source is the Roadrunner cartoon, while mine is my alma mater, the University of South Dakota Coyotes.

  13. Lisa says:

    When I was 10, I moved from ballmoor (Baltimore) Murland (Maryland) to Colorado. Besides every asking if ice cream went in with pop to make a soda, I also had to refer to tennis shoes as sneakers. Then I come to believe that Baltimore may be the only ones that say am”bull”lance instead of ambulance. No wonder I couldn’t spell from sounding it out. Arrows = errers. Oil = earl. Soooooooo many words no one knew what the hell I was saying.

  14. […] results were first published on Abstract, the N.C. State research […]

  15. […] results were first published on Abstract, the N.C. State research […]

  16. […] results were first published on Abstract, the N.C. State research […]

  17. Michelle Hughes says:

    I am from the south, born in NC and Live in Ga. and We say You wanna a Coke? and if they say yes, we will ask what kind you want Co-cola, Sprite, Dr. Pepper, ect.Even Mt. Dew is called Coke until which drink you want is established then it will be called a Dew.

  18. […] State University, have recently received widespread media attention. Originally published in Abstract, a North Carolina State research blog, these maps serve to visualize the data collected by Bert […]

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