Walt Wolfram often says that when he moved to North Carolina, he felt like he had died and gone to dialect heaven. Wolfram is a sociolinguist who studies how and why we talk the many ways we do. We asked Wolfram, who’s NC State’s William C. Friday Distinguished University Professor of English, and who recently received the UNC System's highest award for public service, to create a Tar Heel dialects quiz for all y’all. Good luck!
One of North Carolina’s great legacies is its vast array of regional and ethnic varieties of English. No state has a more diverse and intriguing dialect landscape.
Since its inception in 1993, the Language and Life Project at NC State has attempted to preserve the language traditions of the Old North State by conducting more than 3,500 interviews with residents from Murphy to Manteo … literally. In the process, North Carolina has become the most linguistically documented state in America. All these interviews, along with many others from different regions, are preserved in an online archive.
The sociolinguistics program in the English department has also shared its findings through a range of public and educational venues: documentaries such as Voices of North Carolina, Mountain Talk and The Carolina Brogue; permanent and limited-time museum exhibits, including at the state fair, the Ocracoke Preservation Society and the Museum of the Southeast American Indian; popular books like Talkin’ Tar Heel, Hoi Toide on the Outer Banks and Fine in the World: Lumbee Language in Time and Place; and a curriculum on language diversity for Grade 8 Social Studies called Voices of North Carolina: From the Atlantic to Appalachia, endorsed by the NC Department of Public Instruction. These public activities and outlets have made North Carolina the most linguistically celebrated state in the nation.
Listen to representative voices from specific regions and guess where the speaker lives. Each audio clip tells a story of our state’s unique language tradition and conveys a sense of how dialects dynamically transmit the rich history and culture of our state.