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Jun 09 2013

It’s “crawdads”!

This language stuff is messy and complex. I was looking at this series of maps illustrating American pronunciation differences, and was starting to see a pattern in my own language — basically, if you look at the general rule for Washington state and Minnesota (which are often the same), that’s how I talk. With one exception:

I grew up spending many summers wading in the Green River collecting those crustaceans (and eating them), and we always called them crawdads, without question. “Crayfish” was a formal name, “crawfish” was unheard of. It’s green on this map.

tiny-lobsters-are-tearing-this-country-apart

Then I realized…it was my father the fisherman who taught us about crawdads, and his family was apparently Appalachian Scots-Irish way, way back, who ended up in Iowa during the Civil War era, and eventually wandered into lives picking fruit and vegetables in the Spokane-Yakima axis…and those areas are all greenish on the map. Cool. There are these vestiges of my family history lurking right there on my tongue.

One weird thing about the article on this, though. It says,

Regional accents are a major part of what makes American English so interesting as a dialect.

American English doesn’t vary all that much — I can easily understand everyone all across the country. English in the United Kingdom, though — that’s where you get the strong regional accents.

(via Skepchick.)

85 comments

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  1. 1
    David Marjanović

    A linguist from England once told me: “You can learn to distinguish a Texan from a Montanan, but it’s like two villages in Norfolk twenty miles apart.”

  2. 2
    Charles Burrows

    Mudbugs!

  3. 3
  4. 4
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    I’m guessing that blue extends from north of the border. I’m in Ontario and use crayfish.

  5. 5
    Cuttlefish

    David M–

    At one point, I could reliably distinguish between Toledo (OH) and Cleveland accents. At the time, I had a European friend who could not distinguish Texan from Maine.

    I have seen a map at Cuttlefish U. that followed about a dozen different terms–crawdad may well have been one of them–and could localize a speaker within the US quite well.

    Soda, or pop, or tonic, or coke, or what?
    Porch, or stoop, or veranda, or deck, or something else?
    Pronunciation, too, of common words like “roof” or “dog”.

    Fun stuff.

  6. 6
    paulburnett

    Do you wear tennis shoes or sneakers? Is a certain drink a milkshake or a shake? Is “ain’t” in your polite vocabulary? Have you ever made – or eaten – hushpuppies? Were they cooked in a frying pan or a skillet? Does water come out of a faucet or a spigot?

  7. 7
    Inaji

    It’s “crawdads”!

    Crawdads to you, crayfish to me. Going through the maps was interesting. I was born and raised in SoCal, but most of my pronunciations don’t place me there. I was taught to pronounce words properly (the nuns were sticklers on that point), so I come up all over the place on the maps.

  8. 8
    koncorde

    @1 David Marjanović

    My US wife and her family are amazed that I can pinpoint people and their family down to areas of my UK hometown and surrounding towns (all within a 20 mile radius) – long before even getting into actual different dialects and accents there are tiny inflections and differences that are notable to the keen ear.

    When my wife speaks I can still hear the Irish / Dutch influence in her southern PA accent, and from that I can then identify the bits that come directly from her Maryland father, and Philly grandmother.

    Surprisingly they’re largely unaware of their accents and differences.

  9. 9
    carlie

    I saw in an article yesterday that his site got 17 million hits since Friday, and that Business Insider says that its concurrent page views (which had an article about it) is the highest of any article they’ve run. People love to talk about how they talk. :)

  10. 10
    Inaji

    Paulburnett:

    Do you wear tennis shoes or sneakers? Is a certain drink a milkshake or a shake? Is “ain’t” in your polite vocabulary? Have you ever made – or eaten – hushpuppies? Were they cooked in a frying pan or a skillet? Does water come out of a faucet or a spigot?

    1. Tennis shoes
    2. Milkshake
    3. No (Not that I didn’t use it, however, any usage got a scolding.)
    4. No
    5. Skillet
    6. Faucet

  11. 11
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    There are minor variations in accents/words as Cuttlefish mentioned that can locate where one grew up on the map. About the time the Redhead and I got married, her parents and much younger sister moved to South Carolina where my FIL obtained a teaching job. When we went down for the sister’s wedding, the sister said I was using a Tennessee accent. Which made sense, since my mother grew up in Tennessee, and moved up north with my grandparents during WW2. I was around the Tennessee accent a lot growing up, and when I visit the south, I tend to unconsciously use the Tennessee accent.

  12. 12
    Daz: Experiencing A Slight Gravitas Shortfall

    David Marjanović

    A linguist from England once told me: “You can learn to distinguish a Texan from a Montanan, but it’s like two villages in Norfolk twenty miles apart.”

    Thee biznt wrong. Tis zame in Zummerzet.

    It’s alleged that at one time it was possible to tell what street a person grew up on, in some of the bigger cities. A small pinch of salt might be advised, but within a mile or so, I can easily believe it.

  13. 13
    Menyambal

    Huh. I grew up, and now live, in the darkest green of the “crawdad” region.I knew other people called them other terms, but I didn’t know I was so lucky.

    I assume the official term is “crayfish”, so “crawdad” is the furthest away, and that makes me feel special.

    Regional accents within America seem to have faded a lot since I was a crawdad in the 1960s. It’s good to see there’s still some distinctions.

  14. 14
    Trebuchet

    I just call them “things which I do not eat.”

    “Shake” is replacing “milkshake” because of the pervasive influence of fast food, especially McDonalds, who have to call what they serve “shakes” because “milkshake” would be false advertising. Ray Croc was in the milkshake machine business before getting into McDonalds. I picture him spinning in his grave at what they serve now.

  15. 15
    The Mellow Monkey

    I’m afraid this map fails to have a color to show the only socially acceptable name for such creatures: crawdiddies.

    Now where the hell am I from?

  16. 16
    ChristineRose

    Check out the nice little smear of purple right around Detroit! Mix cultures and a generation later you get a vowel shift.

  17. 17
    otrame

    Wrecker or tow truck. Go to someone’s house or go by someone’s house.

    I can tell the difference between east and west and south Texans easily.

    When I was a kid all the accents were much more pronounced, not surprisingly, since when I was a kid TV was relatively new and was not universally present. Also a much larger percentage of air time was locally produced.

    When I took my granddaughter to visit her dad, who is going to school in Birmingham (UK, not GA), she had the devil’s own time understanding her step-grandfather, even though she had no trouble understanding her stepmom.

  18. 18
    bigj

    Anybody else notice map 19: “What do you call it when rain falls and the sun is still shining?”

    “the devil is beating his wife”

    http://www.businessinsider.com/22-maps-that-show-the-deepest-linguistic-conflicts-in-america-2013-6#seriously-alabama-and-mississippi-that-is-terrible-19

  19. 19
    ChasCPeterson

    I assume the official term is “crayfish”

    No, the official term is Astacoidea.

  20. 20
    stinger

    After less than a week in Dublin, I could distinguish (or thought I could) between north-of-the-Liffey and sourh-of-the-Liffey accents.

  21. 21
    Muz

    There’s people in the world who insist on pronouncing Solder “sodder”for some mind bending reason. They think ‘drug’ is the past tense of ‘drag’ too, but I can kinda see how that one came to be.
    It’s still curiously infuriating though. Even more so than “I could care less” and “nucular”.

  22. 22
    ebotebo

    As I remember ‘em, there was no mud around! Found ‘em in the south fork of the Chetco that was almost totally a rocky bottom stream. Gawd were they sweet and a lot larger than the ones I’ve eaten from Louisiana. Never did take too many, as I always wanted someone else to be able to taste ‘em too. I digress, a car, truck or anything used to get around in is a “rig.” To pull or push or move anything is to “yard” on it

  23. 23
    kingdomoffife

    Best Beverly Hillbillies episode . . . Granny smokin’ crawdads with the hippies.

  24. 24
    ebotebo

    Or “ax” rather than ask. “Altimers” rather than Alzheimers (Ebonics). Fork-ed horn” rather than forked horn (Oregon).

  25. 25
    ebotebo

    Crawdads in the South Fork of the Chetco River.

  26. 26
    redwood

    I grew up in the Ozarks so it was “crawdad” all the way, especially since I went fishing with my father, who grew up there. However, my mother was from Salt Lake City, so I picked things up from her as well (she said “pop” for soft drinks, unlike the generic “coke” kids I grew up with said). I still say “Missouree” not “Missouruh” for my home state.
    When I went to grad school in California, I thought I had lost my “hillbilly” accent until I was in a sociolinguistics class and took a pronunciation test similar to what Cuttlefish mentioned. By the time I said “coil” and “dog” the other students had me pegged pretty accurately. I was also teased by a Minnesotan for not distinguishing between “pin” and “pen” like she did. To me, they were pronounced the same.

  27. 27
    TerranRich, Yet Another Atheist

    @Trebuchet #14: http://www.snopes.com/horrors/food/mcdshake.asp

    It has milk in it. They call it a “Shake” so people don’t assume it has ice cream in it.

  28. 28
    TerranRich, Yet Another Atheist

    @Muz #21: Mind-bending? According to Merriam-Webster (and a few other sources) that’s one of the valid pronunciations, and is almost always listed first as a pronunciation.

  29. 29
    Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

    I started intentionally mispronouncing the word “purchase” to rhyme with “face” just to mess with someone, but now it’s a habit I can’t seem to shift.

  30. 30
    serena

    Grr now I want a crawdad milkshake.

  31. 31
    sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d

    Do you wear tennis shoes or sneakers? Is a certain drink a milkshake or a shake? Is “ain’t” in your polite vocabulary? Have you ever made – or eaten – hushpuppies? Were they cooked in a frying pan or a skillet? Does water come out of a faucet or a spigot?

    Plimsoles
    Never used either term.
    Yes.
    I’ve only known of Hushpuppies as a kind of shoe.
    A skillet, if I cooked them.
    A tap.

    The introduction to Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion has a long discussion of English accents and variations and their connexion with class which is still worth reading. There’s arguments over whether some dialects- most notably Scots and Ulster-Scots- can claim to be distinct languages. The North-Eastern version of English- Geordie- is so hard to understand that in the First World War the Germans thought prisoners who used this had been recruited in some mysterious colony.

  32. 32
    vhutchison

    When I lived in Rhode Island I wondered what a ‘cabinet’ was, as listed on menus. I later found that it was a milkshake (with ice cream). In surrounding states it was sometimes called a ‘frappe.’ In some areas a milkshake is just flavored milk. In other areas it contains ice cream.

    Indeed we all have a map in our mouths, but due to the recent mobility of the U.S. population, regionalism is decreasing somewhat.

  33. 33
    Jackie

    I was born and raised in KY, but people here ask me where I’m from all the time. My daughter is also asked why she “talks funny”. I’d guess it has to do with my mom being from Indiana or her mother being raised in DC and then St Louis. That may not be it though since I sound more like my dad. He was also born and raised in the commonwealth. It’s a mystery.
    My husband lacks the accent his entire family speaks with. He blames it on watching too much TV as a child.

    Here are a couple more variations I’ve noticed:

    Do you drive someone to the store or carry them there?

    Do you go to Target or to the Target?

  34. 34
    Jackie

    I have to tell on myself.

    I worked in a book store and a man came in asking for a book on Peonies. I had never heard the word before. He was shocked. He assured me it was a common flower. I asked him to spell it. He did and I realized he was talking about “Pee-OWN-ees”. Sure, I knew what those were! The poor man. He got his book and left looking sort of bewildered.

  35. 35
    vole

    Interesting perspective from PZ. As a Brit, I find most British accents easy to understand most of the time, except maybe Geordie or Glaswegian. But American accents vary widely to British ears. I enjoyed “The Wire”, but without subtitles I’d often have had no chance at all of understanding what was going on. Can it really be true that people across America had no difficulty understanding that?

  36. 36
    SallyStrange

    I used to catch crayfish while wading in the river, but they were never so big that it occurred to me that people might eat them.

  37. 37
    Ysidro

    As a native Pennsylvanian, I am horribly upset there is no “yinz” or “yunz” choice for referring to groups of people.

    I’m only partly kidding. ;)

  38. 38
    ChasCPeterson

    As a native Pennsylvanian, I am horribly upset there is no “yinz” or “yunz” choice for referring to groups of people.

    Yeah, the unique and distinctive Pittsburgh dialect is not depicted by those maps.
    exhibit C

  39. 39
    TonyJ

    1) I also say crawdads. I live in Washington now, but even when I was growing up in Idaho, we said crawdads
    2) Where can I catch some Green River crawdads? Is there somewhere special I should look?

  40. 40
    timgueguen

    The soft drink question is more important than the shrimp wannabe question.

  41. 41
    mythbri

    I prefer the term “tiny lobsters” myself.

  42. 42
    robro

    Is that the Green River in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky? Did you go to Paradise, a backwards old town that’s often remembered? Did you travel right down the Green River to an abandoned old prison on Adrie Hill where the air smelled like snakes and you’d shoot with your pistols?

    If that’s the place, you might want to visit the area on August 21, 2017 because the longest duration of a total solar eclipse will be visible near Hopkinsville, Ky that day, which ain’t far from Paradise.

    The language map was fascinating but I noted a couple of words not on the list. Perhaps they aren’t used any more. He didn’t have “dope” for soda/coke which was still quite common in parts of the South in the late 60s. And while he had y’all, you all, and you guys, he did not have “yous guys.” I had some cousins who lived in Maine a few years (my uncle was stationed there) who used that one.

  43. 43
    What a Maroon, oblivious

    @21, 24,

    Peeving? Really?

  44. 44
    Godric von Falkenrath

    @ paulburnett

    1. Running shoes
    2. milkshake
    3. nobody I know who grew up in the region EVER says “ain’t”
    4. I don’t know what a hushpuppy is
    5. frying pan
    6. water comes from the tap, but it can come from a faucet if necessary

    I’m from Ontario. I think people would call the creatures in question “crayfish”, but I have never seen one in the wild, and until now I didn’t know it was a crustacean. Other questions I can think of are

    1. what do you call it when a battery is depleted (it is a flat battery)
    2. name a commonly used colloquial term for units of distance travelled (clicks)
    3. what do you call the warm casual garment with a hood, sleeves, and probably the name of some university? (sweatshirt/hoodie)
    5. if you see a poster with “shagging contest” written on it, will you involuntarily spit out your drink?
    (yes)

  45. 45
    burgundy

    I’m confused by the merry/Mary/marry map. It’s not just that it seems glaringly obvious to me that merry, at least, is pronounced differently – it’s that I hear people saying them differently, so how can it be that only a small portion of the country is identified that way on the map? At least it explains why on-line accent quizzes always peg me as being from Boston, when I’ve lived my whole life in Texas and my parents are from New York.

  46. 46
    Menyambal

    Here in the Ozarks there’s an accent that seems to be mostly used by women, for some reason. They pronounce “deal” and “feel” just like “dill” and “fill”. It isn’t common, and I tend to notice it, but I have never noticed a man use it.

    Ozark idiom is fun, although I tend to over-use it when talking to people who talk slightly rural. I like that there is a “you-uns” plural, and a few similars, but mostly that it is possible to announce that “the bathroom’s all yourn”.

  47. 47
    Form&Function

    I loved looking at these maps and finding the patterns from my own background as well. Like PZ, I grew up in the Pacific Northwest (Oregon), but then spent a significant amount of time in Minnesota. I also did my grad work in Texas and spent several years in another Southern state.

    This particular map was the most interesting. “Crawdad” is my most basic and natural word for this critter, and I too think of “crayfish” as a more formal name. But having gone to many crawfish boils, that’s the word for it when we’re putting the animal into a pot of boiling water with spices. You can’t have a crawdad boil!

  48. 48
    What a Maroon, oblivious

    I grew up in the suburbs of Boston, but for various reasons my accent is more middle-American. A couple more things that to my ear distinguish a Boston accent:

    1. What do you call those bits of chocolate that are often sprinkled on ice cream? Sprinkles, jimmies, or something else?
    2. How do you pronounce the word “aunt”? Is it a homonym with “ant”, or does it rhyme with “haunt”?
    3. Which of the words in the brackets sounds best to you? “I’m hungry.” “So {am/aren’t} I.”

  49. 49
    Rawnaeris, Lulu Cthulhu

    I’m rather bemused by my accent—or rather, the apparent lack of it.

    I’m from Dallas, and I remember having a fairly distinct accent when I was in high school. However, the last several years I’ve been told I have not distinguishable accent.

    I do still have some distinct Texan traits left in my speech, all sodas are “coke”, I drop any ending “g’s” and I can’t for the life of me figure out how Massachusetts folk get “Wister” out of “Worcester”.

    Oh and I actually use “folk.”

  50. 50
    What a Maroon, oblivious

    Regarding the overall uniformity of US accents, at least as compared to the UK, it’s common that when a people are settled in a place for a long time that a dialect continuum develops; small changes in pronunciation, word usage, morphology, and syntax often occur in one place and spread to neighboring areas. So if the population is settled enough, you can go from village to village and not notice any huge differences, but travel far enough and you may feel like the people at the end of your travels are speaking a completely different language (call it Scots). But if a group of people up and move to a new territory (US, Canada, NZ, etc.), and start to spread out, even after a few centuries you’re not as likely to find as many differences. (Of course other things complicate the scene: class distinctions in the UK, the degree of literacy in the society, the desire to play up or down regional differences; the leveling effect of mass media, and so on.)

    Iberia is an interesting case. The north of Spain (leaving out the Basque-speaking areas) is a classic dialect continuum; there’s no obvious border between Gallego and Asturiano; Asturiano and Castellano; Castellano and Aragones; Aragones and Catalan. But further south in Iberia there are clear demarcations between Portuguese/Gallego, Castellano, and Catalan/Valenciano that reflect the three prongs of the reconquista. The Gallegos drove the Moors out of the west, the Cantabrians drove them out of the center, and the Catalans drove them out of the east, and each of those groups imposed their own dialect on the local population.

  51. 51
    What a Maroon, oblivious

    I can’t for the life of me figure out how Massachusetts folk get “Wister” out of “Worcester”.

    An English acquaintance once tried to trip me up by asking me how to pronounce “L-e-i-c-e-s-t-e-r”.

    “Lestah” I replied, without a pause.

    Oh, and it’s crawdad, but only because of this.

  52. 52
    Onamission5

    I stand by my assertation made in the Skepchick comments thread that crawdads live in fresh, running water and crawfish live in brackish muddiness. Realize there’s not actually a species distinction, but that is the distinction my brain makes nonetheless.

    I am curious, and have often argued with Spouse about, how many folks make a distinction in pronunciation between route, rout, and root? (r-long oo-t, raowt, and r-uh-t, respectively), and how many pronounce route differently depending upon usage? For me, it’s a r-long oo-t when I am taking a designated path, but a raowt when I am using a router to shape wood.

    @vole #35: I don’t know about any other USians, but I had no difficulty understanding The Wire at all. There was a pizza place employee where I live in the US South though who could not understand me on the phone at all, nor I, her. My Oregon PNW accent trained ears did not mesh well with her Western North Carolina accent trained ones.

  53. 53
    serena

    Having just watched a back-to-back marathon of the Sharpe series starring Sean Bean, everything I read is now ‘heard’ in my head with his accent.

  54. 54
    jetboy

    Ooo a favored subject of mine, accents and word usage are fun. I spent several years growing up in three distinct places each with regional differences, some so definite that a native speaker could tell where someone was from, county-by-county and even social class. If you spend some time listening to speakers in Charleston SC or Savannah GA, (both of which do have differences of their own) and then go to Raleigh NC or Chattanooga TN, you’ll notice definite differences and similarities. If you tend, like I do, to pick up the accent of the person you’re speaking with, you’ll notice the changes when they happen with the next person. It was crawdads all the way down in the Lowcountry, except I did hear “mudbugs” from some of the more country folk in Beaufort (that’s byoofurt – how do you pronounce beautiful?) County.
    I don’t know where it comes from, but in my house growing up, a tap is what we got water from, a faucet is what leaks, and a spigot (spickit) is what the water comes out of when you’re outside. We drank tap water from the spigot, yes we did. My mom is from Charleston SC by way of Chicago, my dad is from Atlanta GA by way of Philadelphia PA – but a large number of our relatives live in Gary and Baltimore…so maybe that explains it, maybe not. A public drinking fountain is both a bubbler and a water fountain, and second person plural is “ya’ll” or “all yous”. To describe a particular tree nut often heavily sweetened and used in pies, it was “pee-CAN” for country folk and “pih-KAHN” for the upper class…I can do this all day, so I’ll stop now.

  55. 55
    robro

    JetBoy — My parents knew a newspaper man in the 50s who they claimed could tell what county people were from after talking to them for a few minutes. I never witnessed this miracle myself. I was making a purchase at a Target store in Cupertino, California once and the clerk helping me had a very distinctive accent that reminded me of an aunt who lived in Eau Gallie, Florida for many years. So I asked, and indeed this woman had grown up in that area.

    However, I think being able to do that is becoming more difficult. TV, movies, educational systems are smoothing out the accents and regionalisms.

    By the way, the map didn’t show it, but you hear “y’all” in California quite a lot. It would be interesting to see the map on a county basis. I wouldn’t be surprised to find many Southernisms like “y’all” used in the Central Valley region.

  56. 56
    Charly

    Crawdad? Vocabulary I usually use for translating unfamiliar word does not even recognize it as a word.

    English with its pronounciation and completely illogical spelling is a nightmare for non-english speaking even without local accents and slang. You english speaking folks

    I will remember for the rest of my life the confused look on bank clerk’s face in Idaho, when I approached him and said I would like to open an account. I did not realize it at the time – that came much, much later – that my accent made it sound as if I was saying “I would like to open a cunt.” How many such faux-pas I made, completely oblivious, we shall never know.

    Language is tricky.

  57. 57
    davidbrown

    About twenty-five years ago, I was walking up Yonge Street in Toronto with a friend and her American cousin who was visiting for the weekend. Two black men deep in conversation walked by us, and the American cousin stared after them, looking dumbfounded. I asked her what was up. She replied, “Those black guys were talking like normal people!”
    As a young man I was always struck by the fact that I knew no Canadian blacks who spoke like the casts of “Good Times”, or “The Jeffersons”, or “Sanford and Son” (and I still don’t). Is there still some kind of assumption amongst some segment of the American population that blacks speak ‘ghetto’, or ebonics, or ‘southern black’, or some such thing – real or imagined?

  58. 58
    Harry Tuttle

    Come to Appalachia PZ. You’ll find plenty of incomprehensible accents. I was born and raised in Chattanooga TN and have a fairly mild southern Appalachian accent, but there are pockets of holler folk not 20 miles away from the city whose accents I find utterly impenetrable. We all say “Y’all” down here, for instance, but hardcore hicks say “Y’uns” or “Y’ins” (contractions of “You Ones”).

    I say my accent is mild but, much to the amusement of my Carolina-Piedmont accented wife, four beers into a Tennessee football game (that is to say, drunk and angry) I sound like I was born in a tar-paper shack halfway up the ass end of Bumblefuck Mountain.

  59. 59
    magistramarla

    I grew up in Southern Illinois. My mother always said “worsh the clothes”.
    I once spelled the word that way in a first grade spelling bee, and was very embarrassed by the laughter of the teacher and my peers. Ever since, I’ve been very particular about spelling and pronunciation.
    I married a New York native whose grandmother had been an English teacher and a stickler for proper spelling and pronunciation. We both tend to speak quite clearly, and people have a difficult time detecting any accent.
    We seem to have passed this on to our two oldest children. However, the three younger children who mostly grew up in Texas have picked up some of the Texas drawl. I cringe when I hear one of my children say “ain’t”.

  60. 60
    thecalmone

    Yabbies!

  61. 61
    greg hilliard

    Ysidro, I hope that PZ “worsched” his crawdads before cooking them. That’s Southwestern Pa. talk for washed. I lost most of that accent over the years, but one dead giveaway is when I “read” (pronounced red) up an area. In college, I had roommates from Philadelphia. I ate pancakes; they ate flapjacks. Indrank pop, but they had soda. At least we all agreed on beer.

  62. 62
    David Marjanović

    Thee biznt wrong.

    …My mind is blown, though. That’s not even descended from thou art, it uses the verb form that survives in German du bist!

    It’s alleged that at one time it was possible to tell what street a person grew up on, in some of the bigger cities. A small pinch of salt might be advised, but within a mile or so, I can easily believe it.

    It is said that Vienna once had four dialects. At the time, it had about 2 million inhabitants.

    Today, there are two very prominent accent features that not everybody has; one (which comes from the massive Czech immigration of the late 19th century) is limited to one of the 23 districts and its surroundings, and the other one is so rare that I haven’t been able to localise it.

    When I was a kid all the accents were much more pronounced, not surprisingly, since when I was a kid TV was relatively new and was not universally present.

    But, you see, I don’t talk like the TV. As kids we only did when we were playing Ghostbusters, because those were on the TV.

    “Altimers” rather than Alzheimers

    Isn’t that an interpretation of the word as “old-timers’ disease”?

    there’s an accent that seems to be mostly used by women, for some reason

    That’s actually pretty common on a global scale.

    2. How do you pronounce the word “aunt”? Is it a homonym with “ant”, or does it rhyme with “haunt”?

    How about neither?

    I can’t for the life of me figure out how Massachusetts folk get “Wister” out of “Worcester”

    The original in the UK is “wooster”. Woostushuh sauce.

    Of course other things complicate the scene: class distinctions in the UK, the degree of literacy in the society, the desire to play up or down regional differences; the leveling effect of mass media, and so on.

    Also, dialect leveling in (comparatively) small communities of immigrants from different places.

    (leaving out the Basque-speaking areas)

    “Where do we come from?
    And why do some of us
    speak Basque?”

    Subtitle of an article in New Scientist about 10 to 15 years ago.

    Is there still some kind of assumption amongst some segment of the American population that blacks speak ‘ghetto’, or ebonics, or ‘southern black’, or some such thing – real or imagined?

    It’s actually quite uncommon for US blacks to speak the same way as whites from the same place, except maybe in parts of the deep south. For example, they don’t participate in the northern-cities vowel shift, and drop Rs in places where whites don’t.

  63. 63
    Rich Woods

    …My mind is blown, though. That’s not even descended from thou art, it uses the verb form that survives in German du bist!

    The distinctiveness possibly survives because that part of the world lies perilously close to the Celtic Fringe. And now — stupidly — I’m struggling to remember other examples I heard only about six weeks ago, of where borders between two different groups of people can encourage each group to maintain their identity by treasuring linguistic and cultural differences.

  64. 64
    carolw

    1. Tennis shoes or tennies
    2. Shake
    3. Ain’t was not allowed in my house
    4. I have eaten hushuppies
    5. Skillet and frying pan interchangeably
    6. The faucet is in the sink or tub, the spigot is outside

    Years ago I was dating a young man from Syria, and one day it was raining with the sun shining. He said something in Arabic, and I asked what he’d said. “The devil is beating his wife,” he said. “My mom always says that when the sun is shining when it rains.” I could have fainted. My Texas-born-and-raised mom says the same thing.
    And the little lobsters are crawfish.

  65. 65
    Rich Woods

    @myself #62:

    Forgot to say that the principle also works with class differences, not just on a geographical and/or ethnicity basis.

  66. 66
    Rich Woods

    @carolw #63:

    “The devil is beating his wife,” he said. “My mom always says that when the sun is shining when it rains.” I could have fainted. My Texas-born-and-raised mom says the same thing.

    At times the world is beautifully small place.

  67. 67
    Menyambal

    I live near Rolla, Missouri, which is pronounced “rawluh”. I was in a restaurant in North Carolina, when I overheard a couple of ladies talking about going to Rolla. I was about to say hello or something, when I realized they were talking about the city of Raleigh, using a soft Carolina accent. The sound was exactly the same, and I assume Rolla was named by somebody who wasn’t familiar with the spelling.

    While in a restaurant somewhere in Louisiana, the people at the table behind me were talking loudly in what was to me the blackest, most African-American dialect/accent I had ever heard. I kept turning around to see a table full of white guys, because I just couldn’t believe my ears.

    While in a hostel in Mexico, we made a Frenchman laugh by reading French-origin town names off our Missouri map. Bois d”Arc is pronounced “Bodark”, around here. I can’t pronounce it his way without a cigarette to wave in the air.

  68. 68
    What a Maroon, oblivious

    Is there still some kind of assumption amongst some segment of the American population that blacks speak ‘ghetto’, or ebonics, or ‘southern black’, or some such thing – real or imagined?

    These days it’s usually referred to as African American English (AAE). Obviously not all African Americans speak it, but most speakers of AAE are African American. And, like all languages, it has some fascinating features that can give us some insight into the workings of the human brain.

  69. 69
    What a Maroon, oblivious

    How about neither?

    Or neither….

  70. 70
    David Marjanović

    The distinctiveness possibly survives because that part of the world lies perilously close to the Celtic Fringe.

    Interesting.

    And now — stupidly — I’m struggling to remember other examples I heard only about six weeks ago, of where borders between two different groups of people can encourage each group to maintain their identity by treasuring linguistic and cultural differences.

    Oh, there are lots. When the countries of Baden and Württemberg in what is now southwestern Germany were merged, their boundary became a dialect boundary. In the 17th century, upperclass Parisians changed the way they said “r” (making a similar sound in a completely different part of the mouth); this new sound has now swept pretty much everything from the Pyrenees to the edge of the Hungarian steppe and southern Norway, but Flemish – unlike much of the rest of Dutch – retains the old Italian-style r, possibly because the new one was perceived as specifically French, and not being French is a huge part of the Flemish identity; similarly, large parts of Bavaria keep the old one, despite being surrounded, as part of the tribal identity; and the Swiss keep their Spanish-style r, except for the upper-class dialect of Berne if anything is left of it.

  71. 71
    Callinectes

    As someone who grew up confusing everyone on the beach by talking about “asteroids” when it was clear to me that “starfish” was wildly inappropriate, it should come as no surprise that always said “arastacoid” once I learned of all the confusing alternative terms. My efforts did naught to resolve the issue.

  72. 72
    David Marjanović

    Some people say “sea star” now, possibly modeled on German Seestern.

  73. 73
    wolja

    American English doesn’t vary all that much

    When you all spell consistently atrociously then verbalisation is going to be similar :D

  74. 74
    vaiyt

    Some people say “sea star” now, possibly modeled on German Seestern.

    Maybe it’s a retro-translation of the Spanish estrella del mar? (Portuguese, Catalan, French, Italian and Romanian also follow this naming pattern, so I guess it’s a Romance thing).

  75. 75
    What a Maroon, oblivious

    “Where do we come from?
    And why do some of us
    speak Basque?”

    Subtitle of an article in New Scientist about 10 to 15 years ago.

    Hah!

    In my case, what little I speak is entirely my wife’s fault.

  76. 76
    katkinkate

    Freshwater crayfish are called crawchies in Central Queensland Australia.

  77. 77
    Azuma Hazuki

    Heavy, heavy Northeast usage patterns here (as they should be; i spent all my life bar the last 7 months in NYC). But people say I sound Btirish, which is weird because no one on either side of the family is from England. Apparently proper pronunciation makes you sound British. Who knew? Though I do tend to reduce, but not drop, terminal Rs.

  78. 78
    =8)-DX

    American English doesn’t vary all that much— I can easily understand everyone all across the country. English in the United Kingdom, though — that’s where you get the strong regional accents.

    Heh… another case of American exceptionalism. Just because you can easily understand different flavours of US English, doesn’t mean that’s how others see it. And “English in the United Kingdom” is a bit of a misnomer. The correct thing to compare would be English in England, English in Scotland and English in Wales with US English – lumping these all together doesn’t make for a meaningful comparison. I knew someone who used to visit from Cincinnati and his US English was completely different than other US accents I’d heard.

    And many of my Czech friends with English as a second language have more problems with strong US accents than with different ones in the UK.

    I’d say that one’s ability to understand and distinguish different accents depends heavily one one’s exposure to these in youth (or long-term in adulthood), just as with any language skills.

  79. 79
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    I have learned that in some places in America, a roundabout is called a “traffic circle” or a “rotary” (dafuq?!) and that none of you can pronounce the word syrup.

    I really like “sunshower” for when it’s raining while also sunny :) though I am less fond of “the devil is beating his wife” for the same situation. I also love the concept of a “drive-thru liquor store” :D

  80. 80
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @PaulBurnett

    Does water come out of a faucet or a spigot?

    It comes out of a fucking tap. What is wrong with you people!?

    /tongue-in-cheek

  81. 81
    ismenia

    My Grandma says that she can no longer understand broad Geordie accents (ie accent of people of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the north of England) and she comes from there. As a Londoner, a broad Geordie accent is the only one that I find difficult to understand. However, at school a lot of students struggled to understand a Scottish teacher. No-one had trouble with the French, Italian and Polish teachers.

    Once in the school pantomime (there’s another weird British tradition) the Scottish teacher had the line, “I really like your dress”, but everyone heard it as “I really like your breasts”. The girl playing Cinderella was a student. He said afterwards that the deputy headmistress came to ask him what he had said.

  82. 82
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    It’s lunch time here and this whole conversation has made me want a prawn-mayo sandwich… I think thats shrimp and mayo to you USians out there.

  83. 83
    gravityisjustatheory

    We have crayfish and crawfish in the UK, but they’re different genuses, one freshwater and one marine.

    Accordign to a (rather old) wildlife encyclopaedia I have handy, Crayfish is Astacus pallipes, and Crawfish is the marine “spiny lobster”, Palinurus vulgaris

    (Checking on Wikipedia and elswhere indicates that P. vulgaris is now P. elephas, and A. pallipes is now has moved genuses to Austropotamobius pallipes).

  84. 84
    gravityisjustatheory

    And just for the hell of it, I thought I’d take the quiz myself for a (probably very non-standard) UK perspective:
    1) caramel: 3 syllables, “carra-mel”
    2) “been” as in “see”
    3) “I have seen this word in print but have no idea how to pronounce it” – probably would go with “bow” (as in the front of a ship)
    4) Somewhere between “cray-awn” and “cray-on”. “cray-un”? “cray-en”?
    5) “loyer”
    6) coleslaw
    7) just “guys” (I’m assuming they mean a group you are friends with, in an informal situation).
    8) 3 syllables, but tending more towards “may-on-aze”
    9) “pa-jaa-mas”
    10) “Pee-can”
    11) “fizzy drink”
    12) crayfish
    13) roundabout
    14) like “stirup”, but without the “t”
    15) Baguette
    16) drinking fountain
    17) Are they talking about “trainers”, or “plimsolls”?
    18) “motorway”, “dual carriageway”, “A-road”, “main road” (depending on the type of road; the terms are not all mutually exclusive).
    19) No special term
    20) The City of London / (metaphorically) the financial industry located there / the nearest big city.
    21) These exist?!
    22) All three are different.

  85. 85
    neeroc

    Up here, I’ve always called them ‘bait’. I can’t imagine eating one of those.

    Oh and don’t fly across the pond if you want an incomprehensible accent/dialect, try talking to a Newf. or someone from the Ottawa Valley…although that might be more Franglais (Frenglish) playing a part there.

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