For reasons I can’t entirely explain, I have always loved accents. Jersey shore, eastern Tennessee, southern California, South Beach, Louisiana bayou, Fargo, boogie-down Bronx, Liverpool… you name it, I love them all. It must have something to do with the fact that I can barely speak one language, and therefore appreciate all the more that English comes in such an endless variety of flavors.
That may also explain why I was so excited when the New York Times recently posted a dialect quiz on its website. The multiple-choice quiz asks each participant to indicate how he or she pronounces various words. It then produces a map showing how one’s accent compares with other parts of the nation, and it identifies which three cities one’s accent most closely resembles. Although the quiz is just 25-questions long, I was thoroughly impressed with its precision, and I encourage everyone to take the quiz themselves by clicking on this link. I’ve posted the results of my own map below, and, as you can see, living in Florida for the past six years has evidently failed to diminish my southwestern Virginia accent even a little. Note that areas in red indicate places where people speak like me, and areas in blue indicate places where people speak different from me. I’ve marked my beloved hometown, Franklin County, Virginia, with a yellow star. (Click on the map for a larger version.)
This quiz sent me down the Google rabbit hole, where I discovered several other websites that chronicle unique American dialects. For example, a Linguistics professor at George Mason University has produced the very cool Speech Accent Archive, where visitors can compare and contrast how hundreds of different people from across the world pronounce the exact same passage. Two of the more extreme examples include an adorable seven-year-old girl from Norton, Virginia (where my dad was born), and a forty-five-year-old man from Sydney, Australia. Check it out for yourself. (You may have to download QuickTime to hear the audio files.) Other websites featuring dialect maps can be found here and here. And finally, I thought I’d close by sharing this really fascinating video about dialects that was put together by the good folks over at The Atlantic. Until next time, y’all take care.