Can Dialect Maps Tell if Kentucky is More Southern or Midwestern?

Louisville’s geographic location has always led to that question of whether it’s a Southern city or a Midwestern city. 

A series of interactive maps looking at dialects shows that it’s both.

Joshua Katz, a doctoral student at North Carolina State University, created the maps using survey data from Cambridge University linguist Bert Vaux. 

Vaux had asked people across the nation  how they pronounced or used 122 words or  phrases.

Katz told N.C. State’s The Abstract:  “To me, dialect is a badge of pride – it’s something that says, ‘This is who I am; this is where I come from.’”

Fast Company’s Co.EXIST noted:

Browsing the maps shows how many of the differences–and similarities–in the dialectical landscape are rather unexpected. In some cases, New Englanders have far more in common with Southerners than the rest of the country: both regions favor long ‘a’ sounds in the word ‘pajamas’ (where the second syllable sounds like ‘father’ as opposed to jam’), for example. Certain trends pit the coastlines against the interior, like soda versus pop, respectively.

The maps can help dissect that North/South question. But, as Co.EXIST notes, the dialects we use for certain words aren’t quite as predictable as you might, well, predict. And Kentucky’s middle-ground status only adds to the unpredictability.

What I found most interesting was the answer to: “What word(s) do you use to address a group of two or more people?”

The the north and west, the preference is “you guys.” To the south, it’s “y’all.”

In Kentucky and practically nowhere else, the preference is that cozy compromise “you all.” 

But you all know that there’s more.

Like most of the South, Louisville (and Kentucky) prefers to generically call a “sweetened carbonated beverage” a Coke, ostensibly because Coca-Cola is based in Atlanta. But the runner-up choice is “soda,” popular in the Northeast, around St. Louis, Chicago and California. “Soft drink” isn’t far behind. “Pop” is popular in the Rust Belt, and, incidentally, makes my skin crawl.

But, like the South, we insist that they’re roly polies. In the Northwest and other pockets, they’re called potato bugs. Around Cincinnati, uniquely, the preference is “pill bug”

And the Northeast and parts of the Rust Belt have absolutely no idea what those things are.

One more.

Kentuckians and most bordering regions use “lightning bugs.” Out west and in parts of New England, they’re calling them “fireflies.” 

Joseph Lord

Joseph Lord is the online managing editor for WFPL.

@joseph_Lord

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