How You Guys Talk.

A surprisingly well done NY Times dialect quiz:

Most of the questions used in this quiz are based on those in the Harvard Dialect Survey, a linguistics project begun in 2002 by Bert Vaux and Scott Golder. The original questions and results for that survey can be found on Dr. Vaux’s current website.

The data for the quiz and maps shown here come from over 350,000 survey responses collected from August to October 2013 by Josh Katz, a graphics editor for the New York Times who developed this quiz. The colors on the large heat map correspond to the probability that a randomly selected person in that location would respond to a randomly selected survey question the same way that you did. The three smaller maps show which answer most contributed to those cities being named the most (or least) similar to you.

Pretty much everybody who’s tried it (and is from the U.S.) is struck by how accurate it is; I expected to bamboozle it, since I’m from nowhere in particular, but it pegged me as from the Los Angeles area, and since that’s where my father’s side of the family (originally from the Ozarks) moved to before I was born and thus where I spent a lot of time on home leave as a kid, as well as where I went to college, it’s probably the biggest single formative element in my way of speaking. Thanks to Bill, Paul, and anyone else who may have sent me the link!

Comments

  1. I grew up in Australia, but I gave it a try anyway. It hypothesized that I was from Yonkers, Jersey City, or Newark. (Hawaii, the tip of Florida, and parts of New England were also red.)

  2. The questions were pretty hard for me to answer. I suppose that’s because it’s been decades since I’ve used any of the words, since I speak German almost exclusively. I tried to stick with the answers that seemed most familiar.

    Nevertheless, I was placed as coming from Augusta, Winston-Salem or Greensboro, whereas I grew up in El Paso. My parents and grandparents came from northern Missippi, so maybe that is a factor. However, the most accurate description is probably that my speech is now a jumble of Usanian, High-muck-a-muck-ian and lord knows what-all.

    The “most distinctive answer for each of these cities” was “yard sale”. That item had caused me some difficulty. I should have answered “some other word” (if that answer was offered), because I can’t remember the phenomenon of “selling things in the yard or on the porch”, although I have seen it in American films. What I remember, in the general context so to speak, is “garage sale”, which were housed in a garage. .

  3. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Like Matt, I wasn’t brought up in the US (in England, in my case) but I did it anyway. I thought it might pick up some trace of the three yearsI lived in Berkeley, but no: it suggested Yonkers, Newark and New York — the first two of which I’ve never been to, and the third not for a good many years. However, I realize that it’s not designed for people like me.

  4. Maybe Yonkers et al have a high proportion of relatively “cultured”, well-educated, and well travelled residents? I can actually think of one museum administrator with a Cambridge education I know who lives in Yonkers (the only person I know who lives in Yonkers). Thoughts?
    And oh! Mr Hat! I missed out saying
    Feliç Sant Esteve!

  5. [I meant to have "European" worked somehow into my previous comment.]
    Now I’ve taken the quiz. Why does it seem “amazing”? But I am amazed. On the other hand I tried to be really truthful; but eliminate all influences from being married to an Englishman and living outside the US for 30 year.
    And it pegged me as “Spokane, Minneapolis/Saint Paul/Salt Lake City”. I’ve never been to Salt Lake City, and only went through customs once in Minneapolis. I’m a Seattle-ite by birth and elementary education. Perhaps Seattle is not an option but Spokane is? I wonder what I said that was more characteristic of the “Inland Empire” than of Puget Sound?
    Very amusing!

  6. marie-lucie says:

    I grew up in France, moved to Canada as an adult and have lived about equal amounts of time on the West and East coasts of Canada. I took the quiz out of curiosity and chose the words and pronunciations I am most familiar with. I was placed smack in New York State! the reddest part, just South of Lakes Erie and Ontario, even though where I live is off the map (in the next time zone in the East).

    Out in BC people said “garage sale”, here in NS it is “yard sale”. I think that fewer people here have garages, especially in the older parts of town. If they don’t have a yard accessible from outside the house they sell on the sidewalk but still call it a yard sale. Usually these outfoor sales occur in the summer. Sometimes households on the same block have a joint one, which attracts more people to the area.

  7. I’ll have to endorse this one: despite all my travels, it placed me as “Arlington/Baltimore/Durham”, which is actually a lot more accurate than the result I got from that project’s extended quiz. The only parts of my childhood I spent in the US were in the DC suburbs, and that’s where my mother grew up. Good find!

  8. I get NYC, Yonkers and Jersey. Born in Australia, lived mostly in France and UK, worked for US news organisations for many years, visited NYC, but never Yonkers or Jersey.

  9. Yonkers, Newark, and Jersey City are just cities adjacent to New York City that have the same dialect as it. So if you get pegged as NYC/Yonkers/Newark or whatever, that’s just the quiz saying “New York is by far the best match; nothing else is even close.”

  10. I got Newark and some other place in New Jersey. You got a fucking problem with that?

  11. (Crap, WP ate the tag around the second sentence. It was /stereotypical_NJ_accent_as_done_by_Jon_Stewart/)

  12. The quiz placed me pretty much in Buffalo, NY. Not bad, not bad at all. I was born and spent most of my life in Toronto, about an hour and a half from there.

  13. Nearly all my life to date has taken place in Kansas; the map puts me in Madison/Milwaukee/Rockford. (I spent a week in Manitowoc when I was eight or so.) It looks like the primary reason for this result is my observance of the cot-caught dichotomy.

  14. This quiz even worked correctly for my sister-in-law, who grew up in Kiev and has spent almost the entire 20 years since moving to the US in Boston. Her results were a small red spot centered on Boston. By contrast, another friend of mine, who is Turkish and has lived 25 years in central New York state, stumped the quiz, with guesses scattered all over the place. However, her English is considerably less good than my sister-in-law’s.

  15. fascinating.. there were some terms there I’d never even heard, katty wumpus for catty-corner ?

    raised in S. Africa, learned to speak American in Winston-Salem N. Carolina, live in Denver.
    I got NYNY, Washington DC, and Providence RI.

  16. raised in Oklahoma by parents from NY and Michigan, most of adult life in Northern Califrnia. The quiz put me in various parts of Colorado. A problem I noted is that several choices were either one or the other when my impulse was that I am fine with both locutions.

  17. Trond Engen says:

    I got New York, Newark and Honolulu. I think it’s the three-way split of Mary, marry and merry and a mostly British vocabulary that does it for most of us non-natives.

  18. J. W. Brewer says:

    Given how many Americans move around, the number of “accurate” answers can potentially increase. The one time I tried it it accurately identified where I’ve lived for the last 20+ years. OTOH, if it had instead identified where I’d grown up I suppose that would also have seemed impressive. For the one question I got (you only get a random subset of the total inventory of possible questions, I guess because they figured that not enough people would have the attention span to do the whole set?) where there was a very obvious way to give a place-of-origin answer (i.e., I could have selected “hoagie” over “sub” – although frankly my boyhood lexicon used both of those rather than one to the exclusion of the other), I didn’t do so because the question was phrased in present tense and that’s a discourse context where you’re probably going to use whatever lexical item will make you understood by the person you’re ordering your meal from. There may be other areas where there isn’t the same sort of downside to retaining the lexical term you acquired in childhood, so, e.g., I suspect that my default term “garage sale” may not be the most common option where I live now but I haven’t thus far been sufficiently incentivized to switch over. Unlike Stu, I do not conceptualize a “garage sale” as actually typically taking place inside the seller’s garage, but rather out in the driveway and/or front yard.

  19. The quiz placed all my siblings and I in Rockford and Aurora, but only gave us Chicago (our actual hometown) when we picked “gym shoes” over the half dozen equally possible names for athletic footwear. I chose “sneakers” and got placed in Buffalo and somewhere else in Upstate new york (and Aurora. The quiz really liked Aurora.) Is there something in the programming that makes it prefer small or outlying cities to larger ones? Maybe the smaller places have fewer characteristic boxes to be checked?
    Catanea, not sure if you’re joking, but I don’t think any of the words or pronunciations in the quiz have educated/uneducated or “U/non-U” splits. (No idea how it treats racial differences in pronunciation or vocabulary.)

  20. I’ve noticed a fairly consistent pattern (between the comments on this site, wordorigin.org, and language log) of people from Great Britain and Australia taking the test and being fairly consistently placed in NY/NJ/Yonkers. It seems to be too consistent to be purely random. I’m curious as to what specific feature is common to GB/Australian speech and NY/NJ/Yonkers speech to produce this result.

    Also, a bit off topic, but, FWIW, I’m familiar with the expression “Katty Wampus” (that’s how I would have guessed it was spelled, anyway, as I’ve only heard it, not read it): my father, who was born in rural Southern California, uses it a lot. But he doesn’t use it to mean “kitty corner”. He uses it to refer to an uneven/unstable piece of furniture or structure. As in, “Don’t put the fishbowl on that table, it’s a bit katty wampus.” It can either refer to something that is actively swaying about or rocking, or something that looks like it could do so at any moment. I’m not sure if that is related to “Katty Wumpus”, and/or to the kitty corner sense of the phrase. (I could imagine a sense of “askew, unstable, uneven” arising out of a sense of “diagonal”, but don’t know if it did.)

  21. “I’ve noticed a fairly consistent pattern (between the comments on this site, wordorigin.org, and language log) of people from Great Britain and Australia taking the test and being fairly consistently placed in NY/NJ/Yonkers. It seems to be too consistent to be purely random. I’m curious as to what specific feature is common to GB/Australian speech and NY/NJ/Yonkers speech to produce this result.”

    Arhoticisim?

    For me the test was off. It placed me in Arlington, VA, but I’ve lived in Fairfax County since 1977.

  22. John Cowan says:

    It nailed me as Newark (by the way, Newark and New York do not at all have the same dialect!) and my wife as Greensboro/Winston-Salem. She found it hard to believe I hadn’t surreptitiously put her birthplace into the computer somehow, as she lived there for only 18 years, followed by 12 years in Florida and 40 years in NYC.

    Since the quiz looks only at U.S. diagnostic features, it will inevitably cough up a hairball of meaningless results for people whose native accent is non-U.S., to say nothing of non-English.

  23. John Cowan says:

    I meant to add that it probably won’t work too well for Americans whose native dialect is AAVE either.

  24. John Cowan says:

    Non-rhotic speech and not merging Mary, marry, merry are both NYC features, so I’d guess that accounts for many of the faux-NYC terms. In addition, a lot of the vocabulary questions are rather suburban (what strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street?), and so New Yorkers either give the “don’t have a word” or the default, generalized answer, which also makes them resemble foreigners.

    “New York is Europe manqué” — I forget who

  25. Trond Engen says:

    Yeah, I know it’s not supposed to work for me, and that the result is bound to be meaningless, but I was curious to see why it seemed to give NYC for all non-Americans. Lack of suburbanisms seems like a reasonable explanation I hadn’t thought of. I had thought of rhoticism, but I didn’t notice how that came into the test. Maybe I didn’t pay enough attention to all the questions.

  26. I’m a Brit who’s lived in California for 15 years: I came out as Alabama :)

  27. The quiz was actually fun. But most of the time, it’s not where you come from, it’s where you stayed the longest time that you adapt to the terms used especially if you talk to the natives in a particular place for a very long time. Human is very adaptable to his/her environment.

  28. I gave it a try experimentally as a control case (my English being of an adoptive southern British type). I was placed rather firmly somewhere between Western New York (Rochester) and North Jersey (Jersey City, Paterson).

  29. I thought it was supposed to tell me where I grew up and learned to talk, which was nowhere in particular: my father was in the Navy, so there was a lot of Norfolk VA, bits of Monterey, CA, Newport RI, Bath, ME, several other places.

    It did an excellent job of placing me in respect to where I’ve spent the last 10+ years. The three cities it gave were Baltimore, Richmond, and Winston-Salem. If you add a fourth point to make a long narrow diamond with Baltimore and Winston-Salem on the ends, the fourth point will be very close to Staunton, VA, where I’ve lived for 5 1/2 years. Before that, in reverse order, I lived 3 years in Raleigh (not Winston-Salem, but still NC) and 2 years in Baltimore (bingo). Before that, 5 of the 6 places I lived were well outside the diamond: 1 year in Rochester NY, 6 months in Yarmouth ME, 6 months in New York City, 2 years in Bowling Green OH, 2 years in Arlington VA, and 7 years in Tuscaloosa. But before that was 3 years in Charlottesville and 5 in Arlington VA, both inside the diamond. All in all, it was surprisingly accurate, considering how many places I’ve lived (I could list several more from 30+ years ago). Even when little, I don’t believe I’ve ever lived in the same house or apartment for more than 5 years.

  30. Following up on my last comment, I got my mother to try it, and she got placed quite confidently as NC, instead of Maryland where she actually grew up. Looking at the diagnostic features, the explanation became obvious: there are a lot of “southern-isms” (crawdads, y’all…) that folks in the DC suburbs used when she was growing up but definitely don’t use any more, whereas NC is a lot less affected by immigration from other states and standardization. That time dimension must make a difference in a fair few areas.

  31. A drive-through liquor store?

    I’m shocked. Shocked!

    It must have a jolly wide front door.

  32. Seemed to think I was from Pittsburgh, never even visited. But growing up in Detroit, both parents grew up in Ontario, and I’ve lived in Salt Lake City, and Boston, and been in the military, and being over 50, I probably am an odd mix.

  33. John Cowan says:

    AJP: Behold. Evidently these are modified garages or barns; indeed, I note that one of them is actually called “Beverage Barn”.

  34. Great pictures, John. I like the ones where it’s as if you were driving your car right into the middle of an ordinary grocery store.

    My favourite sign is:

    Double Shot
    Liquor & Guns
    Drive Thru
    Archery items now in stock.

    To buy a bow and arrow you should arrive on a bicycle.

  35. s/o – I tried to answer you before, but I am not liked by the new interface?
    No, I wasn’t joking. Only suggesting that a possible high percentage of immigrants would skew results.

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