My second attempt at the dialect quiz showed off my Midwestern roots

My family is spread out across the country — from Charlotte, North Carolina to Wooster, Ohio to Seattle, Washington. Three distinct geographic locations in which people use different vernacular to express themselves — everything from the strip of land between the sidewalk and the street (A tree lawn of course!) to the carbonated beverages we drink (I still hold onto my Midwestern use of “pop”) to that big mountain cat that lives in the foothills of the Cascades (a cougar, not a panther, catamount or mountain lion).

nytimesquizSo, you can imagine the fun our family had over the holiday when we all took the amazing dialect quiz on The New York Times, which pinpoints where people share common language. My top three cities initially came in as Seattle, Spokane and Lincoln, Nebraska — an interesting analysis since it skewed more towards the west coast where I’ve lived since 1995 than my hometown in Ohio. (My second analysis, shown above, skewed a bit more Midwestern). Our family had a few laughs when my dad — a life long Buckeye — took the quiz and was pinpointed as most like Akron, Cleveland and Toledo. Amazingly accurate!

The questions in the NY Times quiz are based on a linguistics project started more than a decade ago at Harvard University by Bert Vaux and Scott Golder.

Scott Golder, right, speaking about the dialect quiz on the Today show this week.

Interestingly, Golder is now an employee at Context Relevant, a Seattle big data startup backed by Madrona and Bloomberg that’s developing tools to analyze massive amounts of data. Golder started working on a web-based version of the linguistics survey as a data collection tool in 2001 while an undergraduate at Harvard. Prior to the Internet, Golder said that language data had been collected in a traditional manner, in which researchers painstakingly interviewed and recorded small numbers of people.

“Remember that in 2001, the consumer Internet was still in its infancy, and “viral” hadn’t been invented yet — we considered getting 50,000 respondents as a massive victory,” Golder tells GeekWire. “It wasn’t called Big Data back then, but that’s essentially what it was. I realized even then that the Internet presented an enormous opportunity to study human behavior at massive scale, with high fidelity, and at low cost.”

Golder, who in addition to working at Context Relevant is a PhD candidate in Sociology at Cornell University, said the Harvard study has experienced an amazing resurgence.

“An enterprising statistics student updated the maps using current graphics tools, and it has spread like wildfire through Facebook and other social media. I think the reason is that people love learning more about themselves, and seeing how they’re similar to or different from others,” said Golder, who recently moved to Seattle to work at Context Relevant and says that he’s constantly on the lookout for interesting dialect unique to the Northwest.

“My main agenda in working on the project was advancing the use of the Internet as a data collection tool,” said Golder of his work on the project in 2001. “I was able to collect 1000x the data that would have been possible using traditional methods.”

If you are looking for a little fun before the end of the year, make sure to take the quiz and let us know where your dialect is strongest.

Meanwhile, here’s Golder talking about the concept on the Today show.

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  • Viet Nguyen

    “Catamount?” The dialect quiz had me pegged. Seattle-Tacoma.

    • That Guy

      That’s what you call a cougar in Vermont and New Hampshire. There’s a brewery in VT called Catamount, and the label carries a picture of a cougar.

  • http://blog.findwell.com Kevin Lisota

    The quiz nailed my Milwaukee heritage exactly. That said, the one question about a bubbler is really all that’s needed for that particular geography.

    • johnhcook

      Funny, my sister-in-law is from Milwaukee too, and the “bubbler” term nailed her down in that region. We had some fun with that one on Xmas.

      Just like “tree lawn” identifies everyone in northern Ohio.

  • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

    Tempe, Rochester and Salt Lake City. Three areas in which I’ve never lived. That said, I’ve always been told I have a “broadcaster’s” accent, which is pretty neutral (and I have lived in Seattle, Los Angeles and Green Bay, so I’ve probably picked up on a lot of different verbiage and kept that I like the best).

    • http://WiredPen.com/ kegill

      Mine was a bit all over the map, too, Frank. Montgomery Al, Jackson MS and somewhere in Oklahoma. (I thought I’d taken a screen capture but if I did, I can’t find it.)

      I’ve never lived in any of those places>> southwest Georgia – northeast Georgia – Blacksburg VA, greater Philly, greater Seattle.

      But accents are not the same as vernacular, which is what this is supposed to be testing.

      If you’re interested in the origin of the odd ones, this seems to be the original data: http://www4.uwm.edu/FLL/linguistics/dialect/maps.html

      • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

        Good point on accent vs. vernacular. I apparently found lingo I liked in my early broadcasting travel, and adopted it.

    • stevec77

      That was my result also. I’ve been everywhere man…and you can hear it when I speak.

  • That Guy

    Great quiz. I only had one nitpick. The area between the sidewalk and the street is a “parking strip,” but the only choice with “parking” in it omitted the word “strip,” so I had to pick none of the above. But it still nailed as choice #1 the place where I grew up and choice #2 where I went to college.

  • Western Girl

    This quiz was superficial at best. I can’t imagine why so many people like it except that it is cutesy. Kind of like those Cosmopolitan magazine polls. I guess it makes good press.

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