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You Say Tomato, I Say Soda. Or Is it Pop?

Soda, pop, or coke? Josh Katz’ dialect map lets you see who says what, where.
(Click on image to go to interactive map)

Here’s a nifty new way of looking at some old regional differences in dialect. NC State graduate student Joshua Katz was looking for an idea for his end-of-year statistics project, when he came across interesting linguistics data from Dr. Bert Vaux of Cambridge University. Vaux had collected data on regional dialects in the U.S. via a 120-question survey that asked about everything from the pronunciation of “caught” to whether “y’all” is preferred over “you.” Then he had mapped that data, to indicate where particular dialect differences were more prevalent.

“Dr. Vaux’s maps showed each response as a single color-coded point, so you could see individual instances of each answer,” Katz says. “I wondered if there was a way to take the existing data and create maps that gave a more complete picture of national dialect differences.”

Katz created a statistical algorithm that weighted the responses around a particular location. The approach let Katz create colorful maps that show how regional dialects are spread across the country.

So what do you call a sweetened, carbonated beverage?  According to the map, coastal residents are predominately soda people, the pop drinkers are concentrated in the upper Midwest, and a few solid coke holdouts dwell in the southern states.

Beyond the soda question, Katz has created an interactive map which lets you explore the responses to each of Vaux’s 120 questions.  Katz has also created a map with a pull-down menu which lets you see the “aggregate dialect difference” in selected cities. Basically, “aggregate dialect difference” just means, “Who else in the U.S. talks like me?”

Katz hopes to continue collaborating with Vaux on future projects. As for why a statistician decided to tackle language? “I’ve always found variations in dialect fascinating – language says so much about who a person is,” Katz says. “To me, dialect is a badge of pride – it’s something that says, ‘This is who I am; this is where I come from.’”

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  1. I am from the south, born in NC and Live in Ga. and We say You wanna a Coke? and if they say yes, we will ask what kind you want Co-cola, Sprite, Dr. Pepper, ect.Even Mt. Dew is called Coke until which drink you want is established then it will be called a Dew.

  2. When I was 10, I moved from ballmoor (Baltimore) Murland (Maryland) to Colorado. Besides every asking if ice cream went in with pop to make a soda, I also had to refer to tennis shoes as sneakers. Then I come to believe that Baltimore may be the only ones that say am”bull”lance instead of ambulance. No wonder I couldn’t spell from sounding it out. Arrows = errers. Oil = earl. Soooooooo many words no one knew what the hell I was saying.

  3. When I lived in Massachusetts, they made fun of me for saying “pop.” But a lot of them with Boston accents didn’t really say “soda,” it came out as “soder.” Also, they referred to “shopping carts” as “carriages.”

    I would be interested in the pronunciation of “coyote,” whether as two syllables or three. My girlfriend says three and I say two. Her source is the Roadrunner cartoon, while mine is my alma mater, the University of South Dakota Coyotes.

  4. Fascinating work! I teach English as a Foreign Language in Germany. Information like this helps me communicate to my students that there is great variation in spoken English usage.

    Perry Ervin
    NCSU Textiles 1988

  5. We had a fun discussion at Myrtle Beach with our group about “hose pipe” vs. “garden hose” and “drop cord” vs. ” extension cord”. In upper Piedmont NC and Danville, VA area the hose pipe and drop cord are common…we also call soda – soft drinks. I travel for a living and find the differences in language fun to discuss. Unfortunately with mass media and a more mobile population some of the local dialects are being lost. It makes me sad.

  6. Fascinating research! Here are a couple more that stump my NC born husband (I was raised in NY):

    I wait “on” not “in” line when waiting to get into a theater or restaurant

    He has his picture “made” vs “taken” when having a photo done

  7. Actually it gets more regional then that. The small corner of Massachusetts I am from refers to all soft drinks as “tonic”. As in “Can I have a tonic? Sure what kind”? LOL

  8. Actually, in the South, the old-timers actually say “co-cola” rather than coke.
    What a fun project! I love maps and linguistics, so the combination is very cool. Thanks!

  9. Fascinating work. But the linguistic map on addressing a group left out “Youse guys”, common in Brooklyn when I was living in New York65 years ago. But maybe it’s now obsolete!

  10. No one in the Boston/Cambridge area says “pop” or “soda” when talking about “sweetened, carbonated beverages.”

    Coca Cola is TONIC, as everyone knows.

    How could these Harvard guys miss that?

  11. Regarding Wisconsin’s use of the word “bubbler” for water fountain. Wisconsin has a plumbing fixture company called Kohler. They came out with a water fountain for public use. The model name of that particular unit was known as the “Bubbler” and was a registered trademark. This is a totally local thing. Now you know why, Josh.

  12. I live in WA state and in the past ten years, we’ve gone from saying “pop” to “soda”, at least in my family for the most part. Maybe it’s influence from all the Californians up here now, but I haven’t said “pop” in a long time and my daughter doesn’t say it.

  13. Great stuff – linguistics is very exciting! Tried visiting the link to the full study, though, and the website is greyed-over and isn’t responding to anything….crashed maybe?? I’m betting it’s getting lots of hits.

  14. Philadelphia We speak different inside the city. Example. The area of Kensington talk a little different the those from South Philly. Kensington is a whole different place inside Philly.

  15. That is really cool and interesting; could it be tied to politics? But if you really want to interrelate this, cross it with interstate highway map, political boarders (ex: for house member voting and local/municipal elections voting), Land based employers’; somehow and someway, people travel taking their lingo and heritage with them.

  16. Moving from he Deep South to Kansas, I saw my doctor for a physical when he questioned me about smoking and alcohol habits. I responded that I did not really have bad habits, but I was totally addicted to “coke”. He just sat there speechless, until he realized I meant soda or pop.

  17. That’s weird. I grew up in Michigan & my parents also grew up in Michigan. Yet we always said ‘soda’. I wonder if there’s been a generational shift. (I’m 60)

  18. You missed a huge one. In Philadelphia, talking to two or more people is “youse” and it is a big bone of contention for those of us who listened to our English teachers in school. How could you miss that???

  19. When I was a child and lived in Arkansas, we went to visit my aunt and uncle in Boston. She kept offering me a tonic, and it was a few days before my mother explained that she was offering me a coke! Do you have any research about areas that still say coke?

  20. Also – Yes, Mr. Katz, drive-thru liquor stores exist. Most of the ones near me (at least, in the wet counties near me – #$&! ‘local option’ state) have drive-thru windows so you can pick up a call-in order. You still have to show your ID to complete the purchase.

    When I was in St. Charles, Louisiana on work, our client strongly suggested I visit a local establishment that served daiquiris through a drive-thru window. And you could order it with “an extra shot” of alcohol. Those drive-thrus are allowed because Louisiana allows open containers in a car (but it *must* be the passengers’ – no drinking and driving).

  21. Seeing that the Northern Mid-West has no word for a roundabout only makes me want to move there even more.

    In spite of the fact that I’ve only encountered 2 roundabouts in the state of Arkansas – and one of those was on a college campus, so I am not certain it counts.

  22. It would be sweet if the DialectMap automatically picked the most close by city when you mouse over the map.