As a speech pathology major, I have taken a generous portion of my time at college listening to how people talk. After taking Phonetics for an entire semester, I can’t help but notice the differences in how people speak, even within close regions. I’m from New Jersey, but I go to school in Maryland, and in that classroom of tristate area students there are disparaging gaps between how words are pronounced. My dialect was even more apparent when I arrived here in Austin, Texas to intern at TSM. I said the word “hot dog” and eyes bugged out of people’s heads. My only saving grace was Veronica, who is also from New Jersey and speaks in a similar manner.
This one difference in vowel sounds sparked an entire debate. Writers gathered around as they berated me with words to repeat, mocking my every sound. Since most people don’t understand international phonetic alphabet, I will spell the encounter out phonetically, denoted by italics.
Writer: “Say hot dog.”
Me: “Haht dawg.”
Me: “No, just dawg.”
Writer: “What do you call a roll with a hole in it?”
Me: “A baygul (bagel)?”
Writer: “Bayyiiigull? It’s behgul.”
Me: “No it’s not!”
And so on.
Soon, the entire office was involved. We had representatives from New Jersey, Philly, Florida, Missouri, Texas, and Wisconsin, all fighting for the “right” way to pronounce words. To further exacerbate the situation, we all took this dialect quiz, which gave us more material to fight over. Who calls a water fountain a bubbler? Apparently people in Wisconsin do. The results of the quiz were insane. Most of us got results that were close to, if not exactly, where we live.
Me: South Jersey
Veronica: North Jersey
Dillon: Austin, Texas
Rachel Page: Arlington, Texas
But there were a few that were just off.
Intern Wes: Air Force Brat
Lucky Jo: Missouri
Those whose speech located their area of descent were given a sense of pride and belonging. Those who were displaced by this quiz were angered and insistent they are a conventional citizen of their home state. I can’t say my face didn’t light up when I saw the dark red, indicating the most similar speech, on my results map covering the place I had known my whole life. But Intern Wes has never lived in one place for more than four years, and the places span from Louisiana to Utah to Europe, which gave him no place to call his hometown. Regardless of whether or not the quiz was accurate, we each had a stiff stance on how English should sound.
This was more than just “are they tennis shoes or sneakers?” This was a question of our background. Texas and New Jersey are two of the most prideful states in America, which could account for the heated debate, but this isn’t something that is localized to one area. All across the country, people are getting in fights over soda vs. pop. Hoagie vs. sub. Lighting bug vs. firefly. Phonetics classes in Maryland are having the same fights as phonetics classes in Massachusetts who are having the same fights as phonetics classes in Montana. It is a matter of time before these fights result in a Brexit of our own. The South breaks off to keep its drawl in tact, Philadelphia holds onto its hoagies and makes the Eagles Fight Song the national anthem, and the Midwest gets sick of the word “soda” and just ups and leaves.
Next time you hear a person from Long Island say they are “on line” instead of “in line” at the grocery store, don’t mock them. Celebrate their differences. After all, a dialect is just a difference within the same language. We’re all on the same (and the best) team: Team American English. When we discourage the speech of others, we are violating our most fundamental right, and if you violate mine, I *will* call my loy-er, not my law-yer..
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