STEVE INSKEEP, host:
If you say pa-jam-uzz instead of pa-jahm-zz or yous guys instead of ya'll chances are you're a Yankee. If you call a bag a sack or say rout instead of root you are probably a Southerner. We based those predictions on an online quiz called Are You a Yankee or a Rebel. It asks question about how you how pronounce certain words and phrases and then calculates the amount of Dixie in your speech.
The test was co-developed by Robert Beard. He has a PhD in linguistics and is president of AlphaDictionary.com, and he gave me the quiz.
Dr. ROBERT BEARD (Linguist; President, AlphaDictionary.com): How do you pronounce a-u-n-t?
INSKEEP: The wife of my uncle.
Dr. BEARD: The wife of your uncle, exactly.
INSKEEP: And I have some options here like the word want, like the word ant, caught or ain't. I'm going to go with ant.
Mr. BEARD: Well, this is most widely - the most widespread pronunciation of the word in the United States.
INSKEEP: Oh, that's great. It instantly gives me the results. It says spoken throughout the U.S. Now, if I put ain't, it says deep, deep South. You should come up for air. What's the next question here?
Dr. BEARD: How do you pronounce that stream which is smaller than a river and is spelled c-r-e-e-k? Does it rhyme with meek; does it rhyme with kick, or do you not say either one, do you say brook?
INSKEEP: I guess I would say creek. Oh, this is surprising. Creek I would have thought was Southern, but it says run through a band from Pennsylvania to Michigan and Minnesota.
Dr. BEARD: It's western, yeah.
INSKEEP: Okay. How were you able to define whose accent was what?
Dr. BEARD: Well, we started off with some data that was put together by Harvard Computer Society. It wasn't a very complete test, so we added a lot features ourselves. We also have a little introduction explaining that these are nothing but regional dialects, that it doesn't reflect intelligence or anything like that; simply the area in which you grew up in.
INSKEEP: I want to skip quickly through a few of these and I'll just answer them really quickly. What's that long sandwich with lots of cold cuts and toppings? Is it a sub, hoagie, grinder, Italian or Po Boy? It's a sub to me, I'm afraid. What's the tiny lobster that crawls around in creek bottoms, crawfish, crayfish, crawdad, mudbug? What is mudbug?
Dr. BEARD: Mudbug is in Texas and part of Louisiana, believe it or not. And some of the people who have written in to me say that there's a difference between a crawdad and a mudbug. A crawdad is what you eat; a mudbug is what crawls around in the creek. In other words, they are mudbugs until you eat them.
INSKEEP: How do members of the flood of Hispanic immigrants do this country tend to score on the test?
Dr. BEARD: We haven't heard from very many. We've heard from Europeans who have tried it and who tell us they tend to score toward the South, because the first migrations were from England. And as the other European migrations came in, those who came in first tended to migrate south. So Southern accents are much closer to the British accents and less influenced by the Italian and German and Polish languages that led to the northern accents.
INSKEEP: So after you finish the 20 questions, which I have done as we've been talking here, you click this thing that says compute my score. I'm going to click here. It says, 53 percent Dixie.
Dr. BEARD: Where are you from?
INSKEEP: I'm from Indiana.
Dr. BEARD: Oh, southern Indiana?
INSKEEP: No. Central Indiana. But Kentucky reached up and grabbed little parts of our territory. There was a migration from Kentucky into Midwestern factories, including some close to me.
Dr. BEARD: What happened in the United States is that all of the accents are on the east coast. The immigrants came in and their mispronunciation of the English language was absorbed by the general public in some instances and created different accents. But as these immigrants, as they moved westward, then all of the accents blended into one. So that once you get past Ohio, there are no accents. There are no accents in California, in Oregon, and the western part of the country.
INSKEEP: Well, Mr. Beard, thanks very much.
Dr. BEARD: I appreciate being here. Enjoyed it.
INSKEEP: Robert Beard is a linguist and co-creator of the online quiz, Are You a Yankee or Rebel? And yous can take that test yourself at npr.org.
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