Do you drink Soda or Pop?
Do you drink Soda or Pop? Do you wear Sneakers or Tennis Shoes? Do you eat Hoagies or Submarine Sandwiches?
The answers will vary depending on where you live in the United States. For example, a bottle of Coca-Cola may be called a bottle of pop in Ohio but in Massachusetts, it will be referred to as soda. English is the prevailing language in the United States, but since the country is so large and geographically diverse, each region has developed its own manner of speaking. Each manner of speaking is called a dialect and most linguistics experts use the area in which you live to predict what kind of dialect you use.
The histories of each dialect are as diverse as the differences in words. Geographic features such as mountains and rivers drive people into defined areas and influxes of new populations introduce new expressions to the each dialect.
Some of the more famous dialects include the New York dialect, which you will find in New York City and in surrounding areas. For much of its history, New York was famous for being the destination for immigrants from all over the world. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, most of the immigrants would come from parts of Europe like Italy and Ireland. Later there would be an influx of southern African Americans and then immigrants from the Caribbean, including Spanish-speaking Latino countries. So you will find words associated with these different groups, like the word bodega, which comes from the Spanish word for storeroom. New Yorkers use it to mean a small, corner grocery store.
Another well-known dialect is the Midwest dialect. It is identified by influences from Scandinavian and German-speaking people who settled in the area. The characteristics you will find here deal more with pronunciation of words rather than specific word types.
Finally, there is the Southern dialect, which is the largest dialect group in the U.S., according to PBS.org. Some linguists consider this dialect to be closest to the original English that the British settlers brought over when they settled in the United States. Southern English is famous for its drawl, which is a feature that some Southern speakers use that lengthens vowel sounds in words. This makes some drawl speakers articulate some words more slowly than other English speakers but this is not always the case. A favorite feature of Southern English is the "Fixin' To" idiom. When someone from the south says they are "fixin' to" do something, it means that they are about to do it. For example: "I'm fixin' to go for a drink!" U.S Presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently made headlines for using the common Southern expression "y'all," which is used in place of "you all."
Some experts spend years comparing and contrasting American dialects. Compared to some older languages, American English sounds more consistent as you travel across the country. The differences are subtle but that subtlety can prove tricky in its own way. Keep your ears open for any language usage that you are not familiar with and always ask questions. You'll learn a lot about the area you are visiting and perhaps more importantly, you'll avoid misunderstandings!
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