When I was a little girl growing up in southeast Wisconsin, I drank water from a “bubbler,” Mom let me ride in the “grocery store shopping cart,” and if I was really good, she let me have a “pop.” But in other parts of the U.S., kids drank from “water fountains,” rode in “supermarket trolleys,” and enjoyed a cold “soda.” What we call things and how we pronounce words varies from state to state.
For writers, it is important to know how a character speaks in relationship to where he or she lives. So, this week, I have a nifty new tool for fiction writers. Maybe you have seen it online—a series of U.S. dialect maps created by a graduate student at North Carolina State University. These 122 maps depict word choice, pronunciation, and slang across the U.S. states and are a goldmine for writers.
Joshua Katz asked participants in each state to answer a series of 122 survey questions that measured language preferences. For example:
What do you call the long sandwich that contains cold cuts, lettuce, and so on?
e. poor boy
g. Italian sandwich
j. I have no word for this
Katz plotted the results of each question on a series of U.S. maps to create a visual image of word preference and, inadvertently, a super tool for fiction writers.
Choice a: sub
Choice b: grinder
Choice c: hoagie
and so on.
“You guys” need to check this out. Or, maybe I should say, “Y’all need to check this out,” or “Yin need to check this out!” Wherever you live and whatever you say, this series of maps can add a whole new dimension to your characters’ dialogue.