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Language Variations: The USA May be United, But its English is Divided

Whether English is your native language or an adopted language you’re working on perfecting, you’ve certainly noticed that not all English sounds the same. British and American takes on the language are notably different, with each country having not only its own set of pronunciations, but its own vocabulary which the other knows little about.

Beyond that, U.S. residents are highly divided in how they pronounce words and the phrases they prefer to use.

There are a number of noteworthy accents across the United States, though some have a reputation for being particularly unique–and even entertaining–to those who speak a more mild-mannered English. For example, New Yorkers are known for their tendency to pronounce words with an “aw” sound, with “long” sounding more like “lawng” and “coffee” sounding more like “cawfee.”

Many would agree that the most exaggerated of all American accents is the Southern accent. If there were a physical indicator of where English most dramatically changes, it would be the Mason-Dixon line, which runs along the southern border of Pennsylvania and serves as a general divide of the North and the South. From a Northerner’s perspective, a Southern accent can run the gamut from negative to positive, unintelligent to charming, depending on the context.

Ph.D student Joshua Katz recently published visualizations of the findings from the Harvard Dialect Survey. Take a look at these informative and amusing examples from the Business Insider based on about the linguistic divide that separates these united states:

1) Is it pronounced like “car-mel” or “car-uh-mel”?

The hard versus soft “a” is an ongoing dispute. It’s hard to believe, but the pronunciation of a word as simple as “caramel” can cause a heated argument between friends!



2) Whether you drive on a “freeway” or a “highway” may depend on where you live.

A road by any other name may still be a road, but nonetheless, those from the East Coast have their own unique name for major transportation routes:



3) Do you eat like the Average Joe or somebody with superpowers?

Now, in the best of circumstances, a locally favored vocabulary item can become a nationally revered treasure. Everyone knows that you just eat subs at home, but when you go to Philly, you have to try a local hoagie! And in New York City, this humble, yet beefed up sandwich gets the ultimate moniker: a hero.



4) This one’s obvious, y’all.

As if the epically strong accent weren’t enough to let everyone across the country know who’s from the South and who’s not, there’s one other clear indicator: use of the word “y’all.” If you say it, there’s no getting around it, you are a true Southerner in the eyes of the rest of the country!



If you’re a traveler, it’s especially fun to listen to local accents when you’re out exploring the country. The expressions and accents we hear are inevitably linked to our memories of a place and our impression of a local culture. When you think about that trip you took to New Orleans 3 years ago, you’re likely to remember that hospitable waitress at the restaurant calling you “honey” just as much as you enjoyed eating the Po’ boy she served. And while that sandwich may have been incredible, I bet it’s the friendly Southern lady with an accent who brings a smile to your face when you think about that trip.

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