Dialect variations in nomenclature – the US vs. Germany

One of the more interesting terminology diversions in the US has to do with what you fill up your jug with at the convenience store. No, not that “good ol’ Mountain Dew,” although that can certainly be one of your choices, but anything sweet and fizzy. What do you call it? Soda? Pop? Coke? Fizz? Something else?

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People registered their opinions over at popvssoda.com, and the results were tabulated. I knew one guy who called it “soda water,” even though to me that means just unflavored club soda.

Today as the result of a little discussion among my translation colleagues, I was presented with this website that shows the distribution of various terms for “potato” in German:

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While most people would find things like this less exciting that watching paint dry (and even I myself, graduated linguist with advanced degrees absolutely detested my 7th-grade linguistics class, even though that’s a different story), I find comparative and social linguistics intriguing.

Think about what you call things; Crawdad, crayfish, crawfish; potato bug, pill bug; hoagie, sub, grinder, or po’ boy; water fountain or bubbler; so many, many others, and some of these are distinctly regional. Take the quiz and see how well it does in your case. Naturally it’s not going to be 100% perfect all the time, but I was impressed not only by the results but by the nature of the questions.

The New York Times dialect survey has shown to be amazingly accurate in my own case:

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I was born and raised in New York, but have spent the last 46 years in Utah; you couldn’t get more spot-on with my diagnosis.

The study of linguistic diversity across boundaries and how language evolves is an entire subset of the larger field, but I could think of much less interesting ways to spend a career than researching these matters.

The Old Wolf has done spoke.