Resources: Connected States Of America

As a sociolinguist, I sometimes look at regional variation in English. To do that, I can study production differences, perception diferences, or, following Dennis Preston’s work in perceptual dialectology, I can look at where people think the language differences are.

One of the things that we’ve learned from this research is that absolute geographic differnce isn’t necessarily the best measurement of difference. If major natural borders (mountain ranges or rivers) or social boundaries inhibit interaction, people on either side of them will talk differently, even if there is very little geographic distance between them.

In recent years, people have been interested in how the internet and phone services influence language. The research suggests that it is possible to see dialect variation spread from region to region over such media, but only when there are close personal relationships. Service encounters (e.g. telemarketers) are unlikely to inspire dialect accommodation.

Still, it’s worth paying attention to the way we interact in these media, and Alex Goldmark has posted an entry on the magazine Good, that provides a very colorful illustration of cell phone interaction in the United States based on research from MIT’s Senseable City Lab.

Notice how the data differ depending on how you measure things. Certainly, there are clusters of interaction (see the first map and the video below), but the map in the middle–which documents transnational interaction with L.A. demonstrates that the situation is more complicated than that.

This data is great because it raises interesting questions for sociolinguistics, but we will need more information about the kinds of relationships that these calls facilitate before we can make any predictions.


About LingEducator

Dr. Jaclyn Ocumpaugh received a PhD for her dissertation on regional variation in the acoustics of Mexican American English (Michigan State University, East Lansing). Before that, she received an MA in English/Linguistics from North Carolina State University for her work on the acoustics of /r/--a sound which is highly variable in the English language. Her passion, however, has always been to understand the social implications of language variation. In addition to her work in acoustic sociophonetics, she has worked with rape trial analysis, developed cognitive methods for understanding discourse level variation between men and women, and created sophisticated tools for teaching future educators about the kinds of dialect variation they will find in the classroom. She has taught classes in English, Linguistics, and Education at Old Dominion University, William & Mary, the University of Mary Washington, and Virginia Wesleyan College. She is currently a Post Doctoral Fellow of Learning Sciences and Technologies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where she is helping to develop models of student engagement in the classroom. She also consults in the private sector.
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