Sunday, September 05, 2010

Dialect Material

When seen from the outside, the U.S. is often viewed as a homogeneous place. Non-Americans have remarked to me about how great it is that in the vast area of the U.S. one needs only a single currency and a single language. While the currency advantage is indisputable, anyone who has traveled in the U.S. will tell you that, even setting aside recent immigrants mother tongues, regional linguistic differences can present a challenge. My eldest daughter has moved to an area of the country with which she had been previously unfamiliar. Among her accounts of the different weather and geography, she mentioned some linguistic differences. She admitted that she had anticipated some differences in accent, she had not anticipated certain vocabulary and usage differences. To my surprise, the one that annoyed her the most was their usage of "pop" for common carbonated soft drinks. In her experience, such things were always called "soda."

"'Soda' actually describes something in the drink," she asserted. "'Pop' is just an onomatopoeia. Just barely a real word."

As a certified old geezer (I have a child who has finished college and moved away), I was well aware of the "Pop" vs. "Soda" split, having had it brought to my attention when I traveled to Iowa as a boy. In fact, in 1996, there was a article on the subject written by Luanne von Schneidemesser, PhD in German linguistics and philology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and senior editor of the Dictionary of American Regional English. In fact there is a web site devoted to the subject, and a U.S. map, derived from survey data from 2002 was available:
What surprised me about this map was how widespread the "coke" area was (I had previously assumed it was pretty much a Georgia phenomenon).  Also of interest was that certain areas still called the soft drinks "dope," probably harkening back to the time when there was real dope (cocaine) in some soft drinks.

Information taken from 308 - The Pop Vs Soda Map and The Pop vs. Soda Page.


Blogger christopher said...

I've heard of this study before but never took a close look at this map until now and besides the fact that I'm shocked to see such a large territory of the country still holding onto "pop," two things fascinatingly stand out:

1) The precise definitions along many of the state lines, with virtually no transition as seen in the mid-Atlantic states.

2) It's not surprising that the northeast has much in common with South Florida and California (which dominates New Mexico and Arizona) because of such large population centers. It's natural that such interaction through pleasure and business as well as national media would lead to a similar language. What does surprise me though is that giant Chicago stands aloof from them and continues to use "pop." And what's the deal with Missouri and Southern Illinois? LOL Where does THAT come from?! Fascinating if accurate.

It's funny looking at Travis county here and seeing it's a little tumor of "soda" among a sea of Texas "Coke." I suppose it's all the Yanks moving to Austin since Michael Dell took over the town. And going further, it's now striking me as odd that Texas uses "Coke" since Dr. Pepper is the national drink here. Guess there's some accounting for its Southern linguistic allegiance.

Thanks for the post! :)

9:18 PM  
Blogger CMinor said...

Re: Item #2, I'd bet on the large number of northeastern retirees settling in South Fla and the Southwest having something to do with the predominance of soda there. We have a soda pocket just west of us (we're firmly in Coke territory), which I suspect has something to do with the number of retirees that have settled along coves of Thurmond Lake on the Savannah. (It's still Clark's Hill Lake over here, but I defer to the mapmakers.)

Chicago surprises me less, as I tend to think of it as quintessentially Midwestern working class no matter how cosmopolitan its pretensions. And I'll hypothesize that Missouri's usage has something to do with river traffic from the Northeast, though I couldn't prove it (anyway the Monongahela looks to run through solid pop territory.) Alaska's pretty cool--the interior runs to pop but the coastal areas tend to go with soda or "other." But what's with Eastern Minnesota?

11:35 AM  
Blogger DMinor said...

I can vouch for eastern Missouri's soda credentials -- my mother's people were from there. With my father growing up a northern Virginian, I was in a solidly soda household.

12:28 PM  

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