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Soda and Sneakers: What Does the Maryland Dialect Say?

What's that on your feet? If you're a Northerner, they're probably 'sneakers.'

Forget driver's licenses—whether you call athletic footwear "sneakers" or "tennis shoes" can tell a person where in the U.S. you were raised.

A mapping project from North Carolina State University took common regional differences in English words or phrases, or in the pronunciation of some words, and calculated where they were most popular. 

Things like whether you call carbonated beverages "soda," "pop" or "Coke," and whether you would say caramel with two or three syllables, not to mention the great sneaker/tennis shoe debate, were particularly regional, according to the survey maps.

Maryland, a part of the Northeast, fell in line with most other states in the region. 

A random sampling of how we talk, using Bethesda, Silver Spring, Gaithersburg and Rockville as test cities:

  • Sneaker or tennis shoes? Like states to the north, we overwhelmingly (about 64 percent in Gaithersburg) say "sneakers." 
  • Do you have a garage sale or a yard sale? About 60 percent of people in Silver Spring said yard sale, instead of garage sale, which is more popular in the South and Central Plains. 
  • What do we call carbonated beverages? Seventy percent of people in Bethesda said "soda," followed by 11 percent with "Coke." "Pop" and "soft drink" were less popular. 
  • "Coleslaw" or just "slaw?" We're split. About 46 percent in Bethesda say it's OK to just say "slaw," and another 41 percent say it's not. 
  • Caramel—do you pronounce with three syllables or two? Most people in Bethesda said three ("car-ra-mel"), like most people along the East Coast.
  • Are Mary, marry and merry pronounced the same? Most people in Rockville said yes, although about 19 percent said that "merry" had a different pronunciation. 

In general, the dialect of Montgomery County residents was most similar to that of Washingtonians, Baltimoreans and Floridians—specifically the cities of Orlando, Miami and Hialeah (a suburb of Miami). We speak very differently than Midwesterners, with our "least similar" list populated by Kansas City, St. Louis, Wichita, Minneapolis and Lincoln. 

Peruse the map for more regional differences

BERNIE FISKEN June 12, 2013 at 01:33 PM
THE RICHNESS AND DIVERSITY OF THE AMERICAN ENGLISH LANGUAGE: This great article is a testament to the richness and diversity of the American English Language. Having grown up in Boston where they speak the "Queens English", I learned to order a FRAPPE rather than a MILKSHAKE and substituted the letters "ER" for the Letter "A" in words ending in "A", such as in the word CUBER rather than CUBA. This dialectical difference in a common language was vividly portrayed in the movie MY FAIL LADY wherein Henry Higgins tried to instruct Eliza Doolittle in "Proper English". In the USA we celebrate the regional richness of our American English.

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