Soda vs. Pop vs. Coke: Mapping How Americans Talk

A video about the words we say and how we say them

What's your general term for a sweetened carbonated beverage? What word or words do you use to address a group of two or more people? What do you call it when the rain falls while the sun is shining?

Former Harvard professor Bert Vaux asked tens of thousands of people across the U.S. these questions and released the results as the 2003 Harvard Dialect Survey. The data are fascinating; they reveal patterns of migration, unexpected linguistic kinships between regions, and the awesome variety of words we say and how we say them.

The study has worked its way into popular consciousness and periodically morphs into a meme (just search "accent tag" on YouTube). Last summer, North Carolina State University graduate student Joshua Katz turned Vaux's geographical data into a set of stunning heat maps that went viral.

For the video above, we called people across the country to ask them a few of Vaux's questions, then layered the answers with maps based on Katz's. You'll hear what Philadelphians call a group of people, the many ways of pronouncing "pecan," and what Southerners mean when they say "the devil is beating his wife."

To delve more into the world of dialects, check out Vaux's original study, Katz's maps, and the Phonological Atlas of North American English. Thanks to FoBoGro and the Johnson Casket Company for their help.

Katherine Wells is a senior video producer at The Atlantic. More

Wells was formerly a producer of WNYC's Freakonomics Radio and NPR's Science Friday.

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