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NC State student's regional dialects maps go viral

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What word(s) do you use to address a group of two or more people? (N.C. State University/Joshua Katz) What word(s) do you use to address a group of two or more people? (N.C. State University/Joshua Katz)
RALEIGH, N.C. -

A project by a doctoral student at North Carolina State University has taken social media by storm, and it begs the questions, "Where y'all from?"

Joshua Katz, a doctoral student in the Department of Statistics at N.C. State, compiled data from a dialect study by a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor to "examine regional dialect variation in the continental United States."

The results are more than 120 "heat" maps that display a particular region's dialect preferences in regard to a specific question or word.

The original study was conducted by Bert Vaux, a former professor of foreign languages and linguistics at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. It is an expansion of a survey begun by Vaux while serving as an associate professor of linguistics at Harvard University.

Vaux completed the original survey in 2005. He is conducting another dialect survey at Cambridge University, where he is a reader in linguistics.

"The dialect survey uses a series of questions, including rhyming word pairs and vocabulary words, to explore words and sounds in the English language," Vaux's original survey explains.

"There are no right or wrong answers; by answering each question with what you really say and not what you think is 'right,' you can help contribute to an accurate picture of how English is used in your community."

One of the more polarizing questions the study asks is, "What word(s) do you use to address a group of two or more people?" As one would guess, North Carolina favors the use of "y'all," as does much of the South. The exception is the southern tip of Florida.

Another topic dear to a Southern heart is the question of whether coleslaw can properly be referred to as just "slaw." While slaw is perfectly acceptable in the South and parts of the Midwest, it's unheard of in the Northeast and the western areas of the U.S.

Of course, the project isn't yet all-encompassing, and Katz says there is more work to do.

"Right now, the maps only take into account the four most popular answers for a given survey question," Katz explained. "This can lead to some misleading results for some questions, particularly when "other" appears as a response."

Katz also says the project doesn't account for Alaska and Hawaii because the states make "both the modeling process and the design of the mapping algorithms infinitely more complicated."

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