Exploring the dialects of English: Same thing, different names

PHU NGUYEN Photo Chief

Students on our campus come from different parts of the country and the world. With them, they bring along different dialects of the English language.  

According to John Taylor, professor of applied linguistics in the Department of English, the general term for this phenomenon is “dialect geography.” The source of it comes from social culture, ethnicity and also other aspects, he said.

While other people don’t really think about it, dialect geography is not a new thing to linguists, Taylor said. The American Dialect Society has been working on this topic for more than 100 years, and they published the Dictionary of Regional American English in six volumes. The last one was published in 2013.

A possible way that leads to the formation of a dialect could be people trying to imitate some famous figure. Taylor gave an example of the “vocal fry,” or “glottalization,” which is a trend of making a vibrating sound at the end of a sentence that surfaced among U.S. women. It was deemed unfavorable in the U.S. culture, but in fact, it originated as a prestigious trend from the royal British family, he said. 

Due to the relationship with culture, there is not a right or wrong dialect because a cultural norm can emerge at anytime. 

“Hollywood stars may become so prestigious that everyone wants to imitate them,” Taylor said.

International students:  It is somewhat difficult at first

Sofiya Zybaylova, a sophomore broadcast journalism major from Russia, experienced some difficulties understanding the lectures when she came to high school in the U.S. Although her English has improved, she still struggles to understand sometimes. 

“When I was back home in Russia, I learned more of a British version of English,” she said. “Sometimes I would read over and over to understand the material. I would spend more time and read a chapter twice for example and translate some words.” 

In addition, the words such as “wassup,” “lol,” “chillin” and “swag” were new to her.

Nazia Azim, an economics graduate student from Bangladesh, said people in America talk faster and shorten some words, which confused her. She also could not understand the phrase “say what” the first time.

Sayan Sahu, a computer science graduate student from India, experienced some difficulties at first with his British accent. Sometimes he needs to write what he wants to say on a piece of paper because people cannot understand what he says.

Local students: There are definitely some differences, but they are not a big deal

Dialects also create “regional standards,” which means people in different areas call certain items different things, Taylor said.

 Pre-pharmacy freshman Morgan Johnson was confused when she was asked “staying or going” when she ordered food at restaurants. In Minnesota, the question is often “Is this for here or to go?”

Minnesotans often call a casserole a “hotdish” or “goulash,” Johnson said. She also noticed differences in pronunciation of certain words such as “Ree-seh-s” and “Ree-see-s” for the peanut butter cups.

Amanda Pipes, a triple major in microbiology, biology and biotechnology, experienced the major difference with the slang “fixin’ to,” which is uncommon in South Dakota. In Louisiana, it means “about to.”

 Louisianans often call all kinds of soda “Coke” as compared to “pop” in South Dakota, Pipes said.

Kristine Brown, an animal science junior, uses “truck” and “semi” for things South Dakotans call “pickup” and “truck” respectively. 

Julia Andrus, a sophomore nursing major, said the bars with chocolate on top are called “Special K” in Minnesota, the assignment notebooks are called “planners”as compared to “agenda” in South Dakota and “highways” are “interstates.”

Another example is the dish called “Sloppy Joe.”  Brown said she had some disagreements with her South Dakotan roommate. 

“In South Dakota, the common name is taverns where back in Minnesota we have multiple names for them based on how we make them,” she said. 

Taylor said the name Sloppy Joe is from Massachusetts but people in Southern states call it a barbeque, while Iowans call it a loose meat sandwich without the tomato sauce, and the people of Sioux City call it the tavern. 

“I heard arguments about people saying ‘that’s not a barbeque, that’s not a Sloppy Joe, that’s a tavern,’” he said.

However, the difference in language does not seem to obstruct the communication as it does to the international students.

Pipes picked up her mother’s South Dakotan accent growing up and is currently having a mix of southern and northern accents. 

“I will say my southern accent comes out more when I go home, talk to family, am sleep deprived or slightly intoxicated,” she said. “Most people I have come across accepted my southern humor as pretty entertaining.”

Brown said despite how people call things differently, it is not a big deal at all. 

“It really didn’t matter who was right because it’s how we grew up,” Brown said.


The Collegian photographer Lexie Priest contributed to this article.