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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Speak Your Language

Your experience ordering at the drive-thru window can vary greatly at restaurants in Evansville to those in Owensboro, Ky. Quality of food or drink isn’t the issue, instead it’s what you call a sweetened carbonated beverage.

Do you want a soda with that? A pop? What about a coke? Do you mean Coca-Cola?

Because of differing regional dialects, how we pronounce certain words and how we refer to these types of drinks, the shoes on our feet, or address a group of people could be entirely different in cities separated by only 30 miles.

Kaitlyn Lee, who was a senior at Centre College in Danville, Ky., and a Fulbright Fellowship recipient, took a closer look at local regional dialects in her thesis, “An Analysis of Regional Linguistic Variation and Perception: Owensboro, Ky., & Evansville, Ind.”

Lee found the majority of residents surveyed in Evansville and Owensboro differ on what they use as a generic term for a carbonated beverage, as well as many other terms.

She interviewed 23 people each from Owensboro and Evansville. She found that 14 out of 23 of Owensboro residents, or 60 percent, use the term “coke.” The majority of Evansville residents polled (39 percent) answered with the term “soda,” followed by 35 percent referring to it as a “soft drink.”

“Evansville had eight participants who replied ‘soft drink’ while Owensboro had none. This means that the term ‘soft drink’ was unique to Evansville,” Lee says. “Although residents of Owensboro would understand what ‘soft drink’ means, it might distinguish one who used it as a non-native in Owensboro.”

Harvard University Linguistics Department conducted a similar dialect survey, polling residents of each state. The survey concluded in 2003.

Out of 261 responses from the entire state of Indiana, Harvard concluded 40.34 percent or the majority of Hoosiers used the term “pop.” This study reveals Evansville’s dialects are unique to the rest of the state. Meanwhile across the Ohio River in Kentucky, out of 146 responses from the state, 43.77 percent or the majority of residents used the term “coke,” which matched Lee’s survey of Owensboro.

Lee also examined the term for grandfathers. In Lee’s research, 65 percent of those polled in Evansville refer to their grandfather as “grandpa,” followed by 26 percent who use “papaw.”

In Owensboro, the usage of “papaw” is more regularly used as 43 percent of those polled answered with the term. Seventeen percent responded with “grandpa.”

“’Papaw’ has always had an association with country and southern life and it is therefore not surprising that it was more frequent in Owensboro,” Lee says. “The use of ‘papaw’ in Evansville may be frequent, because much of the land and region outside of Evansville is also agricultural, and quite similar to life in the traditional south.”

Harvard’s research also revealed Indiana as a whole prefers the use of “grandpa,” while Kentucky prefers to use a different term, such as “papaw.”

Lee also explored the perception of regional dialects by interviewing participants from Evansville and Owensboro to see what they believed is a difference in dialect.

In Owensboro, one participant compared her city’s dialect to Evansville: “We definitely have a Southern accent.” She went on to tell a story about a day she was working in Evansville and her coworkers teased her about her Southern accent. After work, she said her family told her she was getting a Northern accent from working in Evansville.

Lee says another participant in Evansville noted, “There’s a twang when you cross the river. Evansville has a southern accent, Owensboro’s is just stronger.”

“This statement not only shows the perception of Evansville about Owensboro, but also the perception of Evansville about the state of Indiana,” Lee says.

At Tucker Publishing Group, we asked 13 staff members a series of different questions to determine the differences in our office space dialects. The majority of employees (53.8 percent) use the term “soda,” followed by 38.4 percent, which use “coke.”

The majority of our staff (53.8 percent) prefers the phrase “you guys” when referring to a group of two or more people. “You all” was the second most used (30.7 percent). Ten of 13 staffers pronounced the word “caramel” with two syllables “car-mul” while three others used three syllables “car-a-mel.”

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