Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Language: You say Tomato and I Say...

I keep forgetting the spoken word. When I think of language I tend to think of writing. Prose and/or poetry. The majesty of the written, or typed, word. I keep forgetting the spoken word.

There's a whole different dimension to the spoken word. There's pronunciation involved. How one says the word and which sounds are used make up an important part of spoken word that is hard to capture in prose. It's not only hard to capture different dialects and pronunciations when writing prose it's also hard to capture what's happening to dialects and pronunciation all around us.

Which is where the Dialect Survey comes in. Or more specifically the results of the survey. This survey was conducted earlier in the decade and the results are for the continental US only but... I warn you you could get lost in the results of this survey for several reasons. First there is the geographic spread of how various words sound but mainly it's the questions themselves.

How did the writers of the survey determine which pronunciations to track? How did they decide on which  word usages to look at? The questions themselves are fascinating.

My other question is whether this research has been followed up. Can we start seeing trends and changes in usage and dialect? Or will there at least be other similar surveys by others which will allow us to watch the English language change over time?

Will surveys like this help us remember what we all used to sound like decades ago before English slowly but surely changed all around us?

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