To anyone who has travelled around the English speaking world, it’s immediately apparent that there are probably hundreds of interpretations of the language. Even within the United States, with its powerful and omnipresent media, regional and local accents persist, and according to some experts are growing even more distinct. If you’ve ever wondered who in North America speaks in what way, your prayers have been answered. A linguist has produced a detailed (if aesthetically deficient) map of the continent’s varied takes on the English language.
The work is not peer-reviewed (the map-maker claims this project is a hobby), but the results are fascinating. For example, residents of the Mat-Su Valley just north of Anchorage, Alaska—Sarah Palin included—speak similarly to residents of Fargo, ND, or Escanaba in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Also interesting is the way many west Texans sound like residents of southern Appalachia, despite the stark difference in landscapes and long distance between the two. Looking at the map reveals differences on much smaller scales, too. Big established metropolitan areas can showcase a variety of accents. New York certainly stands out, but so to does the San Francisco Bay Area. Residents of Berkeley, for example, say “on” different from natives in neighboring Oakland.
There’s also a more scholarly site that not only catalogs English accents in North America, but across different continents. It even has audio samples of different speakers reciting a stock paragraph so you can get an idea of how people from different regions sound.
Gulliver at The Economist posted a blurb about the North American accent map in his column, and as justification he cites a few articles that claim accents may be advantageous or detrimental to business dealings, depending on the parties involved. It seems like a bit of a stretch, but if it let him bring this cool map to our attention, I guess I’ll bite.