I finally got around to taking the New York Times’ dialect quiz that’s been making the rounds online. I hadn’t yet seen anyone sharing results that were very off-base for them, so my “most similar” cities in terms of dialect surprised me: San Francisco, Fremont, and Santa Rosa. All California cities, all in the Bay Area.
This is peculiar because I’ve spent my life – except the past few months – in a fairly compact area in the Washington DC metropolitan region, between DC proper, Maryland, and Northern Virginia. So that little red cluster you can see on the east coast on the above map describes my home region to a tee. Looking into what this quiz determines were my “most distinctive answers” (biggest differentiators), it seems that what tilted the results towards the west was this answer:
What do you call the small road parallel to the highway? frontage road
This one’s easy. I blame my use of Adventure Cycling maps for this, as I adopted the term “frontage road” into my vocabulary when cycling through the northern US this summer. I didn’t have a term for those kinds of roads before, nor did I see a need for one, but their bicycling maps frequently route you onto frontage roads paralleling higher-traffic roads. You’d better believe I’d have a term for it if I was a rancher or farmer growing up in Montana.
Besides vocabulary, it would be interesting to learn more about how long it takes more subtle linguistic differences to settle in, such as accent, and how that process differs between people. In Santa Barbara, I wonder what gives me away as an east coaster first: slang and vocabulary, demeanor or mannerisms, intonation, some other obvious cue?
Being that San Francisco is my favorite California city, and I’ve been told by both coasters that it’s the most “east coast” city in California, perhaps it’s not too surprising that it’s similar linguistically and culturally. Or maybe those similarities are exactly what draw me in.
These quiz results are more interesting to me than if they had managed to point directly to the east coast cities nearest to where I had grown up. Guess I’m soaking up that California lifestyle just fine. If you’re interested in more of the same, don’t miss the Pop vs. Soda map by Alan McConchie or the wonderously detailed North American English Dialects map by Richard P. Aschmann. Here’s a relevant paper on linguistic differences within California as well. Happy Holidays!