October 23, 2014

Tech Tool for Discovering What Your Speech Reveals About Your Heritage

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How you speak can reveal much about your heritage.

If you’ve ever lived in or visited the U.S. or Canada, you already know we don’t all speak English the same way. But did you know that we actually speak eight different major dialects in North America?

The website North American English Dialects has put those dialects on the map. In fact, it even traces their origins and spread: 2 dialects from the west and 6 from the east, reflecting the way the English language originally spread across the continent.

Creator Rick Aschmann notes how we say our “r’s”, the 19 vowel sounds we use, and all those other great tiny variations that go into our Southern drawl or “broad-A” Boston-speak. Aschmann is just doing this project for fun, but he takes his map pretty seriously. He even asks anyone with a “native accent” to upload a sound file of themselves speaking.

Dialect MapIt’s fun to look at this map and think about how our American or Canadian ancestors may have pronounced things differently than we do (or the same, depending on how far we’ve wandered). If your families have migrated within the past 50 to 100 years, click on some of the sound samples from your old stomping grounds and see if you catch some familiar cadences or phrases.

A Huffington Post writer says he could look at this map for hours and not get bored, and I agree! It’s complicated–there are lots of color codes and lines and such–but our speech is complicated, too. Some cities or small regions need their own enlarged maps to show neighborhood-level differences.

You can learn more about how our speech reveals our heritage and family history by listening to my interview with Dr. Robert Leonard Ph.D., Forensic Linguist in Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 89. Dr. Leonard has been featured on the TV series Forensic Files and has a fascinating personal history as well.

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About Lisa

Lisa Louise Cooke is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show at www.GenealogyGems.com. She is the author of the books Genealogy Gems: Ultimate Research Strategies and The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, and the Google Earth for Genealogy DVD series, an international conference speaker, and writer for Family Tree Magazine.