Language and Dialect

Crawfish in New Orleans, Louisiana      (crayfish or crawdad if you live outside of the South)


“Hey, you guys!”

“I am fixing to eat some crawfish!”

“I am going to go wait on line to buy tickets.”

“Hand me a soda.”

If you have no idea what I just said, yet you are fluent in the English language it may because of dialect. Dialect is a form of a language and almost all languages have dialects. How you speak relates directly to your geography and culture. Traveling across the United States will introduce you to this concept quickly as every region has a different way of speaking.

Researchers from Harvard called thousands of Americans on the phone. In this Dialect Video researchers verbally described certain words so that the participants would use the word they normally would in that situation. For example, they might ask “how would you address a group of two or more people?” The participants might respond by saying “y’all” or “you guys”. The researchers also created maps highlighting where certain words were used most frequently.

Ever wonder about your own dialect? Take this New York Times Dialect Quiz which is based off the survey used in the Harvard Dialect Study. The quiz is a great way for students to look at the topic in a personal way. At the end of the survey you will see maps that highlight where your dialect is located in the United States.

Teaching Tips

  • Use the Dialect Video and New York Times Dialect Quiz in the same lesson since many of the questions are the same.
  • Pause the video to discuss certain words and ask the class to say the word to see if there are differences within the class.
  • Focus on the maps in the video. Again you may need to pause the video to pay more attention to the frames with the maps.
  • Discuss everyone’s results at the end of the survey. You may find that students will get different results from the rest of the class if they have family from other regions of the country.


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