Education Week: Soda or pop?

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What is a sweet, carbonated beverage called?

Well, depending on where a person is from it could be “soda,” “pop,” or even using the word “coke” to reference all kinds of carbonated beverages.

At an Education Week session on Aug. 23, BYU linguistics professor David S. Eddington dove into the geography of language as he talked about how people from different places will use alternate words or pronounce things differently, even if they may be speaking the same language as the guy next door.

Eddington explained that people living on the east and west coast tend to call a carbonated beverage “soda,” while the middle of the country calls it “pop.”

Eddington led a discussion rather than a lecture, as he frequently encouraged audience participation. He asked the audience how they pronounced certain words, such as, “Nevada,” or if they say “potato bug” versus “rollie pollie,” “barbecue” versus “grill,” or “y’all” versus “you guys.”

Interestingly enough, the two places with the most usage of “potato bug” instead of “rollie pollie” are Utah and Kirtland.

Showing maps on the screen, Eddington explained that the way people say words correspond with where they are from. 

“As a linguist,” Eddington said, “someone will always come up to me and say, ‘What’s the correct way (to say a specific word)?’ And I say, ‘Where are you from?'”

The maps clearly represented a distinction between coasts, as language usage such as “you guys” was found in the west coast (such as Utah), and “y’all” was found in the south.

David S. Eddington explained that people living on the east and west coast tend to call a carbonated beverage “soda,” while the middle of the country calls it “pop,” and others may use “coke” in reference to any kind of carbonated beverage. (Photo and graphic by Sage Perez)

“When you have lots of dialects coming together and living in a particular place, they tend to move towards the simplest system,” Eddington said, referring to language simplicity.

This explains the reason why the western U.S. has “simplified” a lot of things pertaining to language — because there is a lot of dialect mixing, according to Eddington.

So why do dialects exist? Eddington said some reasons are that founders bring their speech with them to where they go and then parents pass their speech to their children.

“American English is influenced by all sorts of people from all sorts of different areas,” he said. Some of those influencing areas he mentioned were Britain and Ireland.

Eddington explained that Scots-Irish have especially had a significant impact on American English, specifically because a large population of Americans have Scots-Irish ancestry.

Several word phrases and pronunciation such as “t-tapping” — pronouncing the “t” as a stop instead of using a hard “t” sound — were in fact not invented by Americans, but are actually from Ireland.

Eddington said there was a study conducted in the 1960s which yielded results that language variation can be found not only across but within the same place.

He said speech varies on the following factors: age, social class, gender, ethnicity, situation — with friends, job interviews, giving talks — or any other social variable.

Eddington asked audience participants for examples of these variables. “Going to,” versus “gonna” was shared, showing the difference between the language of older and younger people. Younger people also tend to say, “like,” and often use texting abbreviations such as “lol.”

As for other variables, Eddington showed a chart portraying how women tend to be more socially correct speakers than men. He also said Americans tend to “accommodate” to those around us, adjusting our language to sound like them. In some cases, the reason being a desire to “fit in.”

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