what speech do we like best?

What Speech Do We Like Best?

Correct American?
You say potato ....and I say spud. A look at the different schools of thought on language usage.

Language as Prestige
Some people use the words and phrases of other "groups" like a linguistic fashion statement.

Language Prejudice
We often make snap decisions about character or  intelligence based on speech.

What is Sociolinguistics?
Social scientists who observe language rather than prescribe its use are often called sociolinguists.

Mapping Attitudes
Exercises to explore where you  think American is best spoken.

regional dialect map

Linguist Carmen Fought tells us  that  language expresses our identity and reflects who we are, and who we want to be.  Every time we speak, we give listeners information about ourselves and where we're from. When we travel around the United States we often hear people ask:  Oh, are you from New York/Chicago/Texas? Or at least, Where are you from? ( with the unstated subtext: …because you sure ain't from around here! ) Their guesses might be based on our phonology ( the sounds we use, also called accent ) or on our choice of particular lexical items ( in other words, words: don't get people started on soda vs. pop ).

Interestingly, many of us consider our way of speaking to be neutral. It's hard for us to hear features of our own speech that might be obvious to people who speak other dialects. Linguists use the term dialect  to mean 'a variety shared by a group of speakers.'  By this definition, everyone speaks a dialect, not just Andy Griffith and Scarlett O'Hara. Bus drivers, teachers, your neighbors, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and you (whether you know it or not) speak a dialect, too.

With so many dialects, which one is the best? And why? The answer depends on who you are and where you live. We all recognize that some language sounds pleasant or correct or cool to us - and some sounds "uneducated" or just plain bad. But one person's thumbs down is another's thumbs up.

Learning what we feel about language is important to society for a number of reasons. Often, children who speak non-standard dialects may be inaccurately classified as "not knowing much English" or even "having a speech defect," with terrible consequences for them. Or people who code switch ( regularly mixing words or phrases from more than one language within sentences ) are thought to be unable to speak the languages very well. ( Usually the opposite is true. ) Studying language helps us learn more about social organization, as well as about the remarkable resources of the human brain. It also helps us examine a form of social stereotyping we may not have been aware existed. Learn more!

Sponsored by:

National Endowment for the Humanities Hewlett Foundation Ford Foundation   Arthur Vining Davis Foundations Carnegie Corporation

National Endowment
for the Humanities

William and Flora Hewlett


Rosalind P.

Arthur Vining
Davis Foundations

Corporation of New York