Linguists looking for a Pacific Northwest dialect

Oct 25, 2007

Linguists generally believe the West is too young to have evolved separate identifiable accent features or words, as has happened in other areas of the United States, and they usually lump together everyone living west of the Missouri River as speaking a similar-sounding type of English.

However, there are hints that this isn't necessarily true and that's why researchers from the University of Washington are beginning a two-year study to examine the features of the English spoken in the Pacific Northwest in a pilot project funded by the National Science Foundation.

The researchers, headed by Alicia Wassink, a UW associate professor of linguistics, are looking for 24 speakers of American English living in the greater Seattle area. They must have been born and raised in the Pacific Northwest between 1900 and 1985 and have no speech or hearing disorders.

People who are accepted into the study will participate in a one-hour audio-recorded interview, ideally with a family member or friend who also meets the qualifications as a volunteer. Individuals will be asked to take part in a brief conversation, read a list of words and a short story and then answer questions about their family history and demographics. Participants will be paid $15.

"We have families living in the Northwest since the states were territories," said Wassink. "We'd love to get a random sample of people from places like Ballard, Queen Anne, the Central Area and Yesler Terrace, as well family members from different generations so we can examine if and how dialects are changing over time. We are looking for a temporal snapshot of dialect evolution."

She said Washington is unique because it has had inter-ethnic contact that is as old as when the state was first settled and immigrant groups such as the Chinese, Irish, blacks, Japanese and Filipinos quickly diffused into the population.

What prompted the study were claims Wassink heard when she first moved to Seattle.

"When I arrived here many people said, ‘I can identify people who live east of the Cascades by the way they talk.' A woman from Whatcom County said she was asked if she was Canadian because of her speech. If people can tell Eastern Washington and Whatcom County residents by their speech, this throws into doubt that the West is homogenous."

During the last four years of unfunded research, UW linguists also have found interesting pronunciation differences in the metropolitan Seattle area

If Wassink finds evidence of a Pacific Northwest dialect she hopes to conduct a larger follow-up study that will include hundreds of residents from across Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Utah, states that linguists group together.

People interested in volunteering for the pilot study or who want new information may do so by sending an e-mail to pnweng (at) u.washington.edu

Source: University of Washington

Explore further: Best of Last Week—Confirmed Earth-sized planet, testing twin paradox w/o a spaceship and news we all peak at 24

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Ancient clam gardens nurture food security

Mar 20, 2014

A three-year study of ancient clam gardens in the Pacific Northwest has led researchers, including three from Simon Fraser University, to make a discovery that could benefit coastal communities' food production. ...

Recommended for you

Not just the poor live hand-to-mouth

3 hours ago

When the economy hits the skids, government stimulus checks to the poor sometimes follow. Stimulus programs—such as those in 2001, 2008 and 2009—are designed to boost the economy quickly by getting cash ...

Math modeling handbook now available

6 hours ago

Math comes in handy for answering questions about a variety of topics, from calculating the cost-effectiveness of fuel sources and determining the best regions to build high-speed rail to predicting the spread ...

Archaeologists, tribe clash over Native remains

7 hours ago

Archaeologists and Native Americans are clashing over Indian remains and artifacts that were excavated during a construction project in the San Francisco Bay Area, but then reburied at an undisclosed location.

Male-biased tweeting

9 hours ago

Today women take an active part in public life. Without a doubt, they also converse with other women. In fact, they even talk to each other about other things besides men. As banal as it sounds, this is far ...

Developing nations ride a motorcycle boom

10 hours ago

Asia's rapidly developing economies should prepare for a full-throttle increase in motorcycle numbers as average incomes increase, a new study from The Australian National University has found.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Not just the poor live hand-to-mouth

When the economy hits the skids, government stimulus checks to the poor sometimes follow. Stimulus programs—such as those in 2001, 2008 and 2009—are designed to boost the economy quickly by getting cash ...

Male-biased tweeting

Today women take an active part in public life. Without a doubt, they also converse with other women. In fact, they even talk to each other about other things besides men. As banal as it sounds, this is far ...

Archaeologists, tribe clash over Native remains

Archaeologists and Native Americans are clashing over Indian remains and artifacts that were excavated during a construction project in the San Francisco Bay Area, but then reburied at an undisclosed location.

Math modeling handbook now available

Math comes in handy for answering questions about a variety of topics, from calculating the cost-effectiveness of fuel sources and determining the best regions to build high-speed rail to predicting the spread ...