three questions to find out where someone is from

Amy West medievalist at W-STS.COM
Wed Oct 24 13:13:44 UTC 2012

On 10/24/12 12:00 AM, Automatic digest processor wrote:
> Date:    Tue, 23 Oct 2012 18:21:42 -0700
> From:    Grant Barrett<grantbarrett at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject: three questions to find out where someone is from
> It's a stunt we've seen in books, movies, and television (usually by British actors), but I've got a radio show listener who wants to know if it really can be done.
> In a casual, non-fieldwork situation -- a party, a bar, public transportation, etc. -- what would you say or ask in order to get someone to reveal their particular dialect, and, therefore, their likely point of origin -- without them being aware of what you're up to? Limit it to just three questions/conversation starters, if you can.
> I have a few ideas what might work, at least in the US, but I'll hold back pending responses.
> Grant Barrett
> grantbarrett at
Because I have a tin ear, if they don't have a pronunciation that is
easily identifiable, I would tend to ask questions aimed at vocabulary,
that is, trying to elicit regional dialectal variant names for things,
like soda/pop/coke; water fountain/bubbler; sprinkles/jimmies; etc. The
other thing I'd try to elicit is semantic structures like "might could"
or dialectal verbs like "redd up."

How would I do this? Well, pretty ham-handedly by simply directly asking
awkward questions like: "When you go to a drink vending machine, what do
you call the stuff you get from it?" And I'd probably get an answer like
"Ice tea" or "Dr. Pepper". (I can't remember if we've sorted out whether
ice/iced tea is regional or not.)

And I probably wouldn't be able to narrow the geographical region down
too much with my questions.

---Amy West

PS Grant: I love the show. I listen to it regularly as a podcast on my
iPod along with Lingua France and a couple of Deutsche Welle programs.
And I need to pay up for the privilege since none of my local stations
carry it!

The American Dialect Society -

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