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English Language Dialect Map

Posted on 26 March 2011

This is a story about the internet making the world an amazing place. Back in December, I was on Tumblr, and someone I follow posted an image of a map breaking down “North American English Dialects, Based on Pronunciation Patterns.” I took a look, found it appealed to my inner language geek and reposted. But then it occurred to me that I might be able actually talk to the person (his name is Rick Aschmann, by the way). At CBC, I pitched the idea of interviewing the fellow about his work and localizing it by talking about dialects in our listening area. It was picked up, and I was able to call him.

After some searching on the internet, I found his contact information and called him up at his home in Ecuador. He was a guest on the show, and it was great. Turns out, he makes this map by finding YouTube clips of people from different parts of North America speaking. He verifies that they are ‘locals’ using Wikipedia. In northern BC, he used politician Jay Hill (Fort St John), hockey player Carey Price (Anahim Lake) and filmmaker Nilesh Patel (Prince George). As he said, there’s no way he could do this without the internet. Especially since it’s a hobby, not a job.

Think about that: thanks to the internet, he’s able to undertake the largest mapping of North American English dialects in history– in his spare time. Since this is a story about technology breaking ground in linguistics, I passed the story along to the national tech show, Spark. This week, they played their own interview with Rick Aschman. And now they’re turning it into a project, getting people from across Canada to help contribute to the map.

Step back: a guy in Ecuador goes onto YouTube and Wikipedia, two major databases of information made up mostly of people using it in their spare time, and uses these resources to make the most comprehensive English language dialect map of North America ever. People around the world find this and start posting it. This includes me in Prince George. I’m able to call him and he goes on Canadian radio, first regional, then national after I pass it along to yet another person I’ve never met face to face.

There are certainly downsides the always-connected nature of the internet age. But there are some pretty cool things about it, too. It’s easy to take for granted the scale in which barriers of communication have been broken down, but something like this would barely have been possible six, seven years ago. New technology, new ways of communicating, new knowledge. It’s pretty neat.

Rich Aschmann interview on Daybreak North

Rick Aschmann interview on Spark

English Language Dialect Map

Spark English Language Dialect Project

Filed under: misc, technology

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