Grammatical Diversity in North American English

Ever notice how different regions of the United States have their own, unique dialects? In her July 29th post, Arika Okrent of Mental Floss describes three of them:

  1. Appalachian “a-prefixing”
  2. Southern American English “liketa”
  3. African-American English stressed “bin”

Turns out that each of these three dialect-specific terms have rules that govern their usage. For example:

He was a-huntin’.

is the correct usage of the Appalachian “a-prefixing”.  While:

He likes a-huntin’.

is incorrect. I think incorrect usage of a region-specific dialect is what allows locals to distinguish themselves from tourists. Of course, accents are a giveaway, too.

I speak New Yawk, often with a New Yawk accent. It sounds just ridiculous for me to say a-huntin’, a-fishin’, or a-anythin’. But it doesn’t sound unusual for me to say motha, brotha, sista or cawfee. At least, not to my ears.

Fascinated by this topic, I decided to explore it further. Arika is nice enough to include a few resources for further information, one of which is a link to the Yale Grammatical Diversity Project. Yep, you read that right. There’s an entire research study going on at Yale about this very topic. The researchers are all linguists, many of them are working on advanced degrees.

The Grammatical Diversity Project is focused on English in North America. Here is a picture of their “Phenomena” map:


Each one of the markers represents an instance of region-specific language. My home town has so many markers that I cannot zoom in close enough to see them all in a single instance:

New York

Drilling down even further provides a pop-up with additional information for each instance. Here’s one from Brooklyn:


I have, on occasion, said I was “so over” something. Who knew that I was speaking Brooklynese?

The database that powers this interactive map is quite robust. It contains an example of each morphosyntactic phenomenon, an attribution, the source, the category, the date of attestation (when the stated phenomenon can be traced back to), and at least half a dozen additional entries, each per term.

If you enjoy linguistics and grammar, I invite you to explore the Yale Diversity Project map. They even include a helpful tutorial about the project for additional information.



  • Cynthia Gelper

    I thought being “so over” something was from Friends, circa mid-90’s, kinda Valley-speak. No?

    • Val Swisher

      Cynthia – You might be right on that. The Yale project is interesting in that anyone can add information to it, as long as they can attribute it to a specific place and a specific date. Then again, when phrases enter our common vernacular, it’s hard to know exactly when and where – kind of chicken and egg, if you will!

  • David J C Morris

    Sorry to be a pedant … “date of attestation (back to which the stated phenomenon can be traced)”

  • Pingback: Grammatical Diversity in North American English...()

Get the Scoop

our monthly dose of compelling content delivered to your inbox

strategy | development | globalization writing | terminology | XML | ebooks