How the States Got Their Shapes, "Mouthing Off": hey y'all

Quick Take: How the States Got Their Shapes, "Mouthing Off"
A look at accents and dialects across the country.

how the states got their shapes

Review: How the States Got Their Shapes, "Mouthing Off"
(S0109) In the search for new topics, How the States Got Their Shapes has had progressively less to do with answering the question in its title. The latest edition had pretty much nothing to do with state borders, in fact. Instead, it discussed regional accents and dialects, therefore bringing states together into regions of varying sizes.

How accents are categorized in this country is fairly interesting. On the East Coast and in the Midwest, you will find a variety of recognized accents. Up in the Northeast, you will find a handful of accents, such as Long Island, New York, Boston, and Mid-Atlantic. Conversely, most of the South is categorized as having, unsurprisingly, a Southern accent, while pretty much the entire western half of the United States is said to have simply a "West" accent, which seems fairly odd given the vast land the region covers.

Often, the parts of How the States Got Their Shapes where host Brian Unger conducts man on the street interviews are the least substantive and interesting parts of the show. However, this was a particular topic that made them much more necessary and worthwhile, and the show consisted almost solely of such conversations. This allowed first hand demonstrations of the various accents of the country, and the regional lexicons as well. For you see, this episode wasn't merely about the way people talk, but the words they use.

The use of the word "y'all" in the South, the various words for soda, and California skater slang were ingestigated, for example. The soda part was the most interesting of the three, mostly because of the unusual Southern quirk of calling all soda "coke" regardless of whether or not it is a Coca-Cola. Also of note is that in small portions of the country the word "tonic" remains in use. In the skater slang section, a writer proclaims he is probably the one who came up with the word "bromance" (something nobody should take pride in), and a lady skater tries to popularize a word she came up with. A regular William Shakespeare, that one.

The episode had the typical jokes about the Boston and Long Island accents. The word "coffee" came up often. At least some discussion of the possibility of Long Island becoming its own state provided some substance to that portion. However, that isn't to say this episode didn't have worthwhile information. Discussion of the idiosyncratic languages off the coast of the Carolinas, Ocracoke and Gullah, was interesting, and the fact that the Southern accent didn't really come about until after the Civil War may surprise some.

Some time was also given to the Pony Express, morse code, and even texting, and the impact they have had across the United States. Unger didn't visit any interesting places as he has in the past, and only a couple of experts were talked to, and one of them was the "bromance" guy. This was an episode almost focused solely on discussing accents and lexicon with the very people who speak them. As such, much of the information lacked the significant historical heft of previous episodes, but it was still a typical interesting, enjoyable episode of How the States Got Their Shapes. Although, it should be pointed out that unfortunately Native American languages, as well as the languages of Alaska and Hawaii, were not discussed. Nevertheless, if you have any interest on how folks speak outside of your region, then this is definitely something worth checking out.

By Chris Morgan

About the author

Chris Morgan has written for an abundance of websites. He once cowrote a show for The Second City in Detroit. It was closed soon after. He has a podcast: http://cheers.libsyn.com/rss He wrote a novel: http://www.amazon.com/Smoke-Gets-Your-Eyes-ebook/dp/B00961KJNW/

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1 Comment
On: Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:

I'm a Long Island native who has lived in California for many years. When I head back east, I look out for particular words that you never hear in the west, such as "yiz," an extreme form of "youse" i.e. "How yiz doin', hon?" 

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