Is D.C. More Southern or Northern? Dialect May Offer A Clue | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Is D.C. More Southern or Northern? Dialect May Offer A Clue

The line between the North and South is technically Maryland's northern border, but the D.C. region defies easy categorization.
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The line between the North and South is technically Maryland's northern border, but the D.C. region defies easy categorization.

Sandwiched between the distinct cultural areas of the American South and Northeast, the cultural identity of the D.C. area has always been somewhat in flux, depending on the factors one chooses to cite. A map of American dialects compiled by North Carolina State's Department of Statistics may offer some insight into this puzzling cultural question.

Joshua Katz, an NC State graduate student who compiled the map from existing data, says that dialect can tell you a lot of about a person and where they're from.

"To me, dialect is a badge of pride — it’s something that says, 'This is who I am; this is where I come from,'" said Katz in an interview with The Abstract, NSCU's research blog.

So what does D.C.'s dialect say?

A North/South question

The U.S. Census bureau has lumped the South Atlantic region, including the D.C. area, in a region designated the "American South." Indeed, there is some historic precedence for this, as the Mason-Dixon Line runs north of Maryland, as does the parallel 36°30' north established as the boundary between north and south in the Missouri Compromise.

In terms of dialect, however, D.C.'s connect to the South is somewhat tenuous. When it comes to sandwich spreads, the D.C. area sides with the South and their "man-aze." So too do residents resist sticking to one pronunciation for route — the "route" to work is often long, especially if one takes "root" 66.


While there is a strong historic argument for the D.C.'s historic association with the American South, in recent years an influx of northerners to the District has lent a more Northern cultural flavor to the area, especially in the the area of dialect.

When addressing a group of two or more people, y'all is the Southern staple. And yet, the line in the sand between "y'all" and "you guys" appears just south of Northern Virginia. You guys really feel strongly about this one, it seems.

D.C. is also firmly in "soda" territory when speaking of their sugary, carbonated confections. The South tends to favor "coke" as a catchall for all such beverages, and the oft-maligned "pop" remains firmly in the Midwest.


A region set apart

Even with all these questions to answer and the data to ponder, D.C.'s place on the North-South divide remains murky. What is clear is that, in many respects, it is a region unto its own.

The DMV is steadfastly resistant to referring to New York City simply as "the City," though such sentiment is strong in both the American South and the Northeast.

Residents want nothing to do with the word "supper," an uncommon predilection on the East Coast. And perhaps influenced by its proximity to Bowie State University, residents of the D.C. region put the "boo" in "Bowie knife" — something not see anywhere else outside of Texas.


Are there other words and phrases that the District uses differently from the rest of the country? Let us know in the comments.

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