Regional and Social Dialects When Naming Carbonated Beverages by Evita Singh
I grabbed it and flipped the tab, “POP!” The carbonation in my soda began to fizz, and then I gulped down my Coca-Cola. Pop, soda, and coke are three commonly used terms to refer to carbonated beverages. The term pop comes from the popping sound a cork makes, soda refers to a carbonated, bubbly drink, and coke is a short form of the popular Coca Cola name, which originated in Atlanta, Georgia (Schmieg). These words represent variations in our language, and in some ways they help define who we are. Why did I think of “pop” as the sound the can made when I opened my “soda,” for example? And why do I use the proper noun “Coke” rather than the official “Coca-Cola”? These might seem like unimportant questions, but they do speak to who I am – where I currently live and go to college, how old or young I am, and how I am influenced by the family and community surroundings of my childhood. All of these factors guided my research into the significance of the names of carbonated beverages.
To begin, I decided to research the impact of regional and social dialects, two forms of dialect that are commonly studied and are important in my research of beverage names. Regional dialects vary from region to region within a country while social dialects include different slang terms and words unique to certain age groups and ethnicities (Pederson). Thus, in my study, terms such as pop and soda, which refer to carbonated beverages, are understood as created by a variation in people’s regional differences and their ages, among other factors. Specific use of words can sometimes tell how old an individual is because, according to Georgetown University Linguistics Professor Roger Shuy, words, just like people, have a life span (Shuy). This idea might explain why one of my grandparents might use the official title Coca-Cola, but as a 19-year-old I abbreviate and use the more common slang term Coke. Additionally, regional dialects across the U.S. impact our language. The five main dialects within the United States are Inland North, North Central, West, Midland, and South (Labov, Ash, & Boberg), and variations also exist within states. For example, Ohio is part of the Midland region of the United States and is divided into three areas with different dialects: Inland North includes Cleveland and Northern Ohio, Midland contains Columbus and Central Ohio, and Appalachian encompasses Cincinnati and Southern Ohio. I decided to focus my study on exploring social and regional dialects within Ohio because I attend college in Ohio. Ohio also makes a good research study because it is on the border of Pennsylvania and Kentucky, which are in the Inland North and Southern dialect regions, respectively. The key advantage of choosing Ohio is that its bordering states use dialects differently from the form of English used in Ohio. Due to the vicinity of these other regions, I even noticed variations between Inland North, Midland, and Appalachian dialects within Ohio. Identifying the three dialects’ similarities and differences allows us to make connections between the varying forms of English throughout one region of the United States.
As I began to focus my study, I found that significant research has been done on the terms used to describe carbonated beverages, providing more insight on the impacts of social and regional dialects. For instance, a team of researchers for The Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) conducted a survey throughout the entire United States between 1965 and 1970 and asked, “Ordinary soft drinks, usually carbonated – what are they called?” The group distributed 1002 questionnaires and received 1360 responses; many people submitted more than one response because they apparently couldn’t decide on just one answer. DARE found that the most consistent response given was pop (Schneidemesser). About thirty years later, in 1994, Schneidemesser performed a similar survey in which 313 people between the ages of 16 and 35 from 35 states filled out a questionnaire about whether they called a carbonated beverage pop, soda, or some other term. The survey’s findings were that pop and soda were the most popular terms used to describe a carbonated beverage, and words such as soda water, dope, soda pop, and drink were used less frequently (Schneidemesser).
In a more contemporary study done in 2007, Heidi Sleep and Katie Thiel used guided conversation to study the variations of terms for soft drinks at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, a college consisting mostly of students from Midwestern states. They interviewed seven subjects on campus from several cities in Minnesota and Wisconsin. They hypothesized that individuals from Minnesota use the term pop and those from Wisconsin use both soda and pop but soda is more common. In order to test this prediction, Sleep and Thiel asked the students questions about the food or vending machines on campus, which required them to use pop or soda in their conversations. The results of this study indicated that students from Wisconsin generally said soda and students from Minnesota called the drink pop. Moreover, they discovered that some individuals preferred to use the name brands of certain carbonated beverages such as Mountain Dew or Diet Pepsi before they used pop or soda to describe the soft drinks (Sleep and Thiel).
Around the same time, another researcher, Alan McConchie, established a website where he obtained people’s zip codes and questioned, “What generic word do you use to describe carbonated soft drinks?” His primary sources of data were the individuals who read his web page and submitted their choice. Then, McConchie displayed his results on a map of the United States, showing that pop is used more commonly in the Midwest, soda in the Northeast, and coke is usually said in the South (McConchie). Also, Greg Plumb and Matthew Campbell from East Central University in Oklahoma used McConchie’s Internet survey results to separate the names for soft drinks by county on a map. According to the map, about 50-100% of the population in the Midwest and the Northwest used pop, 50-100% of individuals living in the South said coke, 50-80% of the population in California and the Southwest used soda, and 80-100% of the people living in the Northeast called it soda (Campbell and Plumb). Generally, people from the East and West coasts addressed the beverage as soda, individuals in the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest used pop, and the population in the South said coke. Studies conducted by USA Today and Bert Vaux corroborate these results (Vaux). After examining the map and this research, Jennifer Nemec, writing for the website Grit: Rural American Know-How, concluded that the differences in the terms used for carbonated beverages as a result of regional dialects across the United States can be problematic in some households. “A debate rages beneath the surface of our country. It’s not about red states and blue states; it’s not even about Coke or Pepsi. It’s about what we call Coke and Pepsi. Whether a soft drink is a ‘soda,’ a ‘pop’ or a ‘coke’ can become a concern in geographically mixed household,” she writes, equating the debate with a political difference of opinion in a household (Nemec).
Broadening the above research, in a 2012 study Brice Russ from The Ohio State University looked at differences in regional language on Twitter. He examined 2,952 tweets from about 1,118 locations across the United States and found that pop is used mostly in the Midwest, soda in the Northeast and Southwest, and coke is popular in the South (Russ). These findings agree with all of the older research on names for carbonated beverages, illustrating that, even today, these regional dialects hold true across the country.
Although multiple studies exist on carbonated beverages in relation to regional dialects, official research with social dialects such as age groups is sparse. A notable exception is a general study on language and different age groups by Thomas Donahue at Youngstown State University. Donahue looked at the usage of the word, yinz, meaning “you,” which was becoming popular around Northeastern Ohio at the time. He had 93 students fill out a questionnaire and found that 60 students had either used the word or heard someone from an older generation use it. Thirteen students said they used the word when talking to an older generation so the language was being passed along, and nine more students said they only used the word yinz when they heard a person from their own generation say it (Donahue). This research gave me more reason to look at certain effects of social dialects such as peer bonding and alienation in relation to age.
I conducted a unique study in order to look at various terms for carbonated beverages that are used by people of different ages. As mentioned, past studies have been done on the different terms given to soft drinks but no study has wholeheartedly concentrated on how age groups differ in describing these drinks. Differences in language as they relate to age are important to my study because they can reveal generational values and differences. Having the knowledge of the evolution of language might help us predict how words will change over time and how they can shift from generation to generation. This study deals exclusively with Ohio’s population and the different age groups that have specific names for carbonated beverages.
My study focused on how regional and social dialects impact the choice of names used for carbonated beverages by individuals of different ages. I wanted to see if older generations of people called a beverage something different and if living in various regions of Ohio made a person more likely to use a certain term over one used in another part of the state. First, I surveyed a total of 300 individuals from the three main regions of Ohio belonging to the following age groups: 18-26, 27-35, 36-44, 45-53, 54-62, and 63+. Observing the different age groups aided me in examining the differences in social dialects between these various generations and the differences they make in naming carbonated beverages. In addition, I surveyed the same number of people (50) from each age group for the purposes of consistency. This study went beyond the research presented in the introduction because I looked at the effect of social dialects on how the terms were used to describe soft drinks while previous research had specifically studied the differences in regional dialects and words for these beverages. The sample consisted of people who live in three unique groups in Ohio: Inland North (Cleveland and Northern Ohio area), Midland (Columbus and Central Ohio area) and Appalachian (Cincinnati and Southern Ohio area). In this manner, I could control regional dialects within the boundaries of a specific state. To collect the data from the sample, I personally interviewed 300 people face-to-face from Ohio and asked them their age, city of origin, and the following two questions:
- What do you call a dark-colored carbonated beverage?
- What do you call a clear carbonated beverage?
At first, I thought asking these two questions seemed as if they would be more beneficial and accurate than asking a general question about carbonated beverage names. However, these questions specify certain kinds of soft drinks. For example, beverages like Coke and Pepsi are dark-colored, and drinks such as Sierra Mist and Sprite are clear. Dark-colored and clear soft drinks are common so I decided to concentrate specifically on those drinks and the terms people in Ohio use to describe them. I surveyed people asking just these two simple questions in person rather than having a guided conversation or allowing people to select a name online. Guided conversation makes it difficult to interview a large population, and online surveys can be somewhat unreliable because there is no way to know if the people are in the required age group or from Ohio. After getting some results for this survey, I observed that many people were just giving the name of their favorite dark colored beverage, and every person I surveyed answered Sprite for the clear colored beverage. I realized that asking these questions would bring inaccurate results, leading to an incorrect conclusion about the effects of regional and social dialects have on the names people give to carbonated beverages.
B. Revision of Methodology
Therefore, I improved this study by going back to the original question: “What do you call a carbonated beverage?” While answering this question, individuals thought about what they call a carbonated drink in general, showing patterns of regional and social dialects. I kept the regions and the number of people similar as in the initial survey. Based on the findings of previous research, I hypothesized that pop and soda would be the most common terms used. Furthermore, after looking at Plumb and Campbell’s and McConchie’s survey results, it seemed likely that pop would be a more common descriptor of a beverage since they found that this term was used mostly in the Midwest region. For the social dialect aspect of the study, I hypothesized that there definitely would be differences in the terms used by individuals in the different age groups but it was hard to predict exactly which word each group used most often since there has been no past research relating carbonated beverages and social dialects.
After collecting the data, I created pie charts that clearly showed the correlation between the age of a person and what names he or she used for carbonated beverages. These graphs also depict how dialects vary even within a certain state. Additionally, I carefully noted whether individuals used specific brand names of carbonated beverages when answering these questions. My method of study was similar to the DARE and Schneidemesser studies since those also looked at various regions but mine was distinct because it encompassed both social and regional dialects, which resulted in noteworthy data.
The results I obtained from surveying people of different ages from all over Ohio were unique and interesting. I found that there is a clear relationship between the age of an individual and the term they use to describe a carbonated beverage. Results show that at least 50% of the people surveyed say pop, and about 30-40% say soda, making these the most common terms used by the population between the ages of 18 and 35 (Figures 1 and 2).
Also, about three fourths of the people 36 years old and above use soda to describe a soft drink. The people belonging to the older age groups seem to mostly say soda and the second most common term used is coke. As the age group gets older, the percentages of individuals who say pop decrease significantly and people aged 63 and over do not use the term pop, according to my data (Figures 5 and 6). In general, the relationship between a person’s age and the term he or she uses for a carbonated beverage is that younger people, between the ages of 19 and 35, tend to mostly say pop, and people of ages 35 and over use the word soda. This indicates that the social dialects within Ohio vary with age (Figures 3 and 4).
Additionally, my survey focuses on regional dialects within Ohio. The resulting data indicate that there is not much of a clear link between the region of Ohio a person belongs to and the name he or she has for a carbonated beverage. However, the figures from the data do show some interesting connections between these variables. According to the figures, pop and soda are the most common names given to carbonated beverages by the people of Ohio. Out of the three regions of Ohio, it seems as though a carbonated beverage is called pop more in the Midland region, but the drink is known more often as soda in the Inland North and Appalachian regions. The conclusion that I drew from the figures above is that there is not much of a direct relationship between the regions in Ohio and the names people in these regions have for carbonated beverages because the majority numbers are not conclusive enough for each specific area. However, these figures do give valuable information about how people living in Ohio tend to say pop and soda, and seldom use the terms coke and soft drink. The maps show that there is a possibility of regional dialects within Ohio but this study was unable to provide obvious results.
The study I conducted indicates that there are clear social dialects within Ohio and there may be regional dialects when it comes to other parts of language but names for carbonated beverages do not seem to vary much within this one state. The most common terms for carbonated beverages in Ohio are pop and soda, and this might explain why I use both terms in my own vocabulary. Additionally, the majority of those 35 and under from Ohio say pop and the older people tend to say soda or coke; this was mostly in accord with my hypothesis. These findings indicate that there is a social dialect within Ohio because the terms people have for carbonated beverages vary with age. But again, I could not find as much existing research on social dialect as on regional dialect. It seems logical to assume that individuals from the same generation are usually spending time together so they tend to match in their language and dialects.
According to my study, there is not only one certain regional dialect pattern in Ohio. This finding may be due to the fact that Ohio is just one state out of fifty and regional dialects tend to vary much more significantly between different regions rather than inside one state. The results vary from region to region, and all that can be concluded from the figures is that pop and soda are the common terms used in Ohio and people from the Midland region tend to use pop more.
My study focused on the relationship between various age groups and the terms they used to describe certain carbonated beverages. This research gave me insight into variations in language and how speech patterns continue to change as culture changes, coining new word usage. My study also allowed me to link my own research with the existing data on regional and social dialects in Ohio and gave me a better understanding of the many names given to carbonated beverages. All of this research stemmed from one seemingly simple question: why do I call my beverages pop, soda, or coke? Turns out, that question wasn’t as simple as it seemed.
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Evita Singh currently attends Kent State University, and hopes to go on to medical school. She conducted and wrote this research project on carbonated beverages for an English class and said, “It was interesting to look at the relationship between age, region of Ohio, and the name given to a carbonated beverage. Doing research is such a great experience for undergraduate students.”
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