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Maybe we should stick with ‘attorney’

David Donovan//June 14, 2013

Maybe we should stick with ‘attorney’

David Donovan//June 14, 2013

One North Carolina State University student did something far more productive with his studies than we ever did in college. Joshua Katz, a Ph.D. student in statistics, created a series of maps that beautifully visualize how people in different parts of the country pronounce different words. The maps are also astonishingly precise: If you pronounce “syrup” as “sear-up” and emphasize the second syllable of “pecan,” as in “pe-CON,” you are likely from around Philadelphia.

You can also see where, exactly, people stop saying “y’all,” but the most interesting thing for us was the variation in how people would pronounce the name of this publication. In most of America, the first syllable of “lawyer” rhymes with “boy” (as in “loy-er”). But in parts of the South, “lawyer” is pronounced just like it’s spelled—a “law-yer.”

We knew that much, but Katz’s maps show just how likely you are to hear each wherever you go. In North Carolina, “law-yer” reigns from the western part of the state until you just get past Charlotte, after which people are just as likely to say either. Only in the very eastern slice of Carolina does “loy-er” dominate.

Though preferences shift only gradually from west to east, a much firmer demarcation exists between North and South Carolina. People just north of the state line are much more likely to say “law-yer” than those only a few miles due south. In fact, “loy-er” is clearly preferred across South Carolina, except for a tiny sliver in its most northwestern corner—but even in Charleston it doesn’t dominate nearly to the extent it does outside the old Confederacy, where hardly anyone says “law-yer.”

Besides being fascinating, Katz’s map is gratifying in one particular way: Nobody seems to say it “liar.”

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