Show Details

Dialects & Society

February 25, 2016

While the media affect our vocabulary, our accents are a product of our community.



The durability of dialects. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Thanks to our media-saturated society, new words like “twerk” and “vaping”  quickly spread from coast to coast. But dialects are media-resistant: we can still tell if someone’s from Cape Cod or Oregon. Kansas State University linguist Mary Kohn says that it’s communities, rather than media, that rule our accents.

MARY KOHN (Kansas State University):

The structure of our community and the structure of our school highly correlate with the kinds of accents that emerge.


Kohn has been studying over twenty years of language data on eighty-eight individuals. She says communities with little or no diversity produce the most durable dialects—and can then face discrimination based on those accents. To Kohn, though, these variations are a part of a rich linguistic heritage stretching back to the time of Chaucer—something to be appreciated and even celebrated. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.