The interactive dialect quiz on the New York Times website, developed by Josh Katz from Bert Vaux and Scott Golder's Harvard Dialect Survey, has proved to be immensely popular. It's been a viral sensation on social media, much like the original Business Insider article on Katz's heat maps back in June (currently at 36 million pageviews and counting). And as in June, Katz's work is attracting plenty of mainstream media attention, too. This morning, I was on a panel discussion talking about the dialect quiz, and regional dialects in general, on MSNBC's "Up With Steve Kornacki" (segment 1, segment 2).
My convivial co-panelists (Jimmy Tingle, Lynn Sweet, and Jane Hall) shared some relevant dialectal anecdotes, but there wasn't much linguistic meat to the conversation. And as time was running short, I only had a chance to talk in the first of the two segments.
But I'll have another opportunity to discuss the tremendous public appetite for dialect maps and quizzes in a session at the upcoming American Dialect Society annual meeting in Minneapolis, held in conjunction with the Linguistic Society of America (schedule). At 4:30 pm on Friday, Jan. 3 (just before the Word of the Year vote), Anne Curzan and I will be leading a session entitled "Educating the
Educated: Talking Linguistics in the News Media." The abstract:
Linguists are rightly troubled by the widely held misperceptions about language variation and change in public circulation and concerned about the difficulty linguists have experienced countering those beliefs with linguistically-informed perspectives. In the form of a conversation about “lessons learned,” we present our experiences writing for The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, and the blog Lingua Franca and appearing as experts on various National Public Radio shows. We reflect on reader/listener feedback and provide advice to scholars interested in participating actively in public conversations about American dialects and language change.
As part of the discussion about how linguists can best engage with the media on issues of language variation and change, I plan on examining the media attention over the work of Katz — who, it should be noted, is not a linguist but a graduate student in statistics at North Carolina State University (and now an intern at the New York Times graphic department). If you'll be in Minneapolis for the LSA, please come join us!
[Update: I hear from Scott Golder that he will be discussing his work on the Harvard Dialect Survey on tomorrow morning's Today Show. It's great that they're talking to him, especially since Today neglected to give credit to Vaux and Golder when Katz's heat maps blew up back in June.]
[Update, 12/30: Here is the Today Show segment with Golder.]