Interactive dialect map

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A cute interactive feature: "How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk" ("What does the way you speak say about where you’re from? Answer all the questions below to see your personal dialect map"), NYT 12/21/2013. The description:

Most of the questions used in this quiz are based on those in the Harvard Dialect Survey, a linguistics project begun in 2002 by Bert Vaux and Scott Golder. The original questions and results for that survey can be found on Dr. Vaux's current website.

The data for the quiz and maps shown here come from over 350,000 survey responses collected from August to October 2013 by Josh Katz, a graphics editor for the New York Times who developed this quiz. The colors on the large heat map correspond to the probability that a randomly selected person in that location would respond to a randomly selected survey question the same way that you did. The three smaller maps show which answer most contributed to those cities being named the most (or least) similar to you.

For more about the background, see Ben Zimmer's post "About those dialect maps making the rounds", 6/6/2013.

Here's my map, or at least one version of it:

The "specific cities" feature is a bit random — mine are "Baltimore" and "Saint Louis", both attributed to the fact that (like a large minority of other Americans) I lack the caught/cot merger, and "Newark/Paterson", attributed to the term "mischief night" for the night before Halloween:

"Mischief night" is one of those phrases that I've heard around, maybe when I lived in northern New Jersey for a while, though we had no such concept when I was growing up (since mischief took place on Halloween itself). The survey has a few other features like those, which tag you with particular not-necessarily-relevant cities.

I haven't been able to find a description of the algorithm used to combine information from the various maps. But there seems to be a problem, either in the interpretation of the answers or in the method of combining them, as indicated by the fact that my final map has got a lot of orange and red below the Mason-Dixon line, despite the information that I'm not a y'all speaker. The map for the y'all choice seems plausible:

But something seems to be wrong in the interpretation of not making this choice, or the method for combining choices into a final geographical pattern, or both.

One issue might just be the way of asking the questions. Though I obviously know about y'all, I'd never use it except as a joke or quotation or imitation, and similarly for you'uns and youse.  Those are positive markers of geo-social identity, while  choices like you all and you are mostly negative markers, in the sense that their interpretation depends mostly on NOT having made the other choices.

But the real usage distribution of such alternatives may not emerge accurately from answers to questions like this.  Some southerners may consider y'all to be non-standard, for example, and therefore give answers like you or you all.

Or maybe this app's method for combining evidence is suboptimal…


  1. maidhc said,

    December 22, 2013 @ 6:24 am

    It wants to charge me money and I won't pay. Does that say anything about where I'm from?

  2. Sili said,

    December 22, 2013 @ 6:50 am

    You've likely visited the NYT site previously this month, maidhc.

    It's a pity they mix pronunciation and dialectal items. It makes it even more random what result a furriner like me gets. But Boston seems to weigh the heaviest.

  3. Wannes L. said,

    December 22, 2013 @ 7:39 am

    The website decidedly indicates that my non native English is proper to one specific region. Well, I do really like The Sopranos.

    (But I guess if the British Isles were included in the survey I would probably end up somewhere in the ocean.)

  4. Peter S. said,

    December 22, 2013 @ 8:18 am

    Do you get different questions each time you take the survey? I'm pretty sure I didn't get the "night before Halloween" question when I took it.

    [(myl) Yes, the 25 questions that you get are clearly a random selection from a larger set. Bert Vaux's survey has 122 questions — probably Katz's survey questions are the same, more or less.]

  5. BlueLoom said,

    December 22, 2013 @ 8:31 am

    The quiz puts me solidly in the midwest, where I spent exactly 4 years for college and 4 years later for a job. The rest of my (long) life has been spent in the mid-Atlantic east coast states.

    Cot & caught = different
    Aunt = ah (c'mon, that's not a midwestern pronunciation)
    Night before Halloween? Beggars night

  6. Mike Fahie said,

    December 22, 2013 @ 10:11 am

    In the crayon question, two of the options are:

    two syllables – cray-ahn
    two syllables, where the second rhymes with dawn

    For me, these are both true. Dawn & -ahn rhyme.

  7. Ben Zimmer said,

    December 22, 2013 @ 10:17 am

    You can read more about Josh Katz's project to determine "aggregate dialect difference" from Vaux and Golder's survey data on his website. (The dialect quiz used to be hosted on his site but was always facing server issues, so it's great that the Times agreed to host it — Katz is now an intern for their graphics department.) And for background on how Katz's heat-map versions of the Vaux and Golder maps became so popular, see my LL post, "About those dialect maps making the rounds…."

    [(myl) Unfortunately, the "aggregate dialect difference" web page won't load for me — maybe the server is overwhelmed. I'll come back to the question when I can find out what Katz did.]

  8. Sally Thomason said,

    December 22, 2013 @ 10:30 am

    I think I broke the system — I got through the whole survey, but no summing-up map appeared at the end. Many but not all of my answers were consistent with my Chicago-area home ground, + Michigan in recent years. One answer, verge, put me completely outside the US (I must have picked that up in England for some reason).

  9. Peter S. said,

    December 22, 2013 @ 11:16 am

    The South isn't completely red in the map for the *y'all* choice, and in fact is rather orange except in the neighborhood of New Orleans. Surprisingly, this must mean there is a sizable minority of people in the South who don't use *y'all*. So the fact that you don't say *y'all* doesn't that weigh against you that much for being from the South.

  10. Brett said,

    December 22, 2013 @ 11:48 am

    @Sally Thomason: I didn't see anything until I had run an (unrelated) Java update. Even then, it took a long time to load.

    Eventually, it pegged me as being from pretty much anywhere except the Old South, which is probably a pretty accurate picture of how I speak. My top three cities were in Southern California, and I did grow up on the west coast (albeit farther north, in Oregon).

  11. Mr Punch said,

    December 22, 2013 @ 12:29 pm

    I took it three times, with about half the questions changing each time. The answer was always Boston-Worcester-Providence, which is accurate – although in fact I sometimes find Rhode Islanders hard to understand. My son, who grew up within 20 miles of where I did, got the same answers, but my daughter got Springfield in place of Providence. An online test I took some years ago placed me in Boston on pronunciation alone.

  12. Phillip Jennings said,

    December 22, 2013 @ 1:30 pm

    When I was a kid in North Dakota we wore 'tennis shoes' in gym, but we pronounced them 'tenna shoes.' I suspect 'sneakers' is gaining ground. Tennis was never a foreground sport in North Dakota.

  13. David Morris said,

    December 22, 2013 @ 3:00 pm

    As an Australian, I thought I'd be off the map completely, but instead I'm clustered closely on New York, Yonkers and Jersey City. From what I've heard of the speech of those places on movies and television, I don't sound anything like anyone from there.
    There were no questions about final rhotics (non-, in my case, but linking 'r' and occasionally intrusive 'r') or the added 'y' in 'due', which are both firm features of my idiolect.

  14. Rubrick said,

    December 22, 2013 @ 3:33 pm

    I had a lot of trouble with the "present tense" phrasing of the questions; in a lot of cases I wasn't sure whether to choose the term I used growing up in Cincinnati, or the one I use now to blend in with the natives out here in California.

    Despite this, I was surprised that the map put me solidly in a Montana/Wyoming/Colorado corridor, somewhere I've never lived remotely near.

  15. Pete said,

    December 22, 2013 @ 5:03 pm

    I thought cot-caught mergers were a minority.

  16. Chris C. said,

    December 22, 2013 @ 6:11 pm

    I ran through the whole thing and got no final map.

    I was curious too, since I've spent nearly 30 years on the opposite coast from where I grew up, and I'd like to know how much of my native dialect I retain. Assuming it's all that accurate of course. Some of my individual answers were extremely localized to where I grew up, others not so much.

  17. Bill W said,

    December 22, 2013 @ 6:17 pm

    The map pinpointed me to Arlington, VA, which is off by about 5 miles from where I live. I think "traffic circle" somehow exposed me for what I am.

  18. bratschegirl said,

    December 22, 2013 @ 6:42 pm

    Tried three times, both when logged in and not, and a map never came up. I was looking forward to seeing the results, too! Oh well.

  19. Randy said,

    December 22, 2013 @ 7:51 pm

    I submitted a comment, but it's not showing up. It tried submitting again, but it says it's a duplicate. Are comments moderated?

  20. Randy said,

    December 22, 2013 @ 7:52 pm

    Apparently not.

  21. Derek said,

    December 22, 2013 @ 8:38 pm

    It pretty much nailed me. At the end it gave Baltimore, Winston-Salem, and Greensboro. I grew up in the latter two (they're about thirty miles apart).

    I didn't get any cot-caught questions though, and I wonder what would have happened if I did, because I have the merger but it's unusual for where I grew up. And I second what Mike Fahie said, "-ahn" and "dawn" rhyme for me, so the crayon question is ambiguous for me.

    BTW, the map either took a long time to load for me, or it didn't show until I (randomly) clicked where it should have been.

  22. Richard said,

    December 22, 2013 @ 9:31 pm

    David Morris, I'm an Aussie too, and also got the New York – Yonkers – Jersey City result. So whatever it's doing, it seems to be doing it consistently

  23. P.Hill said,

    December 22, 2013 @ 10:33 pm

    It sounds to me like it is accurately says you talk like a lot/many folks from the Maryland/Delaware area, but also lots (but not as much) similarity with many folks from both St Loius and northern N. Jersey. This is as you described, but keep in mind the question listed is the one with the most weight for the likely areas, not the only question. It may be a distinctive usage — a 'Where'd ja learn that? That is very much a northern Jersey usage?", or the possibility exists that you did give common answers and some of your orange areas have plenty of common American speakers and the most weight questions really isn't that much more weight at all. The survey doesn't tell us how much more the distinctive question factored in (they might not even know).

    I think the idea is, you wouldn't have gotten reddish orange in NJ or MO, if there were not more than one question that had similar speakers from those areas.

    Certainly wrong would be a deep red spot in one spot with blue everywhere else. Your results show something more subtle.

  24. John Walden said,

    December 23, 2013 @ 2:26 am

    Surely Halloween is the night before All Hallows' Day.

    The night before Halloween is just October the 30th.

    By the way I'm another Brit who seemingly talks like a New Jerseyer/New Yorker.

    It can't just be Sopranos, Southside Johnny and Bruce.

  25. John Swindle said,

    December 23, 2013 @ 2:45 am

    They ask "How would you address a group of two or more people." What about speakers who use "you," "you two," and "you guys" for singular, dual, and plural respectively? What, nobody else hears that? Maybe it hasn't been mapped yet.

  26. NJ/NYC said,

    December 23, 2013 @ 3:50 am

    For the Aussies and Brits shocked that they got New Jersey, let me assure you as a northern New Jerseyan who lives in New York, that pretty much nobody here talks like a Soprano (ESPECIALLY in Jersey) or the other stereotypes, with the occasional exception for Staten Island and some older folk.

    Ignore what you hear in LA-produced movies and come see for yourself ;)

  27. Rolyh said,

    December 23, 2013 @ 4:00 am

    I am British born but spent most of my adult life in Toronto and thought I had some sort of hybrid speech and accent.
    My map came up with Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Rochester and Providence.
    As Rochester is pretty close geographically to Toronto I was impressed.

  28. David Morris said,

    December 23, 2013 @ 5:23 am

    I've never ever watched even any part of any episode of The Sopranos, not even on advertisements or discussions about the show.

  29. Jongseong Park said,

    December 23, 2013 @ 7:02 am

    I got Boston, Yonkers, and New York. Not surprising since I first learned English in Northern New Jersey and studied in Boston.

    Let me back up NJ/NYC in saying that nobody in New Jersey talks like a Soprano. All Jersey speech I've heard is fully rhotic, and the Mary–marry–merry distinction tends to be preserved.

  30. richardelguru said,

    December 23, 2013 @ 7:19 am

    I'm an RP Briton who's lived in the US for a long time (30+ years, and yes I am still largely RP).
    Weirdly interesting result: where I now live (Dallas area) came out as 'least similar' and where I lived until 13-years ago (Ithaca area) came out 'most similar'!

  31. Jeff said,

    December 23, 2013 @ 9:51 am

    I took it and ended up in North Carolina, which I've visited but never lived in, and wanted to change one of my answers so I took it again, but "an error occurred." Then no matter how many more times I've taken it I never actually get a final result.

  32. un malpaso said,

    December 23, 2013 @ 10:38 am

    I have done several of these in the past and I often got placed in middle America (I live in Atlanta and am an Atlanta native, and our area is pretty homogenized and de-Southernized, so this makes sense). But this test placed me pretty much solidly in the Deep South (either that or Kentucky). Maybe the "y'all" and the "yard sale" thing pushed them over the edge? (My 3 most likely cities were, interestingly, Tallahassee, Lexington KY, and Columbus GA.)

  33. Rod Johnson said,

    December 23, 2013 @ 12:16 pm

    When I took this a few months ago it pegged me to the exact county in Michigan where I grew up, so I'm surprised to hear how off it was for some of the rest of you. Maybe that means I'm especially well-behaved dialectally (or, more likely, that I haven't moved around much).

  34. dw said,

    December 23, 2013 @ 1:49 pm

    RP-ish Brit living in California for 10 years. Came out as Alabama. I guess lack of the cot-caught and mary-marry-merry mergers might be consistent with that.

  35. Theophylact said,

    December 23, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

    Some funny ones here. I do "Brew-Thru" only because I have a week on the Outer Banks once a year or so. They don't have such things anywhere else I've ever lived, so my word for it isn't native. In DC, where I now live, the term for the strip of grass between the street and the sidewalk is "tree box" . That's not one of the choices, nor is "Devil's strip", which DARE says is common in Baltimore; and the thing itself is so rare in Manhattan, where I lived in my linguistically formative years, that the concept was without a term. I also tend to use ""semi", "tractor-trailer" and "18-wheeler" interchangeably; that wasn't an option.

    For a New Yorker of my age, the absolute dead giveaway would be "sliding pond", a localism for a playground slide.

  36. J. W. Brewer said,

    December 23, 2013 @ 2:18 pm

    This put me where I live now (and have lived for the last two-decades-plus) not where I grew up, but I answered the questions in present-tense and (to take the one which was pretty obviously supposed to be a "tell" for those of us who grew up in the Delaware valley) I don't present-tense say "hoagie" because I assume I wouldn't be understood. Plus I think in the typical usage of my peers growing up we didn't say "hoagie" uniformly instead of "sub"; rather we used the former to refer to a specific subset of the broader category referred to by the latter. There were a few others where I suspect my present-day usage might differ from my childhood usage but I find it difficult to be absolutely certain so many decades later. I left the "mischief night" question blank because I don't think its referent is something I presently refer to (and where I live now does not seem to be an organized thing either for trouble-causing youth or the homeowners on the other side of such trouble). I guess if I'd taken it to be a passive-knowledge question, I probably would have checked "mischief night" as being what I think of as the default term used by those who have occasion to refer to it.

  37. Keith M Ellis said,

    December 23, 2013 @ 2:21 pm

    I took it twice, and each time two of the three cities it picked as representative were cities I'd lived in. Of the remaining two, one was within a hundred miles of where I've lived, and the other was a bit of a fluke but within the swath of deep-red that represented "most similar".

    My mother took it and it pegged her exactly in the city in which she lives (and, weirdly, a suburb) but not the city where she grew up, which disappointed here. And that was a little weird because some of her answers weren't in accordance with the midwest city she lives in now, but that city where she grew up.

    Still, it was a little freaky in how accurate it was.

  38. J. W. Brewer said,

    December 23, 2013 @ 2:26 pm

    I suspect also there are some phonological "tells" that are hard to ascertain via this sort of quiz, because you can't just phrase them as "rhymes with X" versus "rhymes with Y." For example, I have retained from childhood a very distinctively mid-Atlantic GOAT vowel (it's unusually um, fronted, or rounded, or tensed, or something) which "gave me away" originwise to a work colleague in NYC who'd grown up in Baltimore. But I don't know how you would reliably elicit that in this sort of text-based format.

  39. un malpaso said,

    December 23, 2013 @ 5:19 pm

    Since the questions were random and I thought I might get some different ones, I took it again, and it once again put me in the deep South, triangulated between Mississippi, Birmingham and Columbus GA. This was based on only a few new questions, including the "tennis shoes/sneakers" one. Pretty accurate I guess… my family is basically north Georgian for several generations, but I seem to have picked up some coastal plain Southernisms here and there too.

    (I'm curious about the "easy college class" term question. I have never had a single word for this, although in school my friends and I would often refer to a class as a "skate class" (?!?) as in "skate through with no problem." this may be a completely personal outlier.)

  40. Adrian Morgan said,

    December 23, 2013 @ 7:13 pm

    David Morris and Richard (and other interested parties):

    I did the same, and here's my map. I assume this is very similar to yours.

    But I don't find it that surprising. I suspect where you go wrong is that you imagine that the site compares your dialect with the median dialect of the various regions. It does not.

    Even if only one percent of New Yorkers answer a question the same way we do, that could still be bright red on the map if the corresponding figure in Texas is one in a thousand.

    In that case, the regions which show up as "most like Australia" are probably just those with the highest proportion of Commonwealth immigrants in the population. It is, I suspect, that simple.

    This hypothesis can be falsified (or not) with reference to the map I provided.

  41. John O'Rourke said,

    December 23, 2013 @ 9:25 pm

    Growing up in Passaic County, NJ, the night before Halloween was always referred to as "goosey night". I have no idea of the origins of this expression.

  42. margey said,

    December 23, 2013 @ 9:48 pm

    pegged me 10 miles away, northern nj. my daughter, born in florida, was placed in orlando. freakishly accurate for us.

  43. Troup Dresser said,

    December 24, 2013 @ 6:07 am

    I lived all over the States and overseas up until the age of 13 yrs when my dad finished his military service and retired in N California's SF Bay Area. There were times during the survey when I thought that I would have chosen something different when I was younger, like crawdad when I was a young kid and crayfish as an adult. The first time through the test put me within 50 miles of my Bay Area home in San Rafael, CA. Survey said Fremont, Oakland and SF, CA. I spent years 13 thru 26 in San Rafael, California. I went back and answered the questions again making the choices I would have when I was younger and the survey placed me in Littlerock AR, Jackson MS and Baton Rouge, LA. I was born in Ft Benning, GA but spend very little time in the South but my parents were from Chattanooga, TN and Columbus, GA. All soft drinks were reffered to as 'cokes' in my family and I think that I spoke Southern American English when I was a kid. Pretty interesting stuff.

  44. Belial said,

    December 24, 2013 @ 1:12 pm

    Grew up and now live in LA; school four years in Boston and three in Chicago. My map placed me in Denver and Aurora, Colorado, a place I've visited exactly twice in my life, and Minneapolis/St. Paul, where I've also been only twice. The heat map accurately concentrates on the West but the city choices are just weird. So… a fun game but hardly foolproof.

  45. Karl Weber said,

    December 24, 2013 @ 1:35 pm

    I found several of the questions hard to answer. For example, it asked me what I call the animal often known as a crawfish. Actually I don't call it anything, since I never have had occasion to refer to it–but I know it as some sort of southern thing that I associate with southern words. That doesn't make me southern, does it?

    Similarly, I was torn between "traffic circle" and "rotary" since I rarely encounter these road features near my home in New York (where I think "traffic circle" is used) but often do when vacationing in Cape Cod (where they are called "rotaries"). Does that make me part New Englander?

  46. Chris C. said,

    December 24, 2013 @ 3:57 pm

    "I know it as some sort of southern thing that I associate with southern words. That doesn't make me southern, does it?"

    Not at all. They're only peculiarly Southern as a delicacy. I used to find them down by the brook all the time, when growing up in New Jersey,

  47. Brett said,

    December 24, 2013 @ 10:46 pm

    @richardelguru: I have heard you on the radio a fair number of times. You were obviously a Brit from your accent, but you were also clearly very used to using American idioms. However, when I found out that you lived in Texas, I was actually a little puzzled, since you didn't seem to speak the kind of American English that one would learn living in that part of the country. I concluded that you had probably lived somewhere else in America before Texas. When I later learned that you had lived in upstate New York, that seemed to match your American idioms a lot better.

  48. Ken Brown said,

    December 26, 2013 @ 7:12 am

    Another Brit sneaking in. The map very very clearly lit up the East Coast as red – all of it from Louisiana to New England – and put shades of blue pretty much everywhere else. The three cities were Baton Rouge, Montgomery, and New York.

    I guess that works on word choice rather than accent. I had no idea before this that anywhere in the USA used "lorry", "roundabout", or generic "lemonade".

  49. oulenz said,

    December 26, 2013 @ 12:41 pm

    It gave me Anchorage and Miami. Then again I'm not from the U.S..

  50. Jonathan Badger said,

    December 27, 2013 @ 12:41 am

    I was impressed that it suggested Madison, WI first and Rockford, IL second, given that I'm from Madison and my mother from Rockford — and I took it in San Diego, so IP geolocating wouldn't be a factor.

  51. Randy said,

    December 28, 2013 @ 4:43 pm

    (I tried posting this comment a few days ago, when the post was fresh, but it never showed up)

    I grew up in and around Hamilton, Ontario, and when I was 23, I moved to Kingston, also in Ontario, where I've lived for the past decade or so. In Kingston, I mostly consort with people from RMC and Queen's University, which see far more people from across the country and the world than from Kingston itself (though very few from the United States).

    When I took the quiz, I got Minneapolis/St. Paul, Detroit, and Buffalo as the three most similar cities (I posted the picture of the map to my Twitter feed, which I used as my URI). It's no surprise that the the most similar would be border cities in the cases of the latter two cities, or the largest city of a border stat in the first case. Most of my questions were about vocabulary, mind you. If accent had been a bigger factor, I think the similarities would have be smaller, especially in the case of Detroit. I suspect it's harder to ask questions about accent and expect accurate responses, though.

    There was also a moderate similarity with the dialects of coastal states. Again, not very surprising, given what I've read about Western American English. The Florida panhandle also showed moderate similarities. There are lots of Canadians who spend their winters in Florida, though I'm not sure if this has anything to do with the similarities. Does the influx of Northerners (both American and Canadian) during the winter have an effect on Floridian speech?

    I found certain questions impossible to answer accurately, because of the structure of the test. I learned the term "garage sale" before "yard sale", for example, but I've seen and probably used both throughout my lifetime, yet I could only pick one in the test.

  52. tk said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 7:24 am

    Boston born, MD raised, NM college (and PhD), says /y'all/ (a cromulent word), tried it several times, haven't gotten it "right" yet.

  53. BobW said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 1:37 pm

    It got me right! I wonder how much "devil's night" weighed, the only place I ever heard that term was Detroit (where I lived my first 21 years).

  54. BobW said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 1:55 pm

    Slow day at work today, 25 q test was quite accurate here…farthest off was Mississippi for an Arkansasan.

  55. Randy said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

    "It got me right! I wonder how much "devil's night" weighed, the only place I ever heard that term was Detroit (where I lived my first 21 years)."

    As far as I ever heard, "devil's night" was the only name for the night before Hallowe'en in Southern Ontario as well. I didn't learn it until after I moved from the countryside to the city around the age of 10, though, and I don't know what proportion of people here actually give it a special name.

  56. Circe said,

    December 31, 2013 @ 5:15 pm

    I learnt English as a second language in India, but have live in California for the last few years. The map shows my dialect as being most similar to Boston, Providence and New York.

    Well, they at least lie close to a great circle route from, say, San Francisco to New Delhi!

  57. Mark Stephenson said,

    January 1, 2014 @ 1:09 pm

    I answered according to my British origin and got most-similar cities as New York, Yonkers, and Honolulu!

  58. Victoria Simmons said,

    January 2, 2014 @ 9:27 pm

    The New Yorker has published a rather delicious parody of the dialect map. I'm switching over to crawdaddio right away.

  59. Svafa said,

    January 3, 2014 @ 11:10 am

    I tried it a few times and it never managed to pick cities anywhere near where I've lived all my life. The state and area I'm from was firmly red every time, so I wonder if the database doesn't include any cities in the area or something.

  60. Norman Smith said,

    January 4, 2014 @ 1:19 pm

    I am from Ontario (specifically, west of Toronto), and live in Ottawa. My results were New York, Boston, and Miami. Seemed a bit of stretch to me.

  61. Ginny Hall said,

    January 31, 2014 @ 10:58 am

    I'm a third generation Rochesterian (NY), and the quiz pegged me exactly. My husband, who grew up north of Cincinnati but moved to Rochester in 1968, came out as southern Ohio or northern Kentucky, so his was correct. Our teenage daughter, though, matched some random midwestern cities, despite living her whole life in Rochester. I wonder if this is the homogenizing effect of TV.

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