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Population Diversity Could Influence Regional Dialect in WI

Some language experts say regional dialect could become less prominent in a more global society. (Matthew Henry)
Some language experts say regional dialect could become less prominent in a more global society. (Matthew Henry)
December 31, 2019

MADISON, Wis. -- As Wisconsin's population becomes more diverse, changes are expected in the coming years to better assist residents from other parts of the world. But it could even have more personal impacts, including how residents speak.

Census figures show that Wisconsin is still predominantly white, at nearly 87%, but the latest numbers also show minority populations are growing at an increasing rate.

Joan Houston Hall, chief editor emerita of the Dictionary of American Regional English, said dialect changes could be as simple as how residents refer to soft drinks.

"In university communities, very often people listen to what their roommates say. And if their roommates come from the Northeast and they think it's pretty cool to talk about soda instead of pop, they might well just adopt that," Hall said. "So, it's a social interaction kind of lexical change."

Hall said over the years, many polls have consistently shown that most Wisconsin residents call soft drinks "pop." But she said more recent polling shows that "soda" -- the term primarily used in the Northeast -- is gaining influence in eastern Wisconsin.

She said while it might be hard for some to see traditional ways of speaking disappear, it can be fun to embrace different forms of language use, because they will happen.

"It's a constant that language changes," she said. "It doesn't change the same way, or at the same rate in all places, but it always changes."

Hall said the changes might become more noticeable in the near future as university systems do more recruiting of international students to help address enrollment declines.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - WI