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“Pop” Or “Soda”? Map Shows How Idaho's Dialect Varies

Language Map

Do you know what a sunshower is? Chances are you're not from Idaho if you do. If you say "pop" when referring to a sugary can of carbonation, you're more likely to be from Coeur d'Alene than Boise. And when it comes to what Boiseans call a sale of unwanted stuff, it's kind of a toss-up: "garage sale" and "yard sale" are both acceptable terms. 

This is all according to a dialect map produced by a North Carolina doctoral student. The map allows you to look at certain phrases and words used in the U.S., and see how far these speech patterns stretch. Perhaps not surprisingly, a lot of the West and Midwest pronounces words like "pajamas" the same, while the East and South say it differently.

Tim Thornes teaches linguistics at Boise State. He says this mapping project is interesting, because it lets people see how regional dialect patterns play out across the country. Thornes says it’s important to keep doing surveys like this because the way a certain city or region talks changes over time.

Thornes says when it comes to studying U.S. dialect variations, most of the diversity is on the East Coast. That’s due to historical European settling patterns. Many of the places that we think have accents were places where white settlers originally set up shop.

“Then out West, there hasn’t been time I would say for there to be a lot of diversification," says Thornes. "People are still moving in and out so you still get people from all over the country coming to places like Idaho and influencing the regional dialect patterns.”

But Thornes contends that just because much of the West speaks similarly – doesn’t mean that it’s linguistically boring. In Idaho, he points out a divide in the state when it comes to the pronunciation of certain words. How do you say, "realtor"?

As it turns out, people buying and selling homes in the Treasure and Magic Valleys are more likely to enlist the help of a “real-tor” – while in Lewiston you’ll probably ask for a “real-uh-tor.” Thornes says syllabic variance is one way language can differ within Idaho. 

And if you were wondering what a sunshower is: It's what people in the Northeast and Upper Midwest might say when it rains and the sun is shining.

Frankie Barnhill was the Senior Producer of Idaho Matters, Boise State Public Radio's daily show and podcast.

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