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Ep117 - Bert Vaux

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Mixed Mental Arts

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While a Professor at Harvard University, Bert Vaux noticed that within a week students were suppressing their accents in order to blend in on campus. What intrigued Bert was that even though students were trying to cover up their accents, very often the words they used would give away where they were from. People from New Jersey would casually refer to the night before Hallowe’en as mischief night. Bostonians thought everybody called a water fountain a bubbler. And what people from Seattle called a potato bug was obviously called a roly poly to Kansans. So, in 2002, Bert created a survey to discern these patterns. After collecting data for over a decade, they went viral last year. If you saw a bunch of dialect maps floating around on The New York Times, The Today Show, Business Insider, Huff Po, or Facebook or had a conversation about what you call something or other in your part of the country, you have already experienced the work of Bert Vaux. (More on all the places the survey showed up here) Since millions of people have now taken the survey, there’s a good chance you’ve even taken it. In this episode, Bryan, Hunter and Bert discuss why language and dialect are so continuously fascinating to people: they represent identity. We use language and dialect to mark our identity. Although our word choices, grammatical choices and how we choose to pronounce words are often unconscious, they are of vital significance for how we see ourselves and how we are seen by others. To find out what your accent says about you, visit by clicking here and take Bert’s dialect quiz. An abbreviated version was featured by The New York Times, click here. Bert Vaux is currently a professor at Cambridge University. He’s very excited to have just become a dad!

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