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Same Language, Different Sound

As first reported by The MIT Technology Review, research has proven what most of us already knew!

Regardless of your native language, city slickers and country-folk speak and sound differently. It’s long been understood that Chicagoans speak differently than those who hail from Philly. And the French spoken in Paris is different than the French of the French Riviera. The accents are different and there are variances in grammar and vocabulary.

You might think that differences in culture, education, region, social status, income or gender would account for these language differences. But according to European researchers Bruno Goncalves and David Sanchez, the overwhelming statistical determinant for language differences in their study was the size of your town.

Goncalves and Sanchez studied the Spanish language because it is widely spoken across numerous continents and many Spanish-speakers have access to Twitter. Spanish was also chosen because Spanish is more logical than English in many ways. Spanish letters are representative of the sounds you hear when the language is spoken. Whereas English letter combos can have multiple sounds (Example: Though I cough through the day, the night stuff is not so rough).

The researchers analyzed 50 million tweets made in Spanish over two years for which geo-location tags were also available. Then Goncalves and Sanchez applied algorithms and discovered a “profound correlation” with high population density. Cities as far apart as Buenos Aires and San Diego were more similar in language than the small towns and rural areas just an hour’s drive away from these large, urban, metropolitan cities.

But city vs. country language differences will likely disappear over time. The rapid adoption of social media around the globe and the 24-hour mass media news cycle may soon eliminate what these researchers have learned from their in-depth study of our 140- character musings.

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