Looking at Twitter to Study Regionalisms

An interesting project, covered in this New York Times ArtsBeat item. An excerpt:

To demonstrate the validity of Twitter-based research, Mr. Russ searched through some 400,000 Twitter posts coming from identifiable locations and zeroed in on three different linguistic variables, starting with the regional distribution of “soda” vs. “pop” or “Coke,” something that has been well-studied by scholars and amateurs alike. Next, he tracked the use of “hella,” an intensifier (as in “hella boring”) that is associated with Northern California but whose regional distribution has only been examined anecdotally. Finally, he looked at the well-documented syntactic construction “needs X-ed” (as in “the car needs washed”), which is common in the Midwest and especially around Pittsburgh.

Mr. Russ’s results for carbonated beverages, plotted onto a Google map, track closely with previous research, with “pop” predominant from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest, “Coke” predominant in the South and “soda” ruling the Northeast and Southwest while also cropping up elsewhere. But his map for “hella” shows the word leap-frogging up the West Coast to Seattle (and, more puzzlingly, popping up in St. Louis and Kansas City).

Thanks to Donna Colin for the pointer.