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North Carolina’s Linguistic Landscape Flourishes at the Fair

Pick up your free dialect button at the NC State Fair.

Beyond fried foods, whirling rides, and laughing children, a North Cackalacky fair-goer will be serenaded by a clamor of different dialects. The fair is the perfect target for the North Carolina Language and Life Project to spice up the conversation about conversation.

According to Professor of English and sociolinguist Walt Wolfram, North Carolina is one of the most linguistically diverse states in the country. The NCLLP sponsors a language and dialect booth at the NC State Fair to encourage fair goers to dive in to their culture’s rich linguistic background. At the exhibit booth, visitors can learn about North Carolina dialects through eight large banners, documentaries, a touch-screen Dialect Quiz, and give-away dialect buttons.

“We hope to get conversations going about dialect differences and highlight culturally relevant terms,” said Danica Cullinan, (MA, English ’08), a video producer with the NCLLP, and the exhibit coordinator.

Jim Michnowicz, associate professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, is helping Cullinan expand the exhibit this year to include a Spanish language component.

“We hope to have at least one bilingual volunteer at the booth at all times,” Cullinan said. Today, Spanish is an integral part of the linguistic landscape of North Carolina, and Michnowicz wants to debunk myths about Spanish in the state, as well as provide graduate students and faculty the opportunity to share the results of their research with the public, as part of a pilot study on Spanish in Raleigh he’s conducting.

Cullinan has lined up close to 100 students and faculty members to interact with fair goers at the booth. Through conversation about personal experiences with language and dialect differences, you could discover it’s okay to say “y’all cut the light off,” or “you’uns need to fix that railing.” Come visit the exhibit: It just might make your view on linguistics and dialects go sigogglin.*

* Sigogglin: a term from the Appalachian Mountain region meaning crooked, skewed, or out of balance.

By Kristie Demers, CHASS Communication Intern