Making Maps

The connection between language and geography is an important one, and the United States has a rich history of geographic dialectology. However, we learn from studying regional dialect atlases (and national dialect atlases, such as the Dictionary of American Regional English) that dialect edges don't follow state lines.

Southwest Wisconsin is a perfect example - The dialect called "North Central" is spoken in the north, while the "Inland North" dialect is spoken in southeastern Wisconsin and the "Upper Midlands" dialect is spoken in Wisconsin's southwest corner (along with northwest Illinois and southern Iowa).

Dialects in southwest Wisconsin

Dialect regions and isoglosses in Wisconsin and Upper Midwest, as determined by the Telsur Project at the Linguistics Laboratory, University of Pennsylvania. Purnell, Thomas. WISCONSIN TALK. © 2013 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Reprinted by permission of The University of Wisconsin Press.

These different dialect regions are distinguised on the map above by isoglosses. An isogloss is a line that distinguishes regions of linguistic similarity, whether for words, sounds or other aspects of speech.The following map was made by Frederic G. Cassidy for the Wisconsin English Language Survey. On it, you'll find hand-drawn isoglosses and markings showing the regions and locations in Wisconsin where people say tap, spigot, faucet, or bung.

Map by Frederic Cassidy of where people say different words for faucet in Wisconsin

Map made by Frederic G. Cassidy, ca. 1950.
Image courtesy of the Dictionary of American Regional English.

Just as state and national boundaries do not necessiarly match up with isoglosses, natural boundaries such as rivers, lakes and mountains may not necessarily represent linguistic boundaries (especially now with ample bridges and roads connecting communities). Consider how Highway 18, rather than the nearby Wisconsin River, serves as a cultural boundary separating groups of cheese factories owned by either American, German/Dutch/Belgian or Swiss cheesemakers.

Division of cheese factors based on culture not rivers

Data from Conzen 1997 was generalized by connecting five adjacent, similar data points. Each symbol, therefore, represent five directly proximate cheese factories. Purnell, Thomas. WISCONSIN TALK. © 2013 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Reprinted by permission of The University of Wisconsin Press.

Most maps on this website were made using standard techniques from the cartographer’s toolkit, as discussed in detail within cartographer Mark Livengood’s chapter in the book Wisconsin Talk: Linguistic Diversity in the Badger State. Check out his chapter (Chapter 10) for an insider’s perspective on the construction of different maps that you can view on this site!

We also recommend consulting American FactFinder and the University of Virginia's Historical Census Browser to gain access to information and census data that may be helpful in creating linguistic maps of your own.

References and related publications

Livengood, Mark. 2013. Mapping Wisconsin’s Linguistic Landscapes. In Wisconsin Talk: Linguistic Diversity in the Badger State, eds. Thomas Purnell, Eric Raimy and Joseph Salmons, pp. 142-149. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press.

Landry, Rodrigue, and Richard Y. Bourhis. 1997. Linguistic Landscape and Ethnolinguistic Vitality: An Empirical Study. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 16(1): 23–49.

Woodward, David, Robert Ostergren, Onno Brouwer, Steven Hoelscher, and Joshua Hane. 1996. Cultural Map of Wisconsin: A Cartographic Portrait of the State. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Slocum, Terry A., Robert B. McMaster, Fritz C. Kessler, and Hugh H. Howard. 2009. Thematic Cartography and Geovisualization. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.