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6 French and German Dialects That Are 100 Percent American (And What They Sound Like)

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The history of the United States is multilingual, and many non-English speaking communities have managed to maintain their languages, sometimes for hundreds of years. Here are six dialects of French and German that go back a long way.


French has been spoken in Louisiana since long before the Pilgrims arrived. Here, in a clip from YouTube travel channel Where's Andrew, Louisiana native Elgin Thibodeaux explains how his whole family still speaks French.


What we call Pennsylvania Dutch is actually an old dialect (or collection of dialects) of German that has been here since colonial times. It's still spoken in many parts of Pennsylvania and a few areas of Ohio and Indiana. You can hear its difference from standard German in this collection of examples of people counting from one to 10.


Less well known than Louisiana French is New England French. It was brought through French Canada to an area running from Maine to Connecticut, and survives in very small numbers of speakers these days. Some young people are trying to keep it alive. Here 17-year-old Christian, from Berlin, New Hampshire, contributes an example of the dialect to Wikitongues, a non-profit organization that aims to create a public archive of the world's languages.


The U.S. received a huge influx of German immigrants in the 19th century. Some of the communities they established maintained a nearly completely German-speaking way of life for a few generations. Here is Vernell, from Fredericksburg, Texas, talking about her Texas German upbringing.


Also known as paw-paw French, this language spoken by settlers in Ozark mining communities for centuries is nearly extinct. Here is a recording of Missouri French folk tales collected by scholar Joseph-Médard Carrière, read by Chris Valdivieso.


Many German-speaking immigrant communities maintained their language for generations in Wisconsin. The settlers of New Glarus, Wisconsin came from Switzerland, and the German of their descendants is specifically Swiss. You can hear an example of it from the University of Wisconsin's Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies here.

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ANTTI T. NISSINEN, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Big Questions
Why Does Japan Have Blue Traffic Lights Instead of Green?
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ANTTI T. NISSINEN, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In Japan, a game of Red Light, Green Light might be more like Red Light, Blue Light. Because of a linguistic quirk of Japanese, some of the country’s street lights feature "go" signals that are distinctly more blue than green, as Atlas Obscura alerts us, making the country an outlier in international road design.

Different languages refer to colors very differently. For instance, some languages, like Russian and Japanese, have different words for light blue and dark blue, treating them as two distinct colors. And some languages lump colors English speakers see as distinct together under the same umbrella, using the same word for green and blue, for instance. Again, Japanese is one of those languages. While there are now separate terms for blue and green, in Old Japanese, the word ao was used for both colors—what English-speaking scholars label grue.

In modern Japanese, ao refers to blue, while the word midori means green, but you can see the overlap culturally, including at traffic intersections. Officially, the “go” color in traffic lights is called ao, even though traffic lights used to be a regular green, Reader’s Digest says. This posed a linguistic conundrum: How can bureaucrats call the lights ao in official literature if they're really midori?

Since it was written in 1968, dozens of countries around the world have signed the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, an international treaty aimed at standardizing traffic signals. Japan hasn’t signed (neither has the U.S.), but the country has nevertheless moved toward more internationalized signals.

They ended up splitting the difference between international law and linguists' outcry. Since 1973, the Japanese government has decreed that traffic lights should be green—but that they be the bluest shade of green. They can still qualify as ao, but they're also green enough to mean go to foreigners. But, as Atlas Obscura points out, when drivers take their licensing test, they have to go through a vision test that includes the ability to distinguish between red, yellow, and blue—not green.

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Using Words Like 'Really' A Lot Could Mean You're Really Stressed
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Are you feeling really exhausted? Or have you noticed that it's incredibly hot out today?

If you recognize the adverbs above as appearing frequently in your own speech, it could be a sign that you're stressed. At least, those are the findings in a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As Nature reports, researchers found that peppering our speech with "function words" is a pretty accurate indicator of our anxiety levels.

Function words differ from verbs and nouns in that they don't mean much on their own and mostly serve to clarify the words around them. Included in this group are pronouns, adverbs, and adjectives. A team of American researchers suspected that people use these words more frequently when they're stressed, so to test their hypothesis, they hooked up recording devices to 143 volunteers.

After transcribing and analyzing audio clips recorded periodically over the course of two days, the researchers compared subjects' speech patterns to the gene expressions of certain white blood cells in their bodies that are susceptible to stress. They found that people exhibiting the biological symptoms of stress talked less overall, but when they did speak up they were more likely to use words like really and incredibly.

They also preferred the pronouns me and mine over them and their, possibly indicating their self-absorbed world view when under pressure. The appearance of these trends predicted stress in the volunteers' genes more accurately than their own self-assessments. As study co-author Matthias Mehl told Nature, this could be a reason for doctors to "listen beyond the content" of the symptoms their patients report and pay greater attention "to the way it is expressed" in the future.

One reason function words are such a great indicator of stress is that we often insert them into our sentences unconsciously, while our choice of words like nouns and verbs is more deliberate. Anxiety isn't the only thing that influences our speech without us realizing it. Hearing ideas we agree with also has a way of shaping our syntax.

[h/t Nature]


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