Soccer or Football?

Fries or chips? Soccer or football?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying… same language – different words! 

Depends on which side of the pond you’re from. And people from different generations tend to talk differently too. 

Brendan Johns and Randall Jamieson of the Universities of Buffalo and Manitoba wondered – could COMPUTERS guess WHEN and WHERE you grew up from which BOOKS you’ve read?

In their study, a computer model analyzed 26,000 fiction books from America and the UK, including publishing years and location. Then American and British volunteers completed vocabulary and word familiarity tasks. What are “scones”? How about “fluffer nutters?” That sort of thing.

Result? The subjects’ real life word usage matched the books! The computer matched them best when authors and participants came from both the SAME era AND country. This tells researchers the language environment has more influence than they thought. Our environment — not just human instincts — teaches us how to categorize or process words.

Now THAT’S an accomplishment for the books!