Screenshot: Visualization of dialiects identified by Which English quiz.
Screenshot: Visualization of dialiects identified by Which English quiz.

Like most people with an internet connection, you’ve probably taken an online quiz at some point to find out what “Star Trek” character you’re most like, or what city you should live in. Now, a cognitive scientist from MIT is capitalizing on the quiz craze to answer some serious questions about how we acquire language.

Joshua Hartshorne, a postdoc in MIT’s Computational Cognitive Science Group, developed “Which English?” as an effort to map English grammar around the world. Hartshorne and his team hope to learn three main things, according to the Games with Words blog:

1. How does the age at which you start learning a language affect how well you learn that language?
2. How is learning a foreign language affected by the language you already know?
3. How are the grammars of different English dialects related?

After completing the quiz, users are shown the algorithm’s best guess as to whether English is their native language, as well as what dialect of English they speak. Approximately 500,000 people have taken the quiz, and Hartshorne says the results are correct 80–90% of the time. He has created a visualization of the results so far.

Hartshorne believes that knowing someone’s language background has practical applications for education, localization of websites, and more. Follow his research progress.

Take the quiz yourself.

Read more about Hartshorne’s project, as well as another language research project that’s crowdsourcing its data from Facebook, at The Economist.

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2 comments

  1. David Polk

    I did the English language quiz. I was assessed most likely an Australian native English speaker, followed by South African and Canadian (which I am). Because I have read and travelled, I knew that some of the grammar questions were correct in only parts of the English speaking world. For example, one “reads” a subject at university in England. There were various other examples of this. Perhaps that is why I was incorrectly categorized? One should not be paced incorrectly because of knowledge of “foreign” usage.

  2. Gorby Zontangouello

    The data the site collects asks for gender, age, countries lived in, etc. as such, it clearly discriminated against fluid / non-binding gender individuals, multiple personalities (I identify as “they”, for example), and species (my cat, who is very intelligent, couldn’t find an appropriate qualifier / descriptor). It is a stark and vivid example of the coastal elitist academic mandarin set-up, trying instill linguistic stereotypes. I am, for example, a Lesotho native: it folsely characterized me as a Norwegian. No, thank you.

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