My wife and I just watched the movie No Country for Old Men, which is set in West Texas ca. 1980, and I couldn't help feeling that the screenwriter was laying it on a little thick with the regional dialect, to the point where it seemed distracting and felt fake.

If we single out a particular time and place like this, and people with a certain background and level of education, can we find data about how people would really speak? E.g., in the movie, Carla Jean Moss says "knowed" rather than "knew." Is there some way to tell whether this is realistic or not? Another example from the movie is that everyone replies to negative questions by saying "yes," and then the negation, as in "Yes, we have no bananas."

It seems like it would be difficult to get accurate data. For one thing, people will probably adjust their register of speech when they're being interviewed by someone from outside the area. And people differ a lot, e.g., my wife and her sister both grew up in Buffalo, but my wife pronounces "man" with a generic newscaster's accent, but her sister says it with a very strong regional "a."

Is this kind of data only available in paywalled academic publications, as case studies for specific times and places? Or are there books like "Atlas of 20th century American speech," or "A writer's guide to American dialects?"

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    First, you should be aware that geographical area is only one constituent of an accent. There's also race, social class, education, and economic status to consider, not to mention first and second languages. West Texas, like everywhere else on earth, has a lot of linguistic variation. In the meantime, take a look at Cukor-Avila, Jeon, Rector, Tiwari, and Shelton (2012). “Texas – It’s like a whole nuther country”: Mapping Texans’ perceptions of dialect variation in the Lone Star state.” Texas Linguistics Forum 55, Austin. – jlawler Feb 16 '19 at 18:57
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    As for paywalls, a lot of linguistics is available free for those who look for it. But it's individual studies, for the most part. A dialect atlas of Texas would cost several million dollars to produce, let alone publish and market. Who would care enough to pay that much? – jlawler Feb 16 '19 at 19:00
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    @jlawler: Thanks for pointing me to the Cukor-Avila paper, which was fun to read. It's online here: salsa.ling.utexas.edu/proceedings/2012/cukoravilaetal.pdf A dialect atlas of Texas would cost several million dollars to produce, let alone publish and market. Your cost estimate doesn't seem realistic to me, and in any case I'm not necessarily asking for that level of resolution. West Texas was just an example. I'm just interested in what sources of information are out there. – Ben Crowell Feb 16 '19 at 19:12
  • Wikipedia has an article on Texan English: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texan_English – Greg Lee Feb 17 '19 at 14:58

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