How Linguistics Got Her Groove Back—Gunnr Guðr Entgegenlächeln SpecGram Vol CLXIII, No 4 Contents Even More Sprachgeist Guides for the Linguist on the Go!—Book Announcement from Panini Press

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Grey Duck or Goose?
Mapping variation in a children’s game in Minnesota

Fifth Grade Science Fair Project
by Sven Slater and Ollie Bickford
J. O. Nelson Public School, St. Cloud, Minnesota, USA

Research Question

Last year, a new kid named Tyler P. joined our fourth grade class. Tyler was from Illinois or some other southern state, and she told us that down there kids play “duck, duck, goose,” instead of “duck, duck, grey duck” like we do here in Minnesota. We thought this was strange, even for the South, but then we talked about it and discovered that even some Minnesota kids in our own class had heard this at their grandmas’ houses. Our teacher, Mr. Olson, said we could study isoglosses to learn about that, so we decided to do that for this year’s science fair.

So our research question was: Where exactly do people say “grey duck” and where exactly do they say “goose,” at least in Minnesota where we can find out?


Mr. Olson told us that you were most likely to find an isogloss in the country, not in the city. So this summer, when most of us go to spend a week or two at our grandmothers’ houses, we each took along a questionnaire and interviewed five or six neighbors, preferably farmers. We wanted to know about everybody so we asked men, women and children. The towns we went to were: Lake Valley, Big Lake, Pine Lake, River Bend Lake, Two Lakes, Mountain Lake, Prairie Plain Lake, Lake of the Trees, and Bemidji.


Mr. Olson helped us draw isogloss lines to show what we found. We drew four different isogloss maps because we found out that boys, girls, men and women had different ideas about what to say when they played this game.

The girls’ isogloss looked like this: The boys’ isogloss looked like this:
The women’s isogloss looked like this: And last of all, the men’s isogloss looked like this:

At first we thought it was a little strange that the isoglosses didn’t match up very well, but then Billy O. wrote an app to display all four of the isoglosses on his iPhone and then he animated it just for fun and it turned out like this:

Go Billy! You rock!


We are not sure why anyone would say “duck, duck, goose,” because “grey duck” is so much better, but Mr. Olson says that the data doesn’t lie, and we believe him. Anyway, the animated version reminded us that ducks and geese migrate, and we guess that is why the isoglosses appear to be flying. The next question we would like to investigate is whether the grey duck isoglosses make it fly the other direction if you check them out in a different season.

But we’ll have to leave that for next year’s fifth grade class to check out, because Mr. Olson says that they don’t allow social sciences in the sixth grade science fair. And also, most of our grandmothers say we had better not show up at their houses with questionnaires next summer, because summer is for lemonade and fishing, not for school work, and they will be calling Mr. Olson if it happens again.

How Linguistics Got Her Groove BackGunnr Guðr Entgegenlächeln
Even More Sprachgeist Guides for the Linguist on the Go!Book Announcement from Panini Press
SpecGram Vol CLXIII, No 4 Contents