Education: Isoglosses

During the past two years, a drawling, 220-lb. man with a brier pipe in one hand and a notebook in the other has been wandering along the East Coast and through parts of the Midwest talking to people. He has popped up in all sorts of places, and chatted over everything from tea to corn whisky and orange bitters. "I always follow the custom of the country," says Raven Ioor (pronounced yore) McDavid Jr., 37.

A student of regional U.S. speaking habits, McDavid himself comes from South Carolina, and he has a purpose in all this random conversation. He is helping gather...

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