In general, answers on this site are supposed to have references. This was established early on by the top answers to the following Meta post: Since it isn't in the FAQ, are we as answerers expected to appeal to any of the various English authorities?

However, JSBձոգչ's answer also describes this as a policy that is limited to questions of "correctness," saying "Not every question will be addressable in one of these ways."

I'm wondering what standards we should have in general for answers to questions about dialect differences or accent variation. In these cases, there is no single correct answer; the questioner wants information about the variety of forms that exist. (Such questions can still be on-topic because even if there is no "correct" answer, the answers can be ranked based on how informative they are and how well they summarize the "big picture").

The Stack Exchange Meta post about "the 'back it up' principle" has some discussion of how personal information can in some cases be the basis of a useful answer. I would say that this is the case for questions about dialect, but I can also see why some people might argue that such information is too personalized to be of any use.

However, if the information is truly useless, there is no reason to retain it at all. I've seen some people leaving information like this as comments, or advising others to leave it as comments. I don't think that is a good course of action, for the following reasons:

  1. It’s not really what comments are for. Comments are supposed to be ephemeral “notes” used to give feedback about improving the question. They aren’t supposed to try to answer the question. I know there's a tradition on this site of leaving partial answers as comments, but I don't see why we should encourage this. There are known disadvantages (for example, comments are not indexed by site search and they are more easily deleted).

  2. If it's left as an answer, people can indicate how useful it is by voting up and down. While the initial post might only reflect one person's experience, the score will give an indication of how many other people have encountered this dialect variant. Comments don't work as well for this purpose: they can only be voted up, and it's easy for them to become completely hidden beneath other comments with more upvotes. If a moderator ends up moving the comments to a chat-room, all voting information is lost.

  3. New users cannot comment. This means that a new user who wants to answer a question about dialects by sharing their personal experience will either just give up (not share any information) or will end up posting an answer. In the latter case, I don't see why it's necessary for the answer to be converted into a comment (a process that requires moderator intervention).

So, what do you think? Should answers like this be allowed, or prohibited? If they are prohibited, should we allow the same information to be left as a comment? What is the advantage of this?

Other posts that I think are relevant:

This question was prompted by a discussion about the following answer to the question "Pronunciation of vowel in vague as [æ] instead of [eɪ]":

This is odd for me too. Somehow, for me, plague could take either the vowel of vague or of bag when a noun (I would use the "vague" vowel if placing emphasis on the word), but only the vowel of bag when used as a verb. The sounds are not merged for me, and I don't know where I picked this up. I'm from Rochester NY.

I'd appreciate feedback about this specific example, but I hope people address my general question also. I can see why this answer could be borderline even for someone who generally agrees with me, since the answer talks mainly about the poster's idiolect and doesn't say if the described pronunciation is commonly used by other people in the poster's region. I think positives of this answer are that it makes it clear what the source of the information is (personal introspection, which can actually be quite a good source for information about accents), it describes an unusual pronunciation pattern that it would be difficult to learn about from other sources, and it does say what region the poster comes from.

2 Answers 2


As my flagging of a comment instigated @sumelic question, I'll share my thought.

Questions on pronunciation are quite interesting, particularly for non-natives as myself, as resources are very sparse outside what's in dictionnaries. ELU could help in that and fill a real need, even though natives might not realize it.

About dialects and sharing personnal experience: let me share some :-) In my very personnal experience variations in speech can vary more between social classes and education than between places of birth.

My wife and I come from the same city, we're even born in the same hospital at a few months interval...We definitely did not have the same education nor the same upbriging.

She's speaks in "standard" accent, she pronunces every single syllable that is supposed to be utered. So much that if she speak in crowded noisy room, you'll hear her voice distinctly on the opposite side, above the chatter of tens of people.
I "eat" half of my syllable, always try to reach the maximum economy, the less effort, I got a very marked working class accent and bad pronunciation in my native tongue.

All that to say, that when someone says " I utter this vowel like this " and for only reference has " I'm from Bitville Alaska"...well that requires a lot of clarifications, for example: Where your parents immigrants or from outside the region? ( Italians for example, tend to retain peculiar ways of speaking two or three generation down.) Was your first pre-school teacher from the area? How far did you go to school? Where you born there or did you came in the region later? Did you ever take lessons in theater? Did you spent time abroad? Are you part of a Toasmaster club? Do you speak for a living? Are you morbidly obese or have other ailment? Is your town a suburb, a big city, a small village settled by a handful of Dutch, German, Mormons,Jews etc. who kept to themselves to the point of inbreding?etc. etc.

All these facts may influence the way one speaks individual vowels or consonnants as much as where one is from.

I'm all to expand a bit the scope of ELU, sometimes I feel we're applying too strongly the original ethos, but for this kind of question that resembles a sort of disguised poll or invite discussion, shared personnal experience should still maintain the standard " provide answers that don't require clarification from the asker"

In this particular case, that would mean sharing anything that is known to influence speech pronunciation.

Maybe someone more versed in speech science than I could share the kind of parameters used to classify subjects of experiments. Ideally we could have a set of miminal perso info to add when answering questions on pronunciation where personnal experience count.

It takes the same amount of work to add Age, Education, Sex, born from immigrants –anything deemeed useful– than to give the complete answer we came to expect here: a question with reference, link, sources etc.

  • 1
    Thanks for the response! I agree that with answers based on personal experience, it's important to include information about the background of the speaker, the more the better.
    – herisson
    Commented Aug 21, 2016 at 22:30
  • But for this particular case, do you think "here's how I talk,I'm from Rochester NY" is enough? Btw I'm deleting my comment on the question to keep it clean.
    – P. O.
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 0:09
  • I think it's useful enough that it shouldn't be deleted, because the original question did say "Any insight would be appreciated," and as Sven Yargs said it seems of some value as a data point. It would be more useful with more information about the speaker.
    – herisson
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 0:13
  • 1
    references from yahoo answers and other similar sites did not seem to be good enough, not even on par with "My teacher said so" There was enough good references before that to establish that there are several way of saying it . The rest was just fuzzy noise that, I feel, diluted the good part of the edit.
    – P. O.
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 1:02
  • 1
    Well, it got closed, so I edited it to re-add them. The purpose of the quotes is just to establish that a number of people seem to use this pronunciation; they aren't meant to be good references, just basic ones that are meant to show that the question deals with an area of real uncertainty. Hopefully the question will get an answer with good references.
    – herisson
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 22:41
  • Yes there's variety, on any topics, Google "the moon landing was fake- 9-11 was a job from Israel- Obama is a muslim- ." and see how many hits you get?these questions deals with an area of uncertainty...getting Cara from Yahoo as a couterpoint from what's in a dictionnary should not be included in an answer. djod.co.uk/china "Over the past 14 years I have been collecting evidence to prove that China, the country famous for rice and high population density, does not exist./ Can I post it on Chinese language SE to show the variety of beliefs?
    – P. O.
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 23:57
  • Like I said, it's not included as part of an answer, just as part of a question.
    – herisson
    Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 0:03

If the question is specifically asking about dialect differences, then I think these kinds of answers are acceptable. (They aren't for pretty much all the other kinds of questions.)

Answers that cite other sources are even better and should be upvoted more of course.

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