When we discuss idiolects (the speech patterns or ‘dialect’ of a single person), it’s easy to focus exclusively on pronunciation. How we say something, with all those nuances of vowel placement and intonation, seems to exhibit more variety than what we say. And yet word choice curios define our individual language just as much.
For example, when I ask where the bathroom is, I invariably ask ‘where’s the restroom?’ The question itself is hardly unusual, yet the frequency with which I use ‘restroom,’ rather than the ubiquitous American ‘bathroom*,’ is a personal peculiarity (I ask it even in informal situations). It stems from my puritanical side perhaps, which somehow finds more politeness in the affix rest- than the more licentious bath-. I realize it’s absurd on a conscious level.
Since idiolects involve personal word choice, they extend into one’s writing style in a way that one’s pronunciation obviously doesn’t**. The word choices of a writer provide powerful tools to forensic and historical linguists. To cite a well-known example, the analysis of word choice and syntactic style helped famed English professor Donald W. Foster discern the author of the anonymous novel Primary Colors.
This type of thing also comes up in the authorship debate over Shakespeare‘s works. The Bard had certain idiolectical quirks that allow us to deduce whether he truly wrote certain poems or plays. Shakespeare notably increased his use of the word most as his writing career progressed, to the point where it was unusually frequent toward the end of his career.
As the aforementioned example suggests, frequency is as much important to one’s idiolect as actual word choice. In both my spoken and written English, for example, I use the word rather more frequently than more typical Americanisms such as kind of or sort of. A marker of an academic upbringing? (My father is a professor). Too much BBC as a child? It’s hard to say, but my rather pronounced use of rather could be a dead giveaway to an experience forensic linguist.
So, opening up the floor: what peculiar frequencies and word choices mark your idiolect?
*The word used to describe a room with toilets and sinks is one of the most striking divides between American and Canadian English, with the latter opting for ‘washroom.’
**Unless the writer is semi-literate. Semi-literacy and non-standard spelling are, of course, a historical phoneticist’s best friends. As I’ve mentioned here before, for example, the common variation between the spelling of the first vowel of ‘Kendrick’ with an ‘e’ or ‘i’ in old census records from Kentucky, suggests the presence of the ‘pin-pen merger.’