We examine the variation between up/down/over/out to vs. bare to + geographical place name in northern Ontario and northern Maine English (as in, “We went up/down/over/out to Millinocket”). Our results show similarities in function (e.g., up/down used for north/south movement), but differences in social embedding.
This paper investigates a feature that is attested in many varieties of English, but that has never been examined using accountable, quantitative methods: variation between the prepositions up/down/over/out to + geographical place name, as in (1) and bare to + place name, as in (2). The goal is to determine whether social or linguistic constrain the choice of form. The data come from sociolinguistic interviews with 58 speakers of English (stratified by age and gender) in two understudied, rural communities, one in northern Ontario, Canada (Parry Sound), the other in northern Maine, USA (Oakfield).
(1) So we went up/down/over/out to Millinocket.
(2) Sometimes we go to Patten, there’s a nice store over there.
All instances of the variable were extracted from the data using AntConc (Anthony 2012). Non-geographical places names, such as private residences, businesses, and schools were excluded, yielding 272 tokens. Each token was coded for social and linguistic factors that were hypothesized to constrain the variation, including presence of preposition, lexical preposition (i.e. up, down, over, out, ∅), cardinal direction of destination (North, East, South, and West), community (Ontario, Maine), age (younger, middle-aged, older), perceived gender (men, women), and education (some postsecondary education, no post-secondary education). Then, the data was analyzed using distributional methods and conditional inference trees (see also AUTHOR 2013).
Results show striking commonalities between the two communities: Speakers use the forms up to and down to to indicate movement north and south, respectively, yet over to and down to are used for all cardinal directions. A qualitative analysis of tokens reveals that the over and down tend to be used when talking about nearby destinations, such as the next town as in (3), while up/down are used for far away destinations, such as a distant province, as in (4):
(3) Well, we go over to Patten quite a bit.
(4) Um we went and did a similar thing, drove out to BC.
Elevation may also play a role, with one speaker using up to to refer to a destination in the south that is highly elevated. In both varieties, men use the prepositions up/down/over/out to more frequently than women; however, there is a difference in the age profile of these speakers. In Ontario, prepositions are mostly used by older speakers, while in Maine they are more frequent among younger ones. There are also notable differences in frequency; Ontarians use up/down/over/out at higher rates than Mainers (29.2% vs. 10.2%), potentially due to a more grid-like orientation to their community. Taken together, the findings suggest that this variable may be an ideal testing ground to explore the role of place, type of landscape and topography on language use (see also Forker 2020).