A Linguistics Take on the Pronunciation of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups

I decided to take on the challenge of mediating the argument between "Ree-says" and "Ree-sees."
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As much as we don't want to admit it, our lazy summer days by the pool have ended. University classes have begun, and with every passing day fall comes looming closer; something that we are reminded by with every trip to Wal-Mart or Target.

On my last excursion to my local Target, just days after the conclusion of everyone's Labor Day festivities, I began to scan the aisles with dismay. Gone were the rows of chips and hamburger rolls, making way for what is now most the important item to every anxious child anticipating Oct. 31, Halloween candy.

As I investigated the aisles of temptation, I essentially became a kid in a candy store again -- picking up every bag and telling myself, " I NEED THIS!" until another familiar brand name appeared before me. The cycle seemed to never end.

Then, the moment I had been waiting for. That familiar orange and brown bag had finally caught my eye, overflowing with chocolate and peanut buttery goodness. Can you guess the brand name? Well, I'll tell you about it anyways.

According to the Hershey Community Archives, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups hit the market in 1928 by H.B Reese, a dairy farmer and former shipping worker for Milton S. Hershey. Using Hershey Chocolate in his creations, Reese established the H.B. Reese Candy Company in the basement of his home.

Although the company sold other products, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups became his most popular candy. Seven years after Reese's death in 1956, his six sons merged with the Hershey Chocolate Corporation. Almost 60 years later, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are still one of Hershey's most popular brands.

However, with this fame also comes a popular debate. These delicious candies have been at the center of teenage arguments for years.

"For what?" you might ask. The answer comes down to something as simple as their name.

Naturally, as a Linguistics major at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts (and overall language nerd), I decided to take on the challenge of mediating the argument between "Ree-says" and "Ree-sees" after my teammates started this heated dispute over dinner one evening.

The minuscule phonetic difference in pronunciation brought shouts across the table. At that moment, I realized what was once a previous teenage argument had hit the ranks of college women -- and it wasn't pretty.

I began to think (disregarding the continued spitfires next to me) of the many linguistics lessons I had taken regarding dialects, and the forms of English found within our country's borders.

I proceeded to seek out a way to describe to my non-linguist friends the basis of their age-old debate. (In my argument I refrain from transcribing pronunciations into IPA format or the International Phonetic Alphabet, in an attempt to not confuse anyone with more complex linguistic terms than I already include.)

In the United States, non-linguists save the term "language" for what they believe is the standard variety of English, the English that is taught in schools and used in formal writing. This unrealistic standard of a "pure" English creates an air of authority and education for those who are seen speaking it, degrading all other forms of English to the uneducated masses. With this biased idea in mind, all other non-standard utterances get grouped into "dialects," where they are seen as a form of broken and limited English.

Linguist John H. Bushman, a professor at the University of Kansas, explains this idea in the Language Arts Journal of Michigan, "Exploring the Geographical Dialects of English," stating, "Even though each person is likely to have a number of dialects. The concept of 'dialect' is widely misunderstood. Many people believe that dialect is a corruption of the standard language rather than a valid variation. It is important then for students to become aware of and appreciate the variety of dialects as valid forms of language use."

With this being said, our society proves it almost impossible not to pass these judgments on the way people speak. We've all done it, judging those we pass by on the streets by the manner and form of their speech. However, what we need to understand is that all perceived dialects are equally part of the English speech community as a whole.

Essentially, everyone has a dialect because our environment and geographically defined groups subconsciously influence us, and define our commonalities in speech and grammar.

As I started to think about the dialectal differences among the pronunciation of "Reese's," a reoccurring theme kept coming up -- these geographically defined groups found within the United States.

I started to poll my friends, colleagues, and teammates on the Smith soccer team on their pronunciation of the candy, getting confused looks when I asked them, "how would you say the chocolate peanut butter candy? You know, the round cups, the ones in the orange bag!" in an effort to refrain from imposing my influences in pronunciation.

What I found was that within the geographically diverse student body of Smith College, those that resided from the South answered more frequently with "Ree-sees," and those that resided from the North (more commonly New England and New York) more frequently answered with "Ree-says."

Although this may not be entirely correct, as this was an experiment for entertainment and not for complete accuracy, the message I centered my surveys around is clear. The environment in which we learn our language, influences our commonality in speech. It tells us what to say, even if someone from another area of the United States disagrees (and believe me, they will).

No matter where you live, or how you choose to pronounce H.B Reese's perfect peanut butter cups, keep in mind that Halloween is the only time it is acceptable to empty the shelves of our favorite chocolate-peanut butter treats without getting judged at the checkout line.

So go out there and stuff your face with as many "Ree-says" or "Ree-sees" as your heart desires, they will be replaced by Christmas decorations before you know it anyways.

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