Same problem for other languages where administrative boundaries do not match i.e. Arabic, Basque
Providing nearest city is no doubt a much better approach than the current classification. Cities have always been cultural hot-spots and language evolution is linked to cultural evolution.
One should bear in mind that there are some complex situations like multilingual cities (i.e. Brussels, Belgium or Fribourg, Switzerland). It must be possible to assign a city to more than one language.
I don’t see much interest in asking for the region, because language variations don’t match administrative boundaries. If you look at the map above, only 8 German regions (Länder) find themselves (largely) within one area, 7 are part of two areas and Baden-Württemberg even belongs to three different areas.
What about a more radical approach: asking speakers to choose a location on a map (via Openstreetmap API).
Everyone would be able to do so and using this data would become highly flexible and future-proof:
- Developers or linguists wanting to understand gradual evolution of language phenomenons could do so by selecting relevant data by defining a geographical zone (and refining it afterwards).
- Situations where closest city is not in the same country/region would not pose any problem. I am thinking of German-speaking persons in southern Denmark for example - closest city Flensburg is not very distant but selecting “country–>region–>city” would leave them unable to select Flensburg. Same for Basel (Switzerland) and the very south-western corner of Germany etc.
- In the future, shifts in administrative control and also geographically shifting language phenomenons can be more easily dealt with.
- Avoiding headaches for users in regions with unclear political status/conflicts. No need to worry if someone from this or that town is a legitimate speaker of this or that language and no permanent re-working of countries-languages list. They just give one language and a set of coordinates and that’s it.
Add an option to choose a 50km radius instead of a precise location for those who worry about their privacy.
Here’s a suggestion for a user interface:
My pronunciation is influenced by accent:
() very little ()moderately ()notably ()heavily ()don't know
My language use is typical for the following location: --> Openstreetmap API
 more than one location
My language use is influenced by
 native language:___________
 more than one
 social group: ___________
 more than one
 other factors:___________
Remarks: Allow users to choose a location even if they think that they don’t have any accent because, linguistically speaking, zero accent does not exist and common knowledge about accents differs from what is useful for linguistics and speech recognition. Sociolect is not very relevant for German, but linguistically interesting (i.e. Cockney, East London). Could be implemented as a text field for later use or drop-down menu for languages with notable sociolects.
“Other factors” allows the developers to learn about their users and modify the UI in the future if relevant factors come up. (I am hereby volunteering to keep an eye on the last two points should that be needed.)
If variants like “Greek German” are to be be kept, at the very least, someone should make clear what this actually is:
The utterances of Germans who have migrated to Greece some decades/centuries ago and kept speaking German? The utterances of Greek persons who have migrated to Germany and now speak German but with a Greek accent? Both do exist but they are completely different, obviously. This is not at all clear for the average user and highly confusing.