|Southern American English|
|Southern U.S. English|
|Region||Southern United States|
Southern American English or Southern U.S. English is a regional dialector collection of dialects of American English spoken throughout the Southern United States, though increasingly in more rural areas and primarily by White Southerners. The dialect is commonly known in the United States simply as Southern, while formal, much more recent terms within American linguistics include Southern White Vernacular English and Rural White Southern English.
A regional Southern American English consolidated and expanded throughout all the traditional Southern States since the last quarter of the nineteenth century until around World War II,largely superseding the older Southern American English dialects. With this younger and more unified pronunciation system, Southern American English now comprises the largest American regional accent group by number of speakers. As of 2006, a Southern accent is strongly reported throughout the U.S. states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia, as well as most of Texas, eastern and southern Oklahoma, southern Missouri, southeastern Maryland, northern and central Florida, and southeastern New Mexico. The accent of some Midland American English (often identified as a South Midland accent) is documented as sharing key features with Southern American English, though to a weaker extent, including in northern Oklahoma, eastern and central Kansas, Missouri generally, the southern halves of Illinois and Indiana, southern Ohio, western Delaware, and south-central Pennsylvania.
Southern American English as a regional dialect can be divided into various sub-dialects, the most phonologically advanced (i.e., the most innovative) ones being southern varieties of Appalachian English and certain varieties of Texan English. African-American English has many common points with Southern American English dialects due to the strong historical ties of African Americans to the South. Recently, the Southern accent has been receding among younger and more urban Southerners.
The dialects collectively known as Southern American English stretch across the south-eastern and south-central United States, but exclude the southernmost areas of Florida and the extreme western and south-western parts of Texas as well as the Rio Grande Valley (Laredo to Brownsville). This linguistic region includes Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Arkansas, as well as most of Texas, Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and northern and central Florida. Southern American English dialects can also be found in extreme southern parts of Missouri, Maryland, Delaware, and Illinois.
Southern dialects originated mostly from a mix of immigrants from the British Isles, who moved to the American South in the 17th and 18th centuries with minor African elements introduced by African Slaves brought to the region. Upheavals such as the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and World War II caused mass migrations of those and other settlers throughout the United States.
|English diaphoneme||Southern phoneme||Example words|
|Pure vowels (Monophthongs)|
|/ /||[æ~æjə~æ̠ɛæ̠]||act, pal, trap|
|[eə~æjə]||ham, land, yeah|
|/ /||[ɑ]||blah, bother, father, |
lot, top, wasp
|[ɑɒ~ɑ] (older: [ɔo~ɑɒ])||all, dog, bought, |
loss, saw, taught
preceding a nasal consonant: [ɪ~ɪ(j)ə]
|dress, met, bread|
|/ /||[ə]||about, syrup, arena|
|/ /||[ɪ~ɪjə~iə]||hit, skim, tip|
|/ /||[i̞i~ɪi]||beam, chic, fleet|
|/ /||[ɜ]||bus, flood, what|
|/ /||[ʊ̈~ʏ]||book, put, should|
|/ /||[ʊu~ɵu~ʊ̈y~ʏy~ʉ̞u̟]||food, glue, new|
|/ /||[äː~äɛ]||ride, shine, try|
|([ɐi~äɪ~äɛ])||bright, dice, psych|
|/ /||[æɒ~ɛjɔ]||now, ouch, scout|
|/ /||[ɛi~æ̠i]||lake, paid, rein|
|/ /||[oi]||boy, choice, moist|
preceding /l/ or a hiatus: [ɔu]
|goat, oh, show|
|/ /|| rhotic Southern dialects: [ɒɹ~ɑɹ]|
non-rhotic Southern dialects: [ɒ~ɑ]
|barn, car, park|
|/ /||rhotic: [e̞ɹ~ɛ(j)ɹ]|
|bare, bear, there|
|/ /||[ɚ~ɐɹ] (older: [ɜ])||burn, first, herd|
|better, martyr, doctor|
|/ /||rhotic: [iɹ]|
|fear, peer, tier|
|/ /||rhotic: [o(u)ɹ]|
|hoarse, horse, poor|
score, tour, war
|/ /||rhotic: [juɹ~jɹ]|
|cure, Europe, pure|
Most of the Southern United States underwent several major sound changes from the beginning to the middle of the twentieth century, during which a more unified, region-wide sound system developed, markedly different from the sound systems of the nineteenth-century Southern dialects.
The South as a present-day dialect region generally includes all of these pronunciation features below, which are popularly recognized in the United States as a "Southern accent". However, there is still variation in Southern speech regarding potential differences based on factors like a speaker's exact sub-region, age, ethnicity, etc. The following phonological phenomena focus on the developing sound system of the twentieth-century Southern dialects of the United States that altogether largely (though certainly not entirely) superseded the older Southern regional patterns:
William Labov et al. identify the "Inland South" as a large linguistic sub-region of the South located mostly in southern Appalachia (specifically naming the cities of Greenville SC, Asheville NC, Knoxville and Chattanooga TN, and Birmingham and Linden AL), inland from both the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts, and the originating region of the Southern Vowel Shift. The Inland South, along with the "Texas South" (an urban core of central Texas: Dallas, Lubbock, Odessa, and San Antonio)are considered the two major locations in which the Southern regional sound system is the most highly developed, and therefore the core areas of the current-day South as a dialect region.
The accents of Texas are actually diverse, for example with important Spanish influences on its vocabulary;however, much of the state is still an unambiguous region of modern rhotic Southern speech, strongest in the cities of Dallas, Lubbock, Odessa, and San Antonio, which all firmly demonstrate the first stage of the Southern Shift, if not also further stages of the shift. Texan cities that are noticeably "non-Southern" dialectally are Abilene and Austin; only marginally Southern are Houston, El Paso, and Corpus Christi. In western and northern Texas, the cot–caught merger is very close to completed.
Some sub-regions of the South, and perhaps even a majority of the biggest cities, are showing a gradual shift away from the Southern accent since the second half of the twentieth century to the present. Such well-studied cities include Houston, Texas, and Raleigh, North Carolina; in Raleigh, for example, this retreat from the accent appears to have begun around 1950.Other sub-regions are unique in that their inhabitants have never spoken with the Southern regional accent, instead having their own distinct accents.
The Atlas of North American English identified Atlanta, Georgia as a dialectal "island of non-Southern speech",Charleston, South Carolina likewise as "not markedly Southern in character", and the traditional local accent of Savannah, Georgia as "giving way to regional [Midland] patterns", despite these being three prominent Southern cities. The dialect features of Atlanta are best described today as sporadic from speaker to speaker, with such variation increased due to a huge movement of non-Southerners into the area during the 1990s. Modern-day Charleston speakers have leveled in the direction of a more generalized Midland accent, away from the city's now-defunct, traditional Charleston accent, whose features were "diametrically opposed to the Southern Shift... and differ in many other respects from the main body of Southern dialects". The Savannah accent is also becoming more Midland-like. The following vowel sounds of Atlanta, Charleston, and Savannah have been unaffected by typical Southern phenomena like the Southern drawl and Southern Vowel Shift:
Today, the accents of Atlanta, Charleston, and Savannah are most similar to Midland regional accents or at least Southeastern super-regional accents. /oʊ/ and the status of the pin–pen merger is highly variable. Non-rhoticity (r-dropping) is now rare in these cities, yet still documented in some speakers.In all three cities, some speakers (though most consistently documented in Charleston and least consistently in Savannah) demonstrate the Southeastern fronting of
Most of southern Louisiana constitutes Acadiana, a cultural region dominated for hundreds of years by monolingual speakers of Cajun French, [hæ̃], food becomes [fu], rent becomes [ɹɪ̃], New York becomes [nuˈjɔə], etc.), a potential for glide weakening in all gliding vowels (e.g. /oʊ/ (as in Joe), /eɪ/ as in jay, and /ɔɪ/ as in joy, have reduced glides: [oː], [eː], and [ɔː], respectively), and the cot–caught merger towards [ä].which combines elements of Acadian French with other French and Spanish words. Today, this French dialect is spoken by many older Cajun ethnic group and is said to be dying out. A related language, Louisiana Creole French, also exists. Since the early 1900s, Cajuns additionally began to develop their own vernacular dialect of English, which retains some influences and words from French, such as "cher" (dear) or "nonc" (uncle). This dialect fell out of fashion after World War II, but experienced a renewal in primarily male speakers born since the 1970s, who have been the most attracted by, and the biggest attractors for, a successful Cajun cultural renaissance. The accent includes: variable non-rhoticity (or r-dropping), high nasalization (including in vowels before nasal consonants), deletion of any word's final consonant(s) (hand becomes
One historical English dialect spoken only by those raised in the Greater New Orleans area is traditionally non-rhotic and noticeably shares more pronunciation commonalities with the New York accent than with other Southern accents. Since at least the 1980s, this local New Orleans dialect has popularly been called "Yat", from the common local greeting "Where you at?". The New York accent features shared with the Yat accent include: /ɔ/ as high gliding [ɔə], /ɑr/ as rounded [ɒ~ɔ], and the coil–curl merger (traditionally, though now in decline). Yat also lacks the typical vowel changes of the Southern Shift and the pin–pen merger that are commonly heard elsewhere throughout the South. Yat is associated with the working and lower-middle classes, though a spectrum with fewer notable Yat features is often heard the higher one's socioeconomic status; such New Orleans affluence is associated with the New Orleans Uptown and the Garden District, whose speech patterns are sometimes considered distinct from the lower-class Yat dialect.non-rhoticity, a short-a split system (so that bad and back, for example, have different vowels),
Prior to becoming a phonologically unified dialect region, the South was once home to an array of much more diverse accents at the local level. Features of the deeper interior Appalachian South largely became the basis for the newer Southern regional dialect; thus, older Southern American English primarily refers to the English spoken outside of Appalachia: the coastal and former plantation areas of the South, best documented before the Civil War, on the decline during the early 1900s, and basically non-existent in speakers born since the Civil Rights Movement.
Little unified these older Southern dialects, since they never formed a single homogeneous dialect region to begin with. Some older Southern accents were rhotic (most strongly in Appalachia and west of the Mississippi), while the majority were non-rhotic (most strongly in plantation areas); however, wide variation existed. Some older Southern accents showed (or approximated) Stage 1 of the Southern Vowel Shift—namely, the glide weakening of /aɪ/—however, it is virtually unreported before the very late 1800s. In general, the older Southern dialects clearly lacked the Mary–marry–merry, cot–caught, horse–hoarse, wine–whine, full–fool, fill–feel, and do–dew mergers, all of which are now common to, or encroaching on, all varieties of present-day Southern American English. Older Southern sound systems included those local to:
These grammatical features are characteristic of both older and newer Southern American English.
Standard English would prefer "existential there", as in "There's one lady who lives in town". This construction is used to say that something exists (rather than saying where it is located).The construction can be found in Middle English as in Marlowe's Edward II: "Cousin, it is no dealing with him now".
Standard English has a strict word order. In the case of modal auxiliaries, standard English is restricted to a single modal per verb phrase. However, some Southern speakers use double or more modals in a row (might could, might should, might would, used to could, etc.--also called "modal stacking") and sometimes even triple modals that involve oughta (like might should oughta)
The origin of multiple modals is controversial; some say it is a development of Modern English, while others trace them back to Middle English and again others to Scots-Irish settlers.There are different opinions on which class preferably uses the term. Atwood, for example, finds that educated people try to avoid multiple modals, whereas Montgomery suggests the opposite. In some Southern regions, multiple modals are quite widespread and not particularly stigmatized. Possible multiple modals are:
|may could||might could||might supposed to|
|may can||might oughta||mighta used to|
|may will||might can||might woulda had oughta|
|may should||might should||oughta could|
|may supposed to||might would||better can|
|may need to||might better||should oughta|
|may used to||might had better||used to could|
|can might||musta coulda|
|could might||would better|
As the table shows, there are only possible combinations of an epistemic modal followed by deontic modals in multiple modal constructions. Deontic modals express permissibility with a range from obligated to forbidden and are mostly used as markers of politeness in requests whereas epistemic modals refer to probabilities from certain to impossible.Multiple modals combine these two modalities.
People from the South often make use of conditional or evidential syntaxes as shown below (italicized in the examples):
Conditional syntax in requests:
Conditional syntax in suggestions:
Conditional syntax creates a distance between the speaker's claim and the hearer. It serves to soften obligations or suggestions, make criticisms less personal, and to overall express politeness, respect, or courtesy.
Southerners also often use "evidential" predicates such as think, reckon, believe, guess, have the feeling, etc.:
Evidential predicates indicate an uncertainty of the knowledge asserted in the sentence. According to Johnston, evidential predicates nearly always hedge the assertions and allow the respondents to hedge theirs. They protect speakers from the social embarrassment that appears, in case the assertion turns out to be wrong. As is the case with conditional syntax, evidential predicates can also be used to soften criticisms and to afford courtesy or respect.
In the United States, the following vocabulary is mostly unique to, or best associated with, Southern U.S. English:
Unique words can occur as Southern nonstandard past-tense forms of verbs, particularly in the Southern highlands and Piney Woods, as in yesterday they riz up, come outside, drawed, and drownded, as well as participle forms like they have took it, rode it, blowed it up, and swimmed away.Drug is traditionally both the past tense and participle form of the verb drag.
Y'all is a second person plural pronoun and the usual Southern plural form of the word you. –you all –which is used less frequently. This term originated with the modern Southern dialect region and is not found in older Southern dialects.It is originally a contraction
Southern Louisiana English especially is known for some unique vocabulary: long sandwiches are often called poor boys or po' boys , woodlice/roly-polies called doodle bugs, the end of a bread loaf called a nose, pedestrian islands and median strips alike called neutral ground,and sidewalks called banquettes.
Discussion of "Southern dialect" in the United States popularly refers to those English varieties spoken by white Southerners;however, as a geographic term, it may also encompass the dialects developed among other social or ethnic groups in the South, most prominently including African Americans. Today, African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) is a fairly unified variety of English spoken by working- and middle-class African Americans throughout the United States. AAVE exhibits an evident relationship with both older and newer Southern dialects, though the exact nature of this relationship is poorly understood. It is clear that AAVE was influenced by older speech patterns of the Southern United States, where Africans and African Americans were held as slaves until the American Civil War. These slaves originally spoke a diversity of indigenous African languages but picked up English to communicate with one another, their white masters, and the white servants and laborers they often closely worked alongside. Many features of AAVE suggest that it largely developed from nonstandard dialects of colonial English (with some features of AAVE absent from other modern American dialects, yet still existing in certain modern British dialects). However, there is also evidence of the influence of West African languages on AAE vocabulary and grammar.
It is uncertain to what extent early white Southern English borrowed elements from early African-American Vernacular English versus the other way around. Like many white accents of English once spoken in Southern plantation areas—namely, the Lowcountry, Virginia Piedmont and Tidewater and lower Mississippi Valley—the modern-day AAVE accent is mostly non-rhotic (or "r-dropping" ). The presence of non-rhoticity in both black English and older white Southern English is not merely coincidence, though, again, which dialect influenced which is unknown. It is better documented, however, that white Southerners borrowed some morphological processes from black Southerners.
Many grammatical features were used alike by older speakers of white Southern English and African-American Vernacular English more so than by contemporary speakers of the same two varieties. Even so, contemporary speakers of both continue to share these unique grammatical features: "existential it", the word y'all, double negatives, was to mean were, deletion of had and have, them to mean those, the term fixin' to, stressing the first syllable of words like hotel or guitar, and many others. /ɪ/ tensing, /ʌ/ raising, upgliding /ɔ/, the pin–pen merger, and the most defining sound of the current Southern accent (though rarely documented in older Southern accents): the glide weakening of /aɪ/. However, while this glide weakening has triggered among white Southerners a complicated "Southern Vowel Shift", black speakers in the South and elsewhere on the other hand are "not participating or barely participating" in much of this shift. AAVE speakers also do not front the vowel starting positions of /oʊ/ and /u/, thus aligning these characteristics more with the speech of nineteenth-century white Southerners than twentieth-century white Southerners.Both dialects also continue to share these same pronunciation features:
One strong possibility for the divergence of black American English and white Southern American English (i.e., the disappearance of older Southern American English) is that the civil rights struggles caused these two racial groups "to stigmatize linguistic variables associated with the other group".This may explain some of the differences outlined above, including why most traditionally non-rhotic white Southern accents have shifted to now becoming intensely rhotic.
In the United States, there is a general negative stigma surrounding the Southern dialect. Non-Southern Americans tend to associate a Southern accent with cognitive and verbal slowness, lack of education, ignorance, bigotry, or religious and political conservatism,using common labels like "hick", "hillbilly", or "redneck" accent. The accent is also associated nationwide with the military, NASCAR, and country music; in fact, even non-Southern American country singers typically imitate a Southern accent in their music. Meanwhile, Southerners themselves tend to have mixed judgments of their own accent, some similarly negative but others positively associating it with a laid-back, plain, or humble attitude. The sum negative associations nationwide, however, are the main presumable cause of a gradual decline of Southern accent features, since the middle of the twentieth century onwards, among younger and more urban residents of the South.
American English, sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of varieties of the English language native to the United States. American English is a particularly influential form of English worldwide.
General American English or General American is the umbrella accent of American English spoken by a majority of Americans and widely perceived, among Americans, as lacking any distinctly regional, ethnic, or socioeconomic characteristics. In reality, it encompasses a continuum of accents rather than a single unified accent. Americans with high education, or from the North Midland, Western New England, and Western regions of the country, are the most likely to be perceived as having "General American" accents. The precise definition and usefulness of the term "General American" continue to be debated, and the scholars who use it today admittedly do so as a convenient basis for comparison rather than for exactness. Other scholars prefer the term Standard American English.
The phonology of the open back vowels of the English language has undergone changes both overall and with regional variations, through Old and Middle English to the present. The sounds heard in modern English were significantly influenced by the Great Vowel Shift, as well as more recent developments such as the cot–caught merger.
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The cot–caught merger is a phonemic merger, occurring in some dialects of the English language, between the phonemes that are conventionally represented in the International Phonetic Alphabet with ⟨ɑ⟩, which is usually spelled with o as in cot and hock and ⟨ɔ⟩, which is usually spelled with au, aw, al or ough as in caught and hawk. In varieties in which the merger has taken place, including a few in the British Isles and many in North America, what were historically two separate phonemes have fallen together into a single sound, so that caught and cot, as well as several other pairs of words, are pronounced identically.
New England English collectively refers to the various distinct dialects and varieties of American English originating in the New England area. Most of eastern and central New England once spoke the "Yankee dialect", and many of those accent features still remain in eastern New England, such as "R-dropping". One linguistic division of New England is into Eastern and Western New England English, as defined in the 1939 Linguistic Atlas of New England and the 2006 Atlas of North American English (ANAE). The ANAE further argues for a division between Northern and Southern New England English, especially on the basis of the cot–caught merger and fronting. The ANAE also categorizes the strongest differentiated New England accents into four combinations of the above dichotomies, simply defined as follows:
Older Southern American English was a set of American English dialects of the Southern United States, primarily spoken by white Southerners up until the American Civil War, moving towards a state of decline by the turn of the nineteenth century, further accelerated after World War II and again, finally, by the Civil Rights Movement. These dialects have since largely given way, on a larger regional level, to a more unified and younger Southern American English, recognized today by a unique vowel shift and certain other vocabulary and accent characteristics. Some features unique to older Southern U.S. English persist today, like non-rhoticity, though typically in only very localized dialects or speakers.
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Midland American English is a regional dialect or super-dialect of American English, geographically lying between the traditionally-defined Northern and Southern United States. The boundaries of Midland American English are not entirely clear, being revised and reduced by linguists due to definitional changes and several Midland sub-regions undergoing rapid and diverging pronunciation shifts since the early-middle twentieth century onwards.
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Rhoticity in English is the pronunciation of the historical rhotic consonant in all contexts by speakers of certain varieties of English. The presence or absence of rhoticity is one of the most prominent distinctions by which varieties of English can be classified. In rhotic varieties, the historical English sound is preserved in all pronunciation contexts. In non-rhotic varieties, speakers no longer pronounce in postvocalic environments—that is, when it is immediately after a vowel and not followed by another vowel. For example, a rhotic English speaker pronounces the words hard and butter as /ˈhɑːrd/ and /ˈbʌtər/, whereas a non-rhotic speaker "drops" or "deletes" the sound, pronouncing them as /ˈhɑːd/ and /ˈbʌtə/. Other terms synonymous with "non-rhotic" include "-deleting", "r-dropping", "r-vocalizing", and "r-less"; synonyms for "rhotic" include "-pronouncing", "r-constricting", and "r-ful".
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The Atlas of North American English: Phonetics, Phonology and Sound Change is an overview of the pronunciation patterns (accents) in all the major urbanized regional dialects of the English language spoken in the United States and Canada. It is the result of a large-scale survey by linguists William Labov, Sharon Ash, and Charles Boberg. Speech data was collected, mainly during the 1990s, by means of telephone interviews with individuals in metropolitan areas in all regions of the U.S. and Canada. Using acoustic analysis of speech from these interviews, ANAE traces sound changes in progress in North American English, and defines boundaries between dialect regions based on the different sound changes taking place in them.
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Western New England English refers to the varieties of New England English native to Vermont, Connecticut, and the western half of Massachusetts; New York State's Hudson Valley also aligns to this classification. Sound patterns historically associated with Western New England English include the features of rhoticity, the horse–hoarse merger, and the father–bother merger, none of which are features traditionally shared in neighboring Eastern New England English. The status of the cot–caught merger in Western New England is inconsistent, being complete in the north of this dialect region (Vermont), but incomplete or absent in the south, with a "cot–caught approximation" in the middle area.
In the sociolinguistics of the English language, raising or short-a raising is a phenomenon in most American and many Canadian English accents, by which the "short a" vowel, the North American TRAP/BATH vowel, is pronounced with a raising of the tongue. Many forms of raising are specifically tensing: a combination of greater raising, lengthening, and gliding that occurs only in certain words or environments. The realization of this "tense" varies from to to to, and is greatly dependent on the speaker's particular dialect. A common realization is [eə](