Posted on May 24, 2011

Is the Southern Accent Dying? How New Research Shows Upper and Middle Classes Are Losing Their Drawl

Jennifer Madison, Daily Mail (London), May 20, 2011

The distinct drawls and twangs that dominate America’s Southeast as we know it may be dying off, new research suggests.

A North Carolina State University study has noted a gradual shift away from the drawn-out vowel pronunciations widely associated with Southern speech, which experts say is ‘disappearing’.

Linguists say upper and middle classes in the state capital of Raleigh have adopted a distinctly ‘less Southern’ drawl in recent years, and it’s a trend that will continue.

Robin Dodsworth, an associate linguistics professor at North Carolina State University, collected hours of recordings of people native to the capital of Raleigh.

She uses a software to break down the changes in vowel pronunciations across generations, determining how speech patterns have changed through the years.

She told ‘Language is always changing, always in flux. Over time in Raleigh, the Southern variant is disappearing.’

But while an influx of northerners over the decades might suggest migration patterns can be attributed to the shift, New York and Chicago-area speech patterns are not yet being picked up locally.

In contrast, Dodsworth said the Raleigh dialect is becoming ‘less traditionally “Southern”‘, mostly in the middle and upper classes and urban areas.

NCSU professor of English linguistics Walt Wolfram said while Southerners are being influenced now more than ever by outside visitors, the region is not losing its identity, despite subtle changes in vowel pronunciation.

‘If a Southern person goes north, people are still going to say you sound Southern,’ he said.

Raleigh resident Jim Stronach, 83, attributed the change to improved education and increased mobility among younger generations.

Researchers at Raleigh’s North Carolina State University collected hours of recordings of people native to the region

‘The speech changes to the degree that you don’t really sound like you’re from Dixie anymore.’

Bob Tomb, 70, said the shift makes him reminisce about growing up in the region, when a Southern drawl was more distinct.

‘It’s very pleasant to run into an older person who sounds like they’re from Raleigh. The accent gives the place a little style,’ he said.

Despite shifting populations, Dodsworth said New York and Chicago-area speech patterns aren’t being picked up locally

Dodsworth, however, said the solution is a simple one.

‘The best way to preserve it is to keep talking that way.’

‘It’s not realistic to talk about “saving” a dialect or accent,’ she said, ‘because the fact of life is that dialects change.

‘The Southern accent the way we think of it now is different than the way people in the South talked 50 years ago, 100 years ago, and so forth.’