Date: Wed, 11 Sep 1996 12:05:13 CST
From: Ellen Johnson Ellen.Johnson[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]INETGW.WKU.EDU
Subject: Re: Which Southern accent...
On class differences within Southern English.
Raven McDavid wrote a classic sociolinguistic treatise on "The
Distribution of Post-vocalic /r/ in South Carolina" (date?). He
went so far as to claim that r-ful Southerners would be more likely
to be racists, since the -r was associated with the poor whites who
had been manipulated by Yankee industrialists into competition with
blacks for jobs. Being an r-ful person myself from Atlanta, I took
strong exception to that, but of course, language changes and
Southerners, like New Yorkers, are adopting the r.
All this can be traced back to settlement patterns and the economic
and cultural power held by particular cities. R-lessness (which I
definitely associate with an "aristocratic" sound) was centered in
the plantation areas and thus was common for both blacks and upper-
class whites. The areas with smaller farms were upland, with more
Scots-Irish influence and less influence from London (comp. to cities
such as Charleston and Savannah) and African languages. Feagin cites
the latter as an influence on r-lessness in a forthcoming paper
At any rate, Charleston has gone from being a prestigious focal area
to a relic area. Newer, upland, Southern cities are now more
influential (Atlanta, Charlotte, Greenville-Spartanburg, Birmingham,
etc.) In these cities, especially, what was perhaps mostly a regional
difference (upland vs. coastal) became a socially-stratified one.
It is difficult to find a white native of Atlanta less than 40 years
old who is r-less, although their parents may be if they are in the
higher socioeconomic classes. there was a wonderful radio commercial
a few years ago with an old lady advertising a club called the
"R and R" who exemplified this "aristocratic" accent perfectly.
There are still plenty of pronunciation to continue marking these
natives as Southerners, and indeed there are class markers, too, but
it does seem to me that the r-less accent of the old plantation is
a thing of the past among that social group. Speakers of African
American Vernacular English will probably keep some of its features
for a long time to come, however.
ellen.johnson[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]wku.edu