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

(LAVIS proceedings).

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

ellen.johnson[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]