Date: Wed, 11 Sep 1996 17:43:23 EDT


Subject: Re: Which Southern accent...

At 11:49 AM 9/11/96 -0400, Bill Spruiell wrote:

I was left wondering what was meant by the "Old Aristocrat" accent. As a =

native of Alabama, from an area in which Coastal and Southern Midland =

forms mix, I had always had the impression that the Coastal dialect was =

*perceived* as more "refined" (perhaps because of the difference between =

classic media stereotypes: Scarlett O'Hara vs. Grandma Clampett). If, =

however, the writer was referring to the Coastal dialect as the =

"aristocratic" one, it would be difficult to see how it could be dying =

out -- any syllable-final r's one finds in south Georgia or Alabama are =

usually clinging desperately to a midwesterner, terrified that their =

native habitat will disappear. Are there (or were there recently) =

strong class-dialect distinctions *within* Coastal that could be meant =

by "the aristocrat Southern accent"? If so, are they, or have they, died =


Here in southeast Georgia, there is a fairly sharp accent change which

distinguishes those over about 50 from those younger. The main difference

is the presence or absence of the southern vowel shift -- younger speakers

have extremely fronted (and even unrounded) /u/ and /o/, lowered /i/ and /e/

diphthongs (i.e., /i/ - [ej], /e/ - [&j]) tensed /I/ and /E/, etc. Only

in the oldest speakers, maybe over 65, can I hear traces of R-lessness, and

then only in very weak syllables (e.g., interview).

As I understand it, this area was never in the plantation belt. In the 19th

century the population consisted mainly of subsistence farmers living in the

piney woods, with turpentine being a major crop in the early 20th century.

I don't know if there ever was an aristocratic class around here; today the

prestige class consists mostly of locally born physicians and dentists.

They speak differently, mainly in that they resist the southern vowel shift

much more than other groups. Of course, they are also among the few that

have gone off to college, so who knows what causes what.

Blacks have not followed their white contemporaries in the vowel shift, and

that leaves younger blacks and whites of the same socioeconomic status with

accents much more distinct than those of earlier generations. Given the age

group in which the shift suddenly appears, those who would have been

teenagers in the late 50s and early 60s, I've often wondered whether the

innovative pronunciation was an unconscious attempt by young whites to

establish their identity in an age of turmoil.

By the way, the vowel shift also seems to be a "town" accent. The most

rural of the people I meet have much less of it than town folk. Also, men

have on the average shifted much less than women.

David Johns

Waycross College

Waycross, GA