From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Southern American English as defined by the
obstruents (Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2006:126).
Southern American English is a group of
dialects of the
English language spoken throughout the
Southern region of the
United States, from
Kentucky to the
Gulf Coast, and from the
Atlantic coast to central
Southern American English can be divided into different
American English), with speech differing between regions.
African American Vernacular English (AAVE) shares
similarities with Southern dialect, unsurprising given
African Americans' strong historical ties to the region.
The Southern American English dialects are often stigmatized
(as are other American English dialects such as
New York-New Jersey English). Therefore, speakers may
code-switch or may eliminate more distinctive features from
idiolect in favor of "neutral-sounding" English (General
American), though this involves more changes in phonetics
than vocabulary. Well-known speakers of Southern dialect include
Elvis Presley, and
Jimmy Carter and
Overview of Southern dialects
The range of Southern dialects includes the
Confederate states that seceded from the United States
American Civil War, plus those that were divided by the
Southern dialects substantially originated from immigrants
from the British Isles who moved to the South in the 17th and
18th centuries. The South was known for being largely settled by
English from the West Midlands - the
West Country. (The West Country dialect of Britain is also
very similar to the Southern dialects.) Settlement was also made
by peoples from other parts of the British isles, particularly
by Protestants from Ulster and Scotland.
Others with mostly English roots usually settled along the
Atlantic coast. Both strains combined with the
African influences from the African Americans who were at
this time enslaved in the South. Others brought accents from
other cultural and linguistic traditions.
Southern dialects in some form can be found chiefly in the
West Virginia, and the
Little Dixie areas in
Missouri. The dialect found in the remaining rural areas of
Maryland is similar to the dialect found in Virginia, and
some experts have also suggested that the dialect found in two
Delaware's three counties is related to Southern.
There are also places in
Montana, and the
San Joaquin Valley of California where the prevailing
dialect is Southern in character or heavily Southern-influenced,
due to historical settlement by Southerners. Also, the speech
patterns in the rural areas of the southernmost counties of
Illinois - settled by Southerners and other groups - have
strong Southern influences.
Southern dialects are also common in areas associated with
the oil industry of
Alaska. In the second half of the 20th-Century, concurrent
with the development of the oil industry and pipeline, large
Oklahoma petroleum workers moved to Alaska for high pay and
adventure - and many stayed.
Few generalizations can be made about Southern pronunciation
as a whole, as there is great variation between regions in the
South (see the
different southern American English dialects section below
for more information) and between older and younger people.
Upheavals such as the
Great Depression, the
Dust Bowl and
World War II caused mass migrations throughout the United
States. Southern American English as we know it today began to
take its current shape only after WWII.
The following features are characteristic of older SAE, and
the younger a speaker is the less likely he or she is to use
Australian English and
English English, the English of the coastal
Deep South is historically
non-rhotic: it drops the sound of final /r/ before a
consonant or a word boundary, so that guard sounds
similar to god (but the former has a longer vowel
than the latter) and sore like saw.
Intrusive /r/, where an /r/ sound is inserted at a word
break between two vowel sounds ("lawr and order") is
not a feature of coastal SAE, as it is in many other
non-rhotic accents. Today only some areas like
Norfolk have non-rhotic speakers (Labov, Ash, and
Bomberg 2006: 47-48). Non-rhoticity is rapidly disappearing
from almost all Southern accents, to a greater degree than
it has been lost in the other traditionally non-rhotic
dialects of the East Coast such as
New York and
Boston. The remaining non-rhotic SAE speakers also use
intrusive r, like New England and New York City.
- /ɹ/ → 0
| before /+con/
- /ɹ/ → 0
| before #
- The distinction between the vowels sounds of words like
caught and cot or talk and tock
is mainly preserved. In much of the Deep South, the vowel
found in words like talk and caught has
developed into a diphthong, so that it sounds like the
diphthong used in the word loud in the Northern
as in horse and hoarse, for and four
etc., is preserved.
wine-whine merger has not occurred, and these two words
are pronounced with
- Lack of
yod-dropping, thus pairs like do/due and
loot/lute are distinct. Historically, words
like due, lute, and new contained
RP does), but Labov, Ash, and Boberg (2006: 53-54)
report that the only Southern speakers today who make a
distinction use a diphthong
in such words. They further report that speakers with the
distinction are found primarily in
North Carolina and northwest
South Carolina, and in a corridor extending from
in marry, merry, and Mary may be
preserved by older speakers, but fewer young people make a
distinction. The r-sound becomes almost a vowel, and
may be elided after a long vowel, as it often is in AAVE.
The following phenomena are relatively wide spread in Newer
SAE, though degree of features may differ between different
regions and between rural and urban areas. The older the speaker
the less likely he or she is to have these features:
nasal consonants, so that pen and pin are
pronounced the same, but the
pin-pen merger is not found in
Miami (which does not fall within the Southern dialect
region). This sound change has spread beyond the South in
recent decades and is now quite widespread in the Midwest
and West as well.
- Lax and tense vowels often
/l/, making pairs like feel/fill
homophones for speakers in some areas of the South. Some
speakers may distinguish between the two sets of words by
reversing the normal vowel sound, e.g., feel in SAE
may sound like fill, and vice versa (Labov, Ash, and
Boberg 2006: 69-73). The final 'l'-sound in words like
fool may be elided altogether, as it normally is in
The following features are also associated with SAE:
business, but hasn't is sometimes still
[hæzənt] because there already exists a word
- /z/ → [d]
| before /n/
- Many nouns are stressed on the first syllable that would
be stressed on the second syllable in other accents. These
include police, cement, Detroit,
Thanksgiving, insurance, behind,
display, recycle, and TV.
- The Southern Drawl, or the diphthongization or
triphthongization of the traditional short front vowels as
in the words pat, pet, and pit: these
develop a glide up from their original starting position to
and then in some cases back down to
- /æ/ →
- /ɛ/ →
- /ɪ/ →
- The Southern (Vowel) Shift, a chain shift of
vowels which is described by Labov as:
- As a result of the "drawl" described above,
moves to become a high front vowel, and
to become a mid front vowel. In a parallel shift, the
relax and become less front.
Some speakers exhibit this feature at the ends of words
and before voiced consonants but
Canadian-style raising before voiceless consonants,
so that ride is
and wide is
but right is
and white is
in all contexts. The [aː]-sound tends toward an
[/æː/]-sound throughout most of the region, so that word
pairs like rod (SAE [raːd], normally pronounced
without any noticeable rounding) and ride (SAE
[ræːd]) are never confused.
- /aɪ/ →
- The back vowels
in boon and
in code shift considerably forward.
- The open back unrounded vowel
card shifts upward towards
board, which in turn moves up towards the old
in boon. This particular shift probably does not
occur for speakers with the
- The distinction between
in furry and hurry is preserved.
- In some regions of the south, there is a
making cord and card, for and far,
form and farm etc. homonyms.
in mirror and nearer, Sirius and
serious etc. are not preserved.
is replaced with
the end of a word, so that furry is pronounced as
- The distinction between the vowels that produce minimal
pairs pour and poor, more and moor
are not preserved.
- The l's in the words walk and talk are
occasionally pronounced, causing the words talk and
walk to be pronounced
by some southerners. A sample of that pronunciation can be
- The phrase right here is often pronounced
right 'tchere, likewise "restaurant" is pronounced
- Zero plural-second person copula.
- You [Ø] taller than Sheila
- They [Ø] gonna leave today (Cukor-Avila, 2003).
- He was a-hootin' and a-hollerin.'
- the wind was a-howlin.'
- The use of like to to mean something like
nearly, often used in violent situations.
- I like to had a heart attack.
- Use of the
y'all as the second person plural pronoun. Its
uncombined form — you all — is used less frequently.
- When speaking about a group, y'all is general
(I know y'all) —as in that group of people is familiar
to you and you know them as a whole, whereas all
y'all is much more specific and means you know each
and every person in that group, not as a whole, but
individually ("I know all y'all.") Y'all can also
be used with the standard "-s" possessive.
- "I've got y'all's assignments here."
- Y'all is distinctly separate from the
singular you. The statement, "I gave y'all my
payment last week," is more precise than "I gave
you my payment last week." You (if
interpreted as singular) could imply the payment was
given directly to the person being spoken to — when that
may not be the case.
- In rural Southern Appalachia yernses may be
substituted for the 2nd person plural possessive yours.
- "That dog is yernses."
- In some instances in Appalachia, "Your'n," "His'n" and
"Her'n" takes the place of the possessive pronouns "Yours,"
"His" and "Hers," wherein the antecedent of the pronoun can
be either singular or plural.
- "Her dog is cuter than his'n."
- "My drawing is better than your'n."
- "That dress is her'n."
- Some Appalachian and Ozark dialects prefer you'uns,
and by extension we'uns and they'uns or even 'uns
used as a pronominal suffix to certain verbs. Another
example is the use of the word young'uns for
- Use of dove as past tense for dive,
drug as past tense for drag, and drunk as
past tense for drink.
These features are characteristic of both older Southern
American English and newer Southern American English.
- Use of (a-)fixin' to as an indicator of immediate
- He's fixin' to eat.
- We're a-fixin' to go.
- Use of double modals (might could, might should,
might would, used to could, etc.) and sometimes even
triple modals that involve oughta or a double modal
(like might should oughta, or used to could be
- I might could climb to the top.
- Addition of adverbs here or there after
this or that.
- Johnny, fetch me that there hammer.
- That school been there a long time (Cukor-Avila,
This have/had deletion seems to be related to a few
- Use of done instead of have in perfect
constructions (perfective done.)
- He done come up here.
- I done told you.
- Replacement of have (to possess) with got.
- I got one of them.
- Use of
ain't (a contraction of am not) in place
of "have not" in past perfect constructions.
- I ain't goin' there.
- Using them as a demonstrative adjective replacing
- See them birds?
- Use of irregular preterits, Such as drowneded as
the past tense of drown, knowed as past tense
of know, degradated as the past tense of
degrade, and seen replacing saw as past
tense of see. This also includes using was for
were, or in other words regularizing the past tense
of be to was.
- You was sittin' on that chair.
- Use of unmarked verb preterits. Not marking come
for tense is on the decline.
- They come in here last night.
- Multiple negation — namely, all elements that can be
negated in one
C-commanded structure are negated (Standard English
allows only negation of the first negatable element).
- I don't buy nothing.
- I don't never buy nothing.
- The inceptive get/got to (indicating that an
action is just getting started). Get to is more
frequent in older SAE, and got to in newer SAE.
- I got to talking to him and we ended up talking all
- Replacement of the Negative
Polarity item any with no or none
in Declarative sentences.
- I ain't got no time
- I don't see none/nothing.
- Regularization of negative past tense do to
don't, or in other words using don't for
- He/she/it/John don't like cake.
- Existential It, a feature dating from Middle
English which can be explained as substituting it for
there when there refers to no physical
location, but only to the existence of something.
- It's one lady that lives in town.
- Preservation of older English me, him,
etc. as reflexive datives.
- I'm fixin' to paint me a picture.
- He's gonna catch him a big one.
- Merging of adjective and adverbial forms of related
words (quick/quickly), generally in favor of the
- He's movin' real quick.
- Adverbial use of right to mean quite or
- I'm right tired.
- Word use tendencies from the Harvard Dialect Survey
- Likely influenced by the dominance of
Coca-Cola in the
Deep South, a carbonated beverage in general is
referred to as coke, or cocola, even if
referring to non-colas. Soda is rarely used, and
in parts of
West Virginia, eastern
Virginia the word "pop" is used instead.
- The use of singular nouns as if they were plural as
in, "Pass me those molasses." or "Did you get your
license?....Yes, I got them."
- The push-cart at the grocery store as a buggy
(or less often, jitney or trolley).
- The small freshwater crustacean in lakes and streams
as a crawdad, crawfish, or crayfish
depending on the location (note: the pronunciations of
crawfish and crayfish can be inverse to the spelling;
i.e. crawfish pronounced as though it were spelled
crayfish and vice versa)
- Use of the term "mosquito hawk" or "snake doctor" for a
dragonfly or a
crane fly (Diptera Tipulidae).
- Use of "over yonder" in place of "over there" or "in or
at that indicated place," especially when being used to
refer to a particularly different spot, such as in "the
house over yonder." Additionally, "yonder" tends to refer to
a third, larger degree of distance beyond both "here" and
"there," indicating that something is a long way away, and
to a lesser extent, in an open expanse, as in the church
hymn "When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder." (The term "yonder"
is still widely used in
- Use of the verb "reckon" to mean "perceive" or "think".
For example "I reckon there's a chance of rain" or "I reckon
I want to go fishin'". The term "reckon" is also still
widely used in British English.
- Use of "to love on someone or something" in place of "to
show affection to" or "be affectionate with someone or
something." For example: "He was lovin' on his new kitten."
- Use of the word "mash" in the place of "press" or
"push". Example: "Would you mash that elevator button for
- Use of the word "carry" in the place of "drive".
Example: "Would you carry me in your car to the store?"
- The use of the word "cut" rather than "turn" on/off
lights in a house or car, as in, "cut the lights on for me"
- Use of the word "young'un" instead of "child" or "kid".
- Use of the word "tote" instead of "carry". Example:
"Tote that bucket over to me."
- Use of archaic "hit" for "it."
- Use of the verb "to tump over," meaning "to tip over so
that the contents spill out."
- Use of the verb "to chuck" or "to chunk" for "to throw."
- Use of the word "proud" to mean "happy" or "pleased" as
in, "I was real proud to meet y'all."
- In Kentucky and East Tennessee, "I don't care to do
that" carries the connotation that the speaker is willing to
do something for another person. For example, if Person A
said, "I need a ride to the post office," Person B could
indicate willingness to drive Person A to the post office by
saying, "I don't care to take you." (The seeming
contradictory meaning may stem from the idea of "It does not
cause me care [or worry] to do that for you.")
Different Southern American English
In a sense, there is no one dialect called "Southern".
Instead, there are a number of regional dialects found across
Southern United States. Although different "Southern"
dialects exist, speakers of each can still understand each other
Virginia Piedmont dialect is possibly the most famous of
Southern dialects because of its strong influence on the South's
speech patterns. Because the dialect has long been associated
with the upperclass or
plantation class in the South, many of the most important
figures in Southern history spoke with a Virginia Piedmont
accent. Virginia Piedmont is
non-rhotic, meaning speakers pronounce "R" only if it is
followed by a vowel (contrary to New York City English, wherein
non-rhotic accent is now mostly used by middle- and lower-class
speakers). The dialect also features the Southern drawl
Coastal Southern resembles Virginia Piedmont but has
preserved more elements from the colonial era dialect than
almost any other region of the United States. It can be found
along the coasts of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. It is
most prevalent in the Charleston, South Carolina area. In
addition, like Virginia Piedmont, Coastal Southern is
Baltimorese, sometimes phonetically written Bawlmerese, is a
dialect of American English which originated among the white
blue-collar residents of southern
Baltimore. Today, it is heard throughout the city and in
some areas of central Maryland, in the
Mid-Atlantic States, though its "native speakers" remain
overwhelmingly white and
working class. It shares many characteristics of other types
of Southern speech, as might befit a
city of a
border state. The films of
John Waters, all of which have been filmed in and around
Baltimore, usually feature actors and actresses with thick
Baltimore accents, particularly in his early films. In the
accent, the words Baltimore and towel would be
pronounced Bawlmer and tail. The majority of
Baltimore natives now speak a variety of the
Philadelphia accent, which is Midland and not Southern.
Midland & Highland
- South Midland or Highland Southern
This dialect arose in the inland areas of the South. It
shares many of the characteristics of dialects of the
Ozark Mountains. The area was settled largely by
Scottish Highlanders, persons from the North and Western
Parts of England and Wales, and Germans.
This dialect follows the Ohio River in a generally
southwesterly direction, moves from Kentucky, across Missouri
and Oklahoma, and peters out in western Texas. This is the
dialect most associated with truck drivers on the CB radio and
country music. It has assimilated some coastal Southern forms,
most noticeably the loss of the diphthong /aj/, which becomes
the second person plural pronoun "you-all" or "y'all". Unlike
Coastal Southern, however, South Midland is a rhotic dialect,
pronouncing /r/ wherever it has historically occurred.
Due to the isolation of the
Appalachian regions of the South, the Appalachian accent is
one of the hardest for outsiders to understand. This dialect is
also rhotic, meaning speakers pronounce "R"s wherever they
appear in words, and sometimes when they do not (for example
"worsh" for "wash.")
The Southern Appalachian dialect is, among all the dialects
American English, the one most closely related to the
Scottish dialect of English (see also
Scots language and
Ulster Scots language). The dialect can be heard, as its
name implies, in
Middle Tennessee, Western
North Carolina, Eastern
Southwestern Virginia, and
West Virginia. Southern Appalachian speech patterns,
however, are not entirely confined to these mountain regions
previously listed. For instance, there are places in Georgia far
from the mountains where among the white population, the manner
of speech is indiscernable from the speech spoken in the North
Georgia mountains — for instance
Glascock County and
Jefferson County in the east central part of the state.
The common thread in the areas of the
South where a rhotic version of the dialect is heard is
almost invariably a traceable line of descent from
Scots-Irish ancestors amongst its speakers. The dialect is
also not devoid of early influence from Welsh settlers, the
dialect retaining the
Welsh English tendency to pronounce words beginning with the
letter "h" as though the "h" were silent; for instance "humble"
often is rendered "umble".
A popular myth claims that this dialect closely resembles
Early Modern or Shakespearean English.
 Although this dialect retains many words from the
Elizabethan era that are no longer in common usage, this
myth is largely apochryphal.
This dialect developed in the heart of the
Ozark Mountains in southern Missouri and northwest Arkansas.
It is similar to Appalachian dialects but also has some
Midwestern influences. This dialect is riddled with colorful
expressions, and is frequently lampooned in popular culture,
such as the television comedy
The Beverly Hillbillies.
The dialect is derived from the South Midland dialect, and
found throughout several regions of
Florida and in south
Georgia. There are several different variations of the
dialect found in Florida. From Pensacola to Tallahassee the
dialect is non-rhotic and shares many characteristics with the
speech patterns of southern
Alabama. Another form of the dialect is spoken in northeast
North Central Florida and the Nature Coast. This dialect was
made famous by
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' book the
Yearling. However the dialect begins to disappear once in
the outskirts of Orlando and Tampa or on the Atlantic coast
south of Jacksonville. However there are some isolated pockets
of the cracker dialect in rural
Central Florida and a large pool of speakers in the
agricultural counties around
Lake Okeechobee and the
The dialect also has some distinct words to it. Some speakers
may call a river turtle a "cooter", a land tortoise a "gopher",
a bass a "trout", and a crappie fish a "speck".
Gulf of Mexico
- Gulf Southern & Mississippi Delta
This area of the South was settled by English speakers moving
west from Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas, along with
French settlers from Louisiana (see the section below). This
accent is common in Mississippi, northern Lousiana, southern and
eastern Arkansas, and western Tennessee. Familiar speakers
Johnny Cash and
Elvis Presley. A dialect found in Georgia and Alabama has
some characteristics of both the Gulf Southern dialect and the
Virginia Piedmont/Coastal Southern dialect.
Beaumont ), and coastal
Mississippi, feature a number of dialects. There is
Cajun French, which combines elements of
Acadian French with other French and Spanish words. This
dialect is spoken by many of the older members of the
ethnic group and is said to be dying out. Many younger Cajuns
speak Cajun English, which retains Acadian French influences and
words, such as "cher" (dear) or "nonc" (uncle). The
French language can also still be heard in Louisiana, along
with different mixtures of all of these dialects and languages.
Louisiana Creole French (Kreyol Lwiziyen) is a
creole language spoken in
Louisiana. It has many resemblances to other French creoles
Cajun French and Louisiana Creole have had a significant
influence on each other, they are unrelated. While Cajun is
basically a French dialect with grammar similar to standard
French, Louisiana Creole applies a French lexicon to a system of
syntax which is quite different from French grammar..
Around New Orleans, you can hear an accent similar to that of
Atlantic coast cities such as New York, Philadephia, and
Baltimore. It is referred to as
Yat, from the phrases such as "Where y'at?" for "How are
Hurricane Katrina of the
2005 Atlantic hurricane season, and its resultant mass
evacuation of New Orleans and other areas along the Mexican Gulf
has further endangered the preservation of these dialects.
Although African influences are common in all strains of
Southern Dialects, especially Creole, the following dialects
were most influenced by African languages.
Sometimes called Geechee, this
creole language originated with
slaves on the coastal areas and coastal islands of Georgia
and South Carolina. The dialect was used to communicate with
both Europeans and members of African tribes other than their
own. Gullah was strongly influenced by
West African languages such as
Kikongo. The name and chorus of the
is said to be Gullah for come by here. Other English
words attributed to Gullah are juke (jukebox),
goober (Southern term for
voodoo. In a
Lorenzo Dow Turner, over 4,000 words from many different
African languages were discovered in Gullah. Other words,
such as yez for ears, are just phonetic spellings
of English words as pronounced by the Gullahs, on the basis of
influence from Southern & Western English dialects.
- African American Vernacular English
This type of Southern American English originated in the
Southern States where Africans at that time were held as slaves.
These slaves originally spoke indigenous African languages but
were forced to speak English to communicate with their masters
and each other. Since the slave masters spoke Southern American
English, the English the slaves learned, which has developed
into what is now
African American Vernacular English, had many SAE features.
While the African slaves and their descendants lost most of
their language and culture, various vocabulary and grammatical
features from indigenous West African languages remain in AAVE.
While AAVE may also be spoken by members of other ethnic groups,
it is largely spoken by and associated with blacks in many parts
of the U.S. AAVE is considered by a number of English speakers
to be a substandard dialect. As a result, AAVE speakers desiring
social mobility typically learn to
code-switch between AAVE and a more standardized English
Regional vocabularies of American English
Famous Southern American English performances
U.S. dialect map
Glossary of Southernisms by Dr. Robert Beard
Hazen, Kirk and Fluharty, Ellen. "Linguistic Diversity
in the South: changing Codes, Practices and Ideology".
Georgia University Press; 1st Edition: 2004.
Noted in the
Harvard Dialect Survey
THe Free Dictionary
Regional Note from
THe Free Dictionary
Cynthia (2003). "Grammatical features of southern speech",
in In Stephen J. Nagel and Sara L. Sanders, eds.,:
English in the Southern United States. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Crystal, David (2000). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of
the English language. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Cukor-Avila, Patricia (2003). "The complex grammatical
history of African-American and white vernaculars in the
South", in In Stephen J. Nagel and Sara L. Sanders, eds.,:
English in the Southern United States. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Labov, William, Sharon Ash, and Charles Boberg (2006).
The Atlas of North American English. Berlin:
Kirk, and Fluharty, Ellen (2004). "Defining Appalacian
English", in Bender, Margaret: Linguistic Diversity in
the South. Athens: University of Georgia Press.
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