Linguists Warn Iconic American Style Is Disappearing

A new study has revealed that the iconic Southern drawl, which is an integral part of the American South, is quickly disappearing in Georgia. This finding, led by a team of researchers from the University of Georgia (UGA) and the Georgia Institute of Technology, has shed light on the changing speech patterns of Georgian natives over the past few generations.

The research, which focused on 135 White Georgia natives born between the late 19th century to the early 2000s, found a significant contrast between the way older Georgians and younger generations pronounce certain words. Using statistical modeling developed by former UGA graduate student Joseph A. Stanley, the team analyzed voice recordings and emphasized vowel pronunciation to uncover the changes in the way Georgians speak.

According to Dr. Margaret Renwick, an associate professor of linguistics at UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and lead on the study, the change in speech patterns began with Generation X, or those born between 1965 and 1982. She explained that the younger generation, known as the MTV generation, sharply contrasted with the speech patterns of their baby boomer parents, who were born between 1943 and 1964.

“We found that, here in Georgia, White English speakers’ accents have been shifting away from the traditional Southern pronunciation for the last few generations,” Dr. Renwick said. “Today’s college students don’t sound like their parents, who didn’t sound like their own parents.”

The study focused on four vowels, represented by words like BIDE, BAIT, BET, and BAT. These vowels are exemplified by the words BAAHD, BUH-EYT, BE-YUT, and BA-YUT in the Southern drawl. The research team found that the traditional Southern pronunciation of these words has significantly decreased in younger generations, indicating a shift away from the iconic accent.

Dr. Lelia Glass, a professor in the School of Modern Languages at Georgia Tech, explained that the team used computer and audio transcriptions to analyze the tongue placement of the speakers while pronouncing each vowel. This provided a quantitative metric of their accent.

The changing demographics of the South, as people moved into the region after World War II, have played a significant role in the shift, according to Dr. Jon Forrest, a linguistics professor at UGA who co-authored the study. He added that similar changes in speech patterns have been observed in other regions of the United States.

The researchers also plan to study changes in cross-generational language patterns among the Black population in Georgia. According to Dr. Renwick, the study found evidence of the strongest Southern accents among the Baby Boomer generation, born in the mid-20th century, with a rapid shift away from the traditional Southern speech beginning with Generation X.

The study highlights the impact of peer groups and changing linguistic environments on the language acquisition of children. As children grow up and interact with their peers in school, they tend to shift their speech patterns to match their peer group, resulting in inter-generational language change.

The findings of this study have significant implications for the preservation of the Southern drawl and for understanding the evolving linguistic landscape of the American South. Further research in this area will provide insights into the changing language patterns in Georgia and the rest of the country.

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