Language Variation and Change

Research Article

Urban rejection of the vernacular: The SVS undone

Robin Dodswortha1 and Mary Kohna2

a1 North Carolina State University

a2 University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Abstract

In Raleigh, North Carolina, a Southern U.S. city, five decades of in-migration of technology-sector workers from outside the South has resulted in large-scale contact between the local Southern dialect and non-Southern dialects. This paper investigates the speed and magnitude of the reversal of the Southern Vowel Shift (SVS) with respect to the five front vowels, using Trudgill's (1998) model of dialect contact as a framework. The data consist of conversational interviews with 59 white-collar Raleigh natives representing three generations, the first generation having reached adulthood before large-scale contact. Acoustic analysis shows that all vowels shift away from their Southern variants across apparent time. The leveling of SVS variants begins within the first generation to grow up after large-scale contact began, and contrary to predictions, this generation does not show wide inter- or intraspeaker variability. Previous studies of dialect contact and new dialect formation suggest that leveling of regional dialect features and the establishment of stable linguistic norms occurs more quickly when children have regular contact with one another. Dialect contact in Raleigh has occurred primarily within the middle and upper classes, the members of which are densely connected by virtue of schools and heavy economic segregation in neighborhood residence.

Footnotes

We wish to thank Walt Wolfram and Erik Thomas for assistance, and two anonymous reviewers for useful comments.

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