Southern Vowel Shift In Southern English

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Introduction

Southern American English is one of the most widely recognized dialects of American English; however, it is also the most negatively viewed dialect of American English followed closely only by New York City speech. With this negative view comes the perception that those that speak this dialect of Standard American English are ignorant. This could not be farther from the truth. According to many linguists, the Southern American English dialect is rooted in British regional dialect and is the only dialect that still sounds much like our ancestors. (PBS) Some unique features of Southern American English are well known such as saying y’all for you all; useta for used to; and fixin to for I intend to, along with the well-known “southern drawl” that comes from the Southern Vowel Shift. Although the Southern English dialect touches most of the southern states within the United States, Louisiana does not consist of the same features due to the French influence on language.

Phonology Southern American English possesses many phonological features that make it unique from Standard American English (*SAE), but the Southern Vowel Shift may be the most recognized feature of the Southern English dialect. The Southern Vowel Shift affected most of the southern states, but each stage of this shift may have impacted different regions of the south. For instance, the merger of vowels in words like pen and pin began occurring as early as the second quarter of the nineteenth
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