Southern American English

From Academic Kids

Southern American English is a dialect of the English language spoken throughout the Southern region of the United States, from central Kentucky and northern Virginia to the Gulf Coast and from the Atlantic coast to eastern Texas. Southern American English can be divided into different sub-dialects (see American English), with speech differing between, say, the Appalachian region and the coastal area around Charleston, South Carolina. The South Midlands dialect was influenced by the migration of Southern dialect speakers into the American West. The traditional dialect of African Americans, popularly called "Ebonics", shares many similarities with Southern dialect, unsurprising given that group's strong historical ties to the region.

Speakers of Southern American English have been stereotyped as uneducated or stupid commonly due the slower rate of speech and intertextualization of cultural factors of the region. Since the use of the dialect is stigmatized, educated speakers often attempt to eliminate many of its more distinctive features from their personal idiolect, settling for a more "neutral-sounding" English, though more often this involves changes more in phonetics than vocabulary. Well-known speakers of Southern dialect include United States Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton along with playwright Tennessee Williams and singer Elvis Presley.



Few generalizations can be made about Southern pronunciation as a whole, as there is great variation between regions. One phenomenon that is probably found throughout the region is the merger of and before nasal consonants, so that pen and pin are pronounced the same, but the pin-pen merger is not found in New Orleans and Savannah. This sound change has spread beyond the south in recent decades and is now quite widespread in the Midwest and West as well.

Other typical (sometimes stereotypical) aspects of the Southern accent:

  • becomes before , for example wasn't, business, but hasn't is still pronounced because there already exists a word hadn't pronounced .
  • The diphthong becomes monophthongized to . Some speakers have this feature before voiced consonants but Canadian-style raising before voiceless consonants, so that ride is and wide is , but right is and white is ; others monophthongize in all contexts.
  • 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 back down to schwa. This is the feature often called the "Southern drawl".
  • 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 between two vowel sounds ("lawr and order") is not a feature of coastal SAE, as it is in many other non-rhotic accents. The more western (including Appalachian) varieties of SAE are rhotic. 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 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 United States. This diphthong also applies to words outside of such pairs. For example, in "boat," "god", salt" round off the mouth almost to make a schwa preceding the consonant (though not as fully as the di/triphthongization of short front vowels).
  • For many Southern speakers, some nouns are stressed on the first syllable that would be stressed on the second syllable in other accents. These include police, cement, and behind.
  • The distinction between and , as in horse and hoarse, for and four etc., is often preserved, especially in non-rhotic varieties.
  • Merger of lax vowels with tense vowels before 'l', making pairs like feel/fill, fail/fell, and fool/full homophones.
  • The distinction between w and wh, as in wine and whine is preserved for some speakers.
  • The distinction between , , and in marry, merry, and Mary is preserved.
  • Yod-dropping is not found among many speakers, thus , , , in due, new, tune is preserved.
  • The distinction between and in furry and hurry is preserved.
  • In some regions of the south, there is a merger of and , making cord and card, for and far, form and farm etc. homonyms.
  • The distinction between and in mirror and nearer, Sirius and serious etc. is preserved.
  • The distinction between pour and poor, more and moor etc. is lost in many regions.

Word use

  • Use of double modals ("might could", "might should", "might would", etc.)
  • "You" may be "ye" ("Did ye get yer car?")
  • Use of drowneded as the past tense of drown.
  • Use of hot water heater for the tank that heats the water in a house, apartment, business etc.
  • Occasional preservation of the aspirative "h" for the third person singular neuter ("hit").
  • Use of "ya'll" as the second person plural pronoun (less commonly "you-all," "all-ya'll"). The spelling of this contraction is subject to debate. Some prefer "y'all" (as a contraction of "you all") over "ya'll" ("ya all"). "Ya'll" is more grammatically correct, as most contractions use an apostraphe in place of letters removed from the second word (the 'a' in 'all') rather than the first (the 'ou' in 'you').
    • Some Appalacian and Ozark dialects prefer "you'uns", and by extension "we'uns" and "they'uns".
  • Use of "fixin' to" or "a-fixin' to" as an indicator of immediate future action. For example: "He's fixin' to eat," or "We're a-fixin' to go."
  • Use of the word "done" in place of "already" or "did", such as in "We 'done' did this" (We already did this).
  • Use of the emphatic definite article (frequently abbreviated to the dental fricative //): "He went to the Wal-Mart." "I'ma go to th'IGA."
  • 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"
  • Use of "the grocery" in place of "the supermarket" or "the grocery store." For example "I went to the grocery earlier today" or "we're fixin' to go to the grocery"
  • Use of a quasi-reflexive pronoun "me" or "him". For example, "I'm fixin' to paint me a picture."
  • 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."
  • Word use tendencies from the Harvard Dialect Survey (
    • A carbonated beverage in general as "coke" or "cocola" (likely influenced by The Coca-Cola Company being headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia and the resultant dominance of Coca-Cola in the region).
    • The small land crustaceans that roll when you touch them as "roley-poleys" rather than "pill bugs" or "woodlouse"
    • The push-cart at the grocery store as a "buggy"
    • The small freshwater crustacean in lakes and streams as a "crawdad," "crawfish," or "crayfish" depending on the location (note: the pronounciations of crawfish and crayfish can be inverse to the spelling; i.e. crawfish pronounced as though it was spelled crayfish and vice versa)

Related topics

External link

  • U.S. dialect map (

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