Southern American English

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This article is about English as spoken in the Southern United States. For English as spoken in South America, see South American English.
Approximate extent of Southern American English, based upon multiple dialect studies.[1][2][3]
The merger of pin and pen in Southern American English. In the purple areas, the merger is complete for most speakers. Note the exclusion of the New Orleans area, Southern Florida, and of the Lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia. The purple area in California consists of the Bakersfield and Kern County area, where migrants from the south-central states settled during the Dust Bowl. There is also debate whether or not Austin, Texas is an exclusion. Based on Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:68).
An example of a Texas-raised male with a rhotic accent (George W. Bush).

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An example of a Plains, Georgia male with a non-rhotic accent (Jimmy Carter).

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An example of a southwestern Arkansas male with a rhotic accent (Bill Clinton).

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Southern American English or Southern U.S. English is a collection of related American English dialects spoken throughout the Southern United States, though increasingly in more rural areas and primarily by White Americans.[4] Commonly in the United States, the dialects are referred together simply as Southern.[5][6][7] Other, much more recent ethnolectal terms include Southern White Vernacular English and Rural White Southern English.[8][9]

The Southern U.S. dialects make up the largest accent group in the United States,[10] from the southern extremities of Ohio, Indiana, Maryland, and Delaware, as well as most of West Virginia and Kentucky to the Gulf Coast, and from the southern Atlantic coast extending to most of Texas and Oklahoma, and the far eastern section of New Mexico. Southern American English can be divided into several regional dialects and sub-dialects. African American Vernacular English (AAVE) has common points with the Southern dialects due to the strong historical ties of African Americans to the region.


The dialects collectively known as Southern American English stretch across the south-eastern and south-central United States, but exclude the southernmost areas of Florida and the extreme western and south-western parts of Texas as well as the Rio Grande Valley (Laredo to Brownsville). This linguistic region includes Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Arkansas, as well as most of Texas, Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and northern and central Florida. Southern American English dialects can also be found in extreme southern parts of Missouri, Maryland, Delaware, and Illinois.[11][12]

Southern dialects originated in large part from a mix of immigrants from the British Isles, who moved to the South in the 17th and 18th centuries, and the creole or post-creole speech of African slaves. Upheavals such as the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and World War II caused mass migrations of those and other settlers throughout the United States.

Older phonology[edit]

Older or traditional Southern speech here collectively refers to the sound systems heard in the South generally before World War II;[13] some older Southern dialects or features persist today, though typically in very localized populations. The following pronunciation features are very generally characteristic of older Southern as a whole:

  • Lack of Yod-dropping: Pairs like do and due, or toon and tune, are distinct because words like due, lute, new, etc. historically contained a diphthong similar to /juː/ (like the you sound in cute or puny).[14] (as England's RP standard pronunciation still does), but Labov et al. report that the only Southern speakers who make a distinction today use a diphthong /ɪu/ in such words.[15] They further report that speakers with the distinction are found primarily in North Carolina and northwest South Carolina, and in a corridor extending from Jackson to Tallahassee. For most of the South, this feature began disappearing after World War II.[16]
    • Yod-coalescence: Words like dew are pronounced as "Jew", and Tuesday as "choose day."
  • Rhoticity and non-rhoticity: The pronunciation of the r sound only before or between vowels, but not after vowels, is known as "non-rhoticity" and was historically associated with the major plantation regions of the South: specifically, the entire Piedmont and most of the South's Atlantic Coast in a band going west towards the Mississippi River, as well as all of the Mississippi Embayment and some of the western Gulf Coastal Plain. In older Southern, rhotic accents, which fully pronounce all historical r sounds, were rarer and primarily spoken in Appalachia, the eastern Gulf Coastal Plain, and the areas west of the Mississippi Embayment.[17]
  • Palatalization of /k/ and /g/ before /ɑr/: Especially in the South along the Atlantic Coast, the consonants /k/ (as in key or coo) and /ɡ/ (as in guy or go), when before the sound /ɑr/ (as in car or barn), are often pronounced with the tongue fronted towards the hard palate. Thus, for example, garden in older Southern is something like "gyah(r)den" [ˈgjɑː(ɹ)dən] and "car" like "kyah(r)" [cʰjɑː(ɹ)]. This pronunciation feature was in decline by the late 1800s.[16]
  • Mary–marry–merry distinction: Unlike most of the U.S. and modern Southern, older Southern does not merge the three following vowels before /r/: [e~eə] (as in Mary), [æ] (as in marry), and [ɛ] (as in merry). Although the three are now merging in modern Southern, the "marry" class of words is still the least likely among Southerners to merge with the other two.[18]
  • Clear /l/ between front vowels: Unlike modern Southern and General U.S. speech's "dark" /l/ sound (often represented as [ɫ]), older Southern pronunciation has a "clear" (i.e. non-velarized) /l/ sound whenever /l/ appeared between front vowels, as in the words silly, mealy, Nellie, etc.[16]
  • Was, what and of pronounced with [ɑ]: The stressed word what, for example, rhymes with cot (not with cut, as it does elsewhere in the U.S.).[19]
  • No happy-tensing: The final vowel of words like happy, silly, monkey, party etc. are not tensed as they are in newer Southern and all other U.S. dialects, meaning that this vowel sounded like the [ɪ] of fit rather than the [i] of feet.
  • //, as in goat, toe, robe, etc., keeps a back starting place (unlike most Southern since World War II, but like most Northern U.S. dialects today); this became an opener [ɔu~ɒu] in the early 1900s.[19]

Atlantic Coast[edit]

The older speech patterns of the South's Atlantic Coast (also termed South Atlantic, Atlantic Southern, or East Coast Southern speech) are a set of diverse pronunciations that once defined the majority (that is, the coastal and Piedmont regions) of Virginia and North Carolina, as well as in and around the Chesapeake Bay and the South Carolina/Georgia Lowcountry. The overarching phonological features of older Atlantic Southern, having now largely declined, include:

  • /ʃr/ pronounced as [sɹ] (e.g. causing shrimp, shrub, etc. to sound like srimp, srub, etc.); this feature is reported earliest in Virginia.[20]
  • Canadian raising, potentially, of both // and // before voiceless consonants, with /aʊ/ in this context often pronounced with very front vowels as [ɜʊ~ɜʉ~ɜy].
  • Preservation of the diphthong // (as opposed to its widespread "weakening" or monophthongization to [aː] more recently as well as elsewhere in the South), except in Virginia.

Virginia Piedmont and Tidewater[edit]

Main article: Old Virginia accent

The major central (Piedmont) and eastern (Tidewater) regions of Virginia, excluding its Eastern Shore, once spoke in a way long associated with the upper or aristocratic plantation class in the Old South. Additional phonological features of this Atlantic Southern variety included:

  • Non-rhoticity (or r-dropping).
  • Trap–bath split: pronunciation of the "bath" set of words in the trap–bath split as [æ̈ɛ~æ̈e], different from the "trap" set of words as [æ~æ̈ɛæ̈].[21]
  • // pronounced as [ɛ] in certain words, making bake sound like "beck", and afraid like "uh Fred."
  • In Tidewater Virginia particularly:
    • Some of the "bath" words (aunt, rather, and, earlier, pasture, etc.) pronounced farther back in mouth, as [ɒ~ɑ].
    • /ɜr/, as in bird, earth, flirt, etc. pronounced as [ɜ], similar to modern London English.
    • "Broad a" (as in palm, father, spa, etc.) shifting towards a rounded [ɒː], potentially causing, for example, palm and harm to rhyme.

Down East/Pamlico and Delmarva/Chesapeake[edit]

The Down East coastal region of Carteret County, North Carolina, and adjacent Pamlico Sound, such as Ocracoke and Harkers Island, are known for additional features, some of which are still spoken today by generations-long residents of its unincorporated coastal and island communities, which have largely been geographically and economically isolated from the rest of North Carolina and the South since their first settlement by English-speaking Europeans. The same is true for the very similar dialect area of the Delmarva (Delaware–Maryland–Virginia) Peninsula and neighboring islands in the Chesapeake Bay, such as Tangier and Smith Island. These two regions historically share many common features, including:

  • Rhoticity (or r-fulness, like in most U.S. English, but unlike in most other older Atlantic Southern dialects)
  • //, such as the vowel in the words high tide, retaining its glide and being pronounced beginning further back in the mouth, as [ɑe] or even rounded [ɒe~ɐɒe], often stereotyped as sounding like "hoi toid," giving Pamlico Sound's residents the name "High Tiders."[4]
  • Regular "short a" (i.e. no "drawled a").
  • /ɔː/ pronounced as [ɔ~o], almost like in modern British English.
  • //, as in loud, mouse, south, etc., pronounced with a fronted glide as [aɵ~aø~aε].[22]
  • /ɛər/, as in chair, square, bear, etc., as [æɚ].[22]
  • Card–cord merger since at least the 1800s in the Delmarva Peninsula.[22]

Lowcountry (Charleston and Savannah)[edit]

The Lowcountry, most famously centering around the cities of Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia, once included these additional features, many of which have declined:[23]


Main article: Appalachian English

Due to the former isolation of some regions of the Appalachian South, the Appalachian accent may be difficult for some 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" or "warsh" for "wash".) Because of the extensive length of the mountain chain, noticeable variation also exists within this subdialect.

The Southern Appalachian dialect can be heard, as its name implies, in North Georgia, North Alabama, East Tennessee, Northwestern South Carolina, Western North Carolina, Eastern Kentucky, Southwestern Virginia, Western Maryland, and West Virginia. Southern Appalachian speech patterns, however, are not entirely confined to the mountain regions previously listed.

Almost always, the common thread in the areas of the South where a rhotic version of the dialect is heard is a traceable line of descent from Scots or 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".

Researchers have noted that the dialect retains a lot of vocabulary with roots in Scottish "Elizabethan English" owing to the make-up of the early European settlers to the area.[25]

Gulf Coast[edit]

Older speech of the Gulf Coast of the United States included these features:

  • Rhoticity and non-rhoticity: Non-rhoticity (or r-dropping) historically occurred in the greater central sections of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, and in coastal Texas and some other coastal communities of the Gulf states. Rhoticity (or r-fulness) occurred in southern sections of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, as well as in northern Florida, western Louisiana, and eastern Texas.[26]
  • Trap–bath split: pronunciation of the "bath" set of words in the trap–bath split as [æ̈ɛ~æ̈e], different from the "trap" set of words as [æ~æ̈ɛæ̈].[21]
  • /ʃr/ widely pronounced as [sɹ] (e.g. causing shrimp, shrub, etc. to sound like srimp, srub, etc.).[20]

Southern Louisiana[edit]

Southern Louisiana, as well as some of southeast Texas (Houston to Beaumont), and coastal Mississippi, feature a number of dialects influenced by other languages beyond English. Most of southern Louisiana constitutes Acadiana, dominated for hundreds of years by monolingual speakers of Cajun French,[27] which combines elements of Acadian French with other French and Spanish words. This French dialect is spoken by many of the older members of the Cajun ethnic group and is said to be dying out.

One historical English dialect spoken only by those raised in the Greater New Orleans area is non-rhotic and remarkably shares more pronunciation commonalities with the New York City dialect than with other Southern dialects. Since at least the 1980s, this dialect has popularly been called "Yat," from the common local greeting "Where you at?". The New York City English features shared with this dialect include:[28]

  • Short-a split system (so that bad and back, for example, have different vowels)
  • /ɔː/ as high, often with a glide [ɔə].
  • /ɑr/ as rounded [ɒː~ɔː].
  • Coil–curl merger, traditionally (though now in decline).

Yat also lacks the typical vowel changes of the Southern Shift and the pin–pen merger that are commonly heard elsewhere throughout the South. Yat is associated with the working and lower middle classes, though a spectrum with fewer notable Yat features is often heard the higher one's socioeconomic status; such New Orleans affluence is associated with the New Orleans Uptown and the Garden District, and its speech patterns are sometimes considered a separate variety altogether from the Yat dialect.[29]

Additionally, many unique terms such as "neutral ground"[30] for the median of a divided street (Louisiana/Southern Mississippi) or "banquette"[31] for a sidewalk (southern Louisiana/eastern Texas) are found in New Orleans and elsewhere in coastal Louisiana.

Newer phonology[edit]

Southeastern super-region[edit]

On this U.S. dialect map, Southern English is designated by the dark orange area numbered "6," including its core dialect areas of "6a" (Texan English) and "6b" (Inland Southern English). The larger Southeastern super-region essentially incorporates all of "6" along with most of "5" (Midland English), plus the unnumbered white areas adjoining the South, such as Florida.

Headed by William Labov, the 2006 Atlas of North American English (ANAE) identifies the South itself, as well a large area of states bordering all along the South, as constituting a "Southeastern super-region,"[32] with even remote (including arguably Northern) areas that phonologically exhibit some noticeable "Southern character."[33] Essentially all of the modern-day Southern dialects, plus dialects marginal to the South, are thus considered a subset of this super-region.[note 1] Thus, a modern Southeastern super-region is defined by essentially the whole American South, including all of the Gulf region (even Florida), the Mid- and South Atlantic regions, and southeastern New Mexico, as well as a transitional Midland dialect area between the South and the North, lying above the strict Southern region and comprising most of Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, southeastern Nebraska, Southern Illinois, Southern Indiana, and Southern Ohio.[34] Put perhaps in clearer terms, the Southeastern super-region includes these most general regional varieties of English:

These are the minimal necessary features that generally identify a speaker from the Southeastern super-region:

  • Fronting of /aʊ/ and /oʊ/: The gliding vowels /aʊ/ (as in cow or ouch) and /oʊ/ (as in goat or bone) both start considerably forward in the mouth, approximately [ɛɔ~æɒ] and [ɜu], respectively. /oʊ/ may even end in a very forward position[36]—something like [ɜy~œʏ]. However, this fronting does not occur in younger speakers before /l/ (as in goal or colt) or before a syllable break between two vowels (as in going or poet), in which /oʊ/ remains back in the mouth as [ɔu~ɒu].[37]
  • Transitioning or lacking cot–caught merger: The historical distinction between the two vowels sounds /ɔː/ and /ɒ/, in words like caught and cot or stalk and stock is mainly preserved.[38] In much of the South during the 1900s, there was a trend to lower the vowel found in words like stalk and caught, often with an upglide, so that the most common result today is the gliding vowel [ɑɒ]. However, the cot–caught merger is becoming increasingly common throughout the United States, thus affecting Southeastern and even some Southern dialects, towards a merged vowel [ɑ].[39]
  • Card–cord merger (and horse–hoarse merger): The historically separate sounds /ɔr/ and /ɔər/ merge, as in almost all modern English. However, in the Southeastern super-region, these both may merge even further with /ɑr/, making cord/chord/cored and card, for/four and far, port and part, store and star, etc. all pairs of perfect homophones. This is because the vowel in /ɑr/ (as in part or star) is often rounded to [ɒɻ].[40]
  • Pin–pen merger: The vowels [ɛ] and [ɪ] often merge when before nasal consonants, so that pen and pin, for instance, or hem and him, are pronounced the same, as pin or him, respectively.[41] However, this merger is not found in some vestigial varieties of the Old South, such as New Orleans's Yat dialect or the anomalous dialect of Savannah, Georgia. The pin–pen merger has also spread beyond the South in recent decades and is now found in isolated parts of the West and the southern Midwest as well.
  • Rhoticity: The pronunciation of the r sound only before or between vowels (but not after vowels) was historically widespread in the South, particularly in former plantation areas. This phenomenon, non-rhoticity, was considered prestigious before World War II, after which the social perception in the South reversed. Now, rhoticity (sometimes called r-fulness), in which all r sounds are pronounced, has become dominant throughout the entire Southeastern super-region, as in most American English, and even more so among younger and female White Southern speakers; the only major exception is among African American Southerners, whose modern vernacular dialect continues to be mostly non-rhotic.[42] The sound quality of the Southern r is the distinctive "bunch-tongued r", produced by strongly constricting the root and/or midsection of the tongue.[43]


Mean formant values for the ANAE subjects (Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:?)) from the Southern U.S. (excluding Florida and Charleston, SC). The red symbol marks the position of monophthongized /aɪ/ before voiced consonants. The distinction between /ɑ/ and /ɔ/ is preserved mainly because /ɔ/ has an upglide. /eɪ/ is backer and lower than /ɛ/.

The South proper as a modern-day dialect region generally includes all of the pronunciation features of the Southeastern super-region, plus additional features listed below, which are together popularly recognized in the United States as a Southern accent. However, there is still actually wide variation in Southern speech regarding potential differences based on factors like a speaker's exact region or sub-region (see the different Southern U.S. English dialects section below for more information), age, ethnicity, etc. The following phonological phenomena focus on the developing sound system of the more recent Southern dialects of the United States that altogether largely (though certainly not entirely) superseded the older Southern patterns throughout the region:

  • Southern (Vowel) Shift: A chain shift regarding vowels is completed, or in transition, in most Southern dialects, especially younger ones, and at the most advanced stage in the Inland South (i.e. away from the coastline) and Texas in general. This chain shift, called the Southern Shift, is triggered by Stage 1, described below. Stage 1 may have begun in some Southern dialects as early as the first half of the 1800s; however, it was still largely incomplete or absent in the mid-1800s, though it is widespread today throughout all of the Southern United States.
    • Stage 1 (/aɪ/[aː]): The starting point of the Southern Shift is the transition of the gliding vowel (diphthong) // (About this sound listen) towards a "glideless" long vowel [aː~äː] (About this sound listen), so that, for example, the word ride commonly approaches a sound that most other English speakers would consider to fall between the sounds of rod and rad. Stage 1 is now complete for a majority of Southern dialects.[46] Newer Southern speakers particularly exhibit the Stage 1 shift at the ends of words and before voiced consonants, but not before voiceless consonants, where the diphthong instead retains its glide, so that ride is [ɹäːd] and wide is [wäːd], but right is [ɹäɪt] and white like [wäɪt]. Some speakers exhibit backing to [ɑːe] in environments where diphthongization (preservation of the glide) remains,[47] particularly in Charleston, SC and possibly Atlanta and Savannah, GA. Traditional inland (i.e. non-coastal) Southern speakers, however, delete the glide of /aɪ/ in all contexts, as in the stereotyped pronunciation "nahs whaht rahs" for nice white rice; these speakers are mostly found today in an Appalachian area that comprises eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina and northern Alabama, as well as in central Texas.[48]
    • Stage 2 (/eɪ/[ɛɪ], and /ɛ/[e(j)ə]): By removing the existence of [aɪ], Stage 1 leaves open a lower area for /eɪ/ (as in name and day) to occupy, causing Stage 2: the lowering of the diphthong /eɪ/ towards [ɛɪ] or to an even lower and/or more retracted sound. At the same time, a reversal effect occurs for /ɛ/ (as in red or belt), which occupies the area previously occupied by /eɪ/, becoming higher and fronter, so that /ɛ/ approaches a tenser and diphthongized [e(j)ə]. Stage 2 is most common in heavily stressed syllables. Southern accents originating from cities that formerly had the greatest influence and wealth in the South (Richmond, VA; Charleston, SC; Atlanta, Macon, and Savannah, GA; and all of Florida) do not participate in Stage 2.[49]
    • Stage 3 (/ɪ/[iə], and /i/[ɪi]): /ɪ/ (as in hit or lick) and /i/ (as in beam or meet) both can become diphthongs whose nuclei switch positions, with /ɪ/ raising towards [iə], and /i/ lowering towards [ɪi]. Stage 3 is most common in heavily stressed syllables, particularly of Inland Southern speakers, like the rest of the Southern shift.[49]
  • Southern vowel breaking ("Southern drawl"): The short front pure vowels are "broken" into gliding vowels, in words like pat, pet, and pit (almost making these one-syllable words, for example, sound like they have two syllables). The three vowels of these example words, "short a," "short e," and "short i," develop a glide up from their original starting position to [j], and then in some cases back down to a schwa vowel: /æ/ → [æjə]; /ɛ/ → [ɛjə]; and /ɪ/ → [ɪjə], respectively. This phenomenon is on the decline, being most typical of Southern speakers born before 1960,[50] and may be a feature shared with some varieties of older Southern.
  • Unstressed, word-final /ŋ/[n]: The phoneme /ŋ/ in an unstressed syllable at the end of a word fronts to [n], so that singing /ˈsɪŋɪŋ/ is sometimes written phonetically as singin [ˈsɪŋɪn].[51] This is common in vernacular English dialects around the world.
  • Lax and tense vowels often neutralize before /l/, making pairs like feel/fill and fail/fell 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 Southern may sound like fill, and vice versa.[52]
  • The back vowel /u/ (in goose or true) is fronted in the mouth and often broken into a gliding vowel.
  • Back Upglide (Chain) Shift: In Southern regional (and Southeastern super-regional) dialects, // shifts forward and upward to [æʊ] (also possibly realized, variously, as [æjə~æo~ɛɔ~eo]); thus allowing the back vowel /ɔː/ to fill an area similar to the former position of /aʊ/ in the mouth, becoming lowered and developing an upglide [ɑɒ]; this, in turn, allows (though only for the most advanced Southern speakers) the upgliding /ɔɪ/, before /l/, to lose its glide [ɔː] (for instance, causing the word boils to sound something like the British or New York City pronunciations of About this sound balls).[53]
  • The vowel /ʌ/, as in bug, luck, strut, etc., is realized as [ɜ], occasionally fronted to [ɛ̈] or raised in the mouth to [ə]. In former plantation areas, a more backed form, [ʌ], is common among older speakers.[54]
  • /z/ becomes [d] before /n/, for example [ˈwʌdn̩t] wasn't, [ˈbɪdnɪs] business,[55] but hasn't is sometimes still pronounced [ˈhæzənt] because there already exists a word hadn't pronounced [ˈhædn̩t].
  • Many nouns are stressed on the first syllable that would be stressed on the second syllable in other accents.[50] These include police, cement, Detroit, Thanksgiving, insurance, behind, display, hotel, motel, recycle, TV, guitar, July, and umbrella.
  • The "L" sound in the words walk and talk is occasionally preserved, causing the words talk and walk to be pronounced /wɑlk/.
Inland South and Texas[edit]

ANAE identifies the "Inland South" as a large linguistic area of the South located mostly in southern Appalachia, inland from the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts, and the originating region of the Southern Vowel Shift. The Inland South, along with the "Texas South" (the geographic majority of the state of Texas), are considered the two major places in which the newer Southern sound system is the most evolved, and therefore the core pronunciation areas of the modern-day South.[56]

The accents of Texas are actually diverse, for example with important Spanish influences on its vocabulary;[57] however, it is still primarily an unambiguous region of Southern speech, with the current-day west and central Texan dialect, notably including the cities of Dallas, Abilene, Lubbock, Odessa, and, marginally, Amarillo,[58] being rhotic and fully realizing all threes stages of the Southern Shift.[59] In western Texas, the phoneme /ɔː/ may remain a pure vowel.[60]

Atlanta and Charleston[edit]

ANAE identifies Atlanta, Georgia as a dialectal "island of non-Southern speech,"[61] and Charleston, South Carolina likewise as "not markedly Southern in character," despite these being two prominent Southern cities. The modern dialect of Atlanta is extremely young, influenced by a huge movement of non-Southerners into the area during the 1990s,[28] while the modern dialect of Charleston has evolved as a Midland-influenced update of the traditional Lowcountry dialect, whose speech patterns were "diametrically opposed to the Southern Shift... and differ in many other respects from the main body of Southern dialects."[23] For this reason, the following vowel sounds of Atlanta and Charleston have been unaffected by typical Southern phenomena like the Southern drawl and Southern Vowel Shift:[28]

However, the modern dialects of Atlanta and Charleston do, in fact, incorporate the general Southeastern super-regional features listed above and can be mostly regarded as varieties of Midland English.[28][62]


Main article: Cajun English

Since the early 1900s, Cajuns of southern Louisiana, though historically monolingual French speakers, began to develop their own vernacular dialect of English, which retains some influences and words from Acadian/Cajun French, such as "cher" (dear) or "nonc" (uncle). This dialect fell out of fashion after World War II, but experienced a renewal in primarily male speakers born since the 1970s, who have been the most appealed by, and the biggest appealers for, a successful Cajun cultural renaissance.[27] Speakers of Cajun Vernacular English demonstrate these major features, among many others:[63]

  • Non-rhoticity (or r-dropping), for the most part.
  • High nasalization, even in vowels before nasal consonants.
  • Deletion of any word's final consonant(s): Examples are that hand becomes [hæ̃], food becomes [fuː], rent becomes [ɹɪ̃], New York becomes [nuˈjɔə], and so on.[63]
  • Universal glide weakening: A particular process of glide weakening is common in the South for certain gliding vowels; however, Cajun English is distinct in that every single English gliding vowel is subject to glide weakening or deletion. For instance, /oʊ/ (as in Joe), /eɪ/ (as in jay), and /ɔɪ/ (as in joy) have somewhat or entirely reduced glides: [oː], [eː], and [ɔː], respectively. [63]
  • Cot–caught merger towards [ä].[63]

African-American phonology[edit]

"Southern U.S. English" popularly refers to those dialects spoken by White Southerners;[64] however, as a geographic term, it may also encompass the dialects developed among other social or ethnic groups in the South, most prominently including African Americans. The following dialects are influenced by African languages and/or spoken primarily by African Americans living in, or historically connected with, the South.


Main article: Gullah language

Sometimes called Geechee, this creole language originated with African American slaves on the coastal areas and 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 Vai, Mende, Twi, Ewe, Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, and Kikongo. The name and chorus of the Christian hymn "Kumbaya" is said to be Gullah for come by here. Other English words attributed to Gullah are juke (jukebox), goober (Southern term for peanut) and voodoo. In a 1930s study by 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 and Western English dialects.

African American Vernacular[edit]

This variety originated in the Southern States where Africans were at that time[specify] held as slaves. These slaves originally spoke indigenous African languages but eventually picked up English to communicate with their masters and one another. Since the slave masters spoke Southern American English, that is the dialect of English the slaves learned. Over time, the form of Southern spoken by these slaves developed into what is now African American Vernacular English, which retains many Southern features. Like Virginia Piedmont, Coastal Southern, and Florida Cracker dialects, AAVE is largely non-rhotic. While the African slaves and their descendants lost most of their language and culture, some vocabulary and grammatical features from indigenous West African languages remain in AAVE. While AAVE may also be spoken by members of other racial 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 who seek social mobility typically learn to code-switch between AAVE and a more standardized English dialect. Liberian English is said to be at least partially based on AAVE, since that dialect of English was modeled after American English and not British English.

Grammar and vocabulary[edit]

Older features[edit]

  • Zero copula in third person plural and second person. This is historically a consequence of R-dropping, with e.g. you're merging with you.
    You [Ø] taller than Louise.
    They [Ø] gonna leave today (Cukor-Avila, 2003).
  • Use of the circumfix a- . . . -in' in progressive tenses.
    He was a-hootin' and a-hollerin'.
    The wind was a-howlin'.
  • The use of like to to mean nearly; liked to merging into like to
    I like to had a heart attack. (I nearly had a heart attack)
  • The use of the simple past infinitive vs present perfect infinitive.
    I like to had. vs I like to have had.
    We were supposed to went. vs We were supposed to have gone.
  • Use of "yonder" as a locative in addition to its more widely attested use as an adjective.
    They done gathered a mess of raspberries in them woods down yonder.

Newer features[edit]

Frequency of either "Y'all" or "You all" to address multiple people, according to an Internet survey of American dialect variation.[65]
Frequency of just "Y'all" to address multiple people, according to an Internet survey of American dialect variation.[65]
  • Use of the contraction y'all as the second person plural pronoun.[66] Its uncombined form – you all – is used less frequently.[67]
    • When addressing a group, y'all is general (I know y'all) and is used to address the group as a whole, whereas all y'all is used to emphasize specificity of each and every member of the group ("I know all y'all.") The possessive form of Y'all is created by adding the standard "-'s".
      "I've got y'all's assignments here." /ˈjɔːlz/
    • Y'all is distinctly separate from the singular you. The statement "I gave y'all my truck payment last week," is more precise than "I gave you my truck 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.
    • Some people misinterpret the phrase "all y'all" as meaning that Southerners use the "y'all" as singular and "all y'all" as plural. However, "all y'all" is used to specify that all members of the second person plural (i.e., all persons currently being addressed and/or all members of a group represented by an addressee) are included; that is, it operates in contradistinction to "some of y'all", thereby functioning similarly to "all of you" in standard English.
  • In rural Southern Appalachia an "n" is added to pronouns indicating "one" "his'n" "his one" "her'n" "her one" "Yor'n" "your one" i.e. "his, hers and yours". Another example is yernses. It may be substituted for the 2nd person plural possessive yours.
    "That book is yernses." /ˈjɜrnzɨz/
  • Use of dove as past tense for dive, drug as past tense for drag, brung as past tense for bring, and drunk as past tense for drink.[citation needed]

Shared features[edit]

These grammatical features are characteristic of both older Southern American English and newer Southern American English.

  • Use of done as an auxiliary verb between the subject and verb in sentences conveying the past tense.
    I done told you before.
  • Use of done (instead of did) as the past simple form of do, and similar uses of the past participle in place of the past simple, such as seen replacing saw as past simple form of see.
    I only done what you done told me.
    I seen her first.
  • Use of other non-standard preterites, Such as drownded as the past tense of drown, knowed as past tense of know, choosed as the past tense of choose, degradated as the past tense of degrade.
    I knowed you for a fool soon as I seen you.
  • Use of was in place of were, or other words regularizing the past tense of be to was.[citation needed]
    You was sittin' on that chair.
  • Use of been instead of have been in perfect constructions.
    I been livin' here darn near my whole life.
  • Use of double modals (might could, might should, might would, used to could, etc.--also called "modal stacking") and sometimes even triple modals that involve oughta (like might should oughta)
    I might could climb to the top.
    I used to could do that.
  • Use of (a-)fixin' to, or just "fixing to" in more modern Southern, to indicate immediate future action in place of intending to, preparing to, or about to.
    He's fixin' to eat.
    They're fixing to go for a hike.
  • 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.
  • Saying this here in place of this or this one, and that there in place of that or that one.
    This here's mine and that there is yours.
  • 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.
  • Use of ever in place of every.
    Ever'where's the same these days.
  • Use of "over yonder" in place of "over there" or "in or at that indicated place", especially 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 longer way away, and to a lesser extent, in a wide or loosely defined expanse, as in the church hymn "When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder".[68]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "ASA 147th Meeting Lay Language Papers - The Nationwide Speech Project". 2004-05-27. Retrieved 2012-11-08. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ "American English Dialects". Retrieved 2012-11-08. 
  4. ^ a b Thomas (2006:4, 11)
  5. ^ Stephen J. Nagle & Sara L. Sanders (2003). English in the Southern United States. Cambridge University Press. p. 35[This page differentiates between "Traditional Southern" and "New Southern"] 
  6. ^ "Southern"., based on Random House, Inc. 2014[See definition 7.] 
  7. ^ "Southern". Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, Inc. 2014[See under the "noun" heading.] 
  8. ^ Thomas, Erik R. (2007) "Phonological and phonetic characteristics of African American Vernacular English," Language and Linguistics Compass, 1, 450–75. p. 453
  9. ^ (Thomas (2006)
  10. ^ "Do You Speak American: What Lies Ahead". Retrieved 2007-08-15. 
  11. ^ Map from the Telsur Project. Retrieved 2009-08-03.
  12. ^ Map from Craig M. Carver (1987), American Regional Dialects: A Word Geography, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Retrieved 2009-08-03
  13. ^ (Thomas (2006:4)
  14. ^ Even in 2012 Random House Dictionary labels due, new and tune as having the /yu/ sound as a variant pronunciation.
  15. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:53–54)
  16. ^ a b c Thomas (2006:17)
  17. ^ Thomas (2006:3, 16)
  18. ^ Thomas (2006:15)
  19. ^ a b Thomas (2006:6)
  20. ^ a b Thomas (2006:18)
  21. ^ a b (Thomas (2006:8)
  22. ^ a b c (Thomas (2006:12)
  23. ^ a b c Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:259-260)
  24. ^ (Thomas (2006:9)
  25. ^ "The Dialect of the Appalachian People". Retrieved 2012-11-08. 
  26. ^ (Thomas (2006:16)
  27. ^ a b Dubois, Sylvia and Barbara Horvath (2004). "Cajun Vernacular English: phonology." In Bernd Kortmann and Edgar W. Schneider (Ed). A Handbook of Varieties of English: A Multimedia Reference Tool. New York: Mouton de Gruyter. p. 412-4.
  28. ^ a b c d Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:260-1)
  29. ^ Alvarez, Louis (director) (1985). Yeah You Rite! (Short documentary film). USA: Center for New American Media. 
  30. ^ "neutral ground". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000. Retrieved 2008-09-08. 
  31. ^ "banquette". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000. Retrieved 2008-09-15. 
  32. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:137)
  33. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:137)
  34. ^ Southard, Bruce. "Speech Patterns". Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Oklahoma Historical Society. Retrieved May 26, 2010. 
  35. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:141)
  36. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:263)
  37. ^ Thomas (2006:14)
  38. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:137)
  39. ^ Thomas (2006:9)
  40. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:261)
  41. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:137)
  42. ^ Thomas (2006:16)
  43. ^ A Handbook of Varieties of English, Bernd Kortmann & Edgar W. Schneider, Walter de Gruyter, 2004, p. 317.
  44. ^ Thomas (2006:1–2)
  45. ^ Heggarty, Paul et al, eds. (2013). "Accents of English from Around the World". University of Edinburgh. 
  46. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:244)
  47. ^ A Handbook of Varieties of English: Volume 1, p. 301, 311-312
  48. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:245)
  49. ^ a b Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:248)
  50. ^ a b Thomas (2006:5)
  51. ^ Stephen J. Nagle & Sara L. Sanders (2003). English in the Southern United States. Cambridge University Press. p. 151. 
  52. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:69–73)
  53. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:254)
  54. ^ Thomas (2006:7)
  55. ^ Wolfram (2004:55)
  56. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:148, 150)
  57. ^ American Varieties: Texan English. Public Broadcasting Service. MacNeil/Lehrer Productions. 2005.
  58. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:131, 164, 254)
  59. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:69)
  60. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:254)
  61. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:181)
  62. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:68)
  63. ^ a b c d Dubois, Sylvia and Barbara Horvath (2004). "Cajun Vernacular English: phonology." In Bernd Kortmann and Edgar W. Schneider (Ed). A Handbook of Varieties of English: A Multimedia Reference Tool. New York: Mouton de Gruyter. p. 409-10.
  64. ^ (Thomas (2006)
  65. ^ a b
  66. ^ Harvard Dialect Survey - word use: a group of two or more people.
  67. ^ Hazen, Kirk and Fluharty, Ellen. "Linguistic Diversity in the South: changing Codes, Practices and Ideology". Page 59. Georgia University Press; 1st Edition: 2004. ISBN .0-8203-2586-4
  68. ^ Regional Note from The Free Dictionary


  1. ^ The only notable exceptions of the South being a subset of the "Southeastern super-region" are two Southern metropolitan areas, described as such because they participate in Stage 1 of the Southern Vowel Shift, but lack the other defining Southeastern features: Savannah, Georgia and Amarillo, Texas.
  • Bernstein, 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. ISBN 0-521-82264-5. 
  • Crystal, David (2000). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-82348-X. 
  • 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. ISBN 0-521-82264-5. 
  • Labov, William; Ash, Sharon; Boberg, Charles (2006), The Atlas of North American English, Berlin: Mouton-de Gruyter, ISBN 3-11-016746-8 
  • Hazen, Kirk, and Fluharty, Ellen (2004). "Defining Appalachian English". In Bender, Margaret. Linguistic Diversity in the South. Athens: University of Georgia Press. ISBN 0-8203-2586-4. 
  • Wolfram, Walt; Schilling-Estes, Natalie (2004), American English (Second ed.), Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing 
  • Thomas, Erik R. (2006), "Rural White Southern Accents" (PDF), Atlas of North American English (online) (Walter de Gruyter) 

External links[edit]