This study investigates how the perception of Southern American English is linked to specific linguistic features, both phonetic and grammatical, in addition to how these features are interpreted differently by two different groups, one Southern and one non-Southern. Using interview-based methodology, I produce a holistic conceptual representation of the identity invoked for each constellation of features for each group and provide a unified framework for features and corresponding associations that previous works have discussed individually. Finally, I analyze imitations offered in interviews, by which means I am able to glean more detailed information from participants than they would otherwise be able to convey without technical terminology. The Southern group distinguished two classes of linguistic features, which I term phonetic and grammatical features. This distinction allowed two separate constellations of associations with Southern American English, one generally positive and one generally negative. The grammatical features were considered bad English and associated with a lack of education, while the phonetic features, such as the Southern Vowel Shift, deletion of /t/, and realization of (ING) as [-ɪn], were regarded as merely an accent and interpreted as laid-back. In addition, Southern American English was associated with politeness and humility. For some features, especially t/d-deletion and alveolar (ING), the perception as positive or negative varied dramatically with the context. The non-Southern group, on the other hand, interpreted every aspect of Southern American English as negative, from grammar to phonetics. Notably, the Southern Vowel Shift, perceived as abnormally slowed speech, was thought to correlate to slower cognitive processing, and grammatical features were interpreted as demonstrating lack of education or even stupidity. Concomitant associations included religiosity, xenophobia and racism, and jingoism.
Language ideologies, Sociolinguistics, Language and identity, Southern American English
Level of Degree
Department of Linguistics
First Committee Member (Chair)
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Hayes, Dean. "The Southern Accent and "Bad English": A Comparative Perceptual Study of the Conceptual Network between Southern Linguistic Features and Identity." (2013). https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/ling_etds/15