Decline of Southern English
0 comment Tuesday, September 9, 2014 |
Recently I read this Daily Mail article on the decline of the Southern American dialect, and of course this is a subject that is close to my heart.
According to a recent study, the upper and middle classes in the South are especially prone to lose their Southern accent or speech pattern.
The article quotes a Robin Dodsworth, the linguistics professor who collected recordings of Southern speech for the study. At the conclusion of the article, Dodsworth says that
''It's not realistic to talk about "saving" a dialect or accent,' she said, 'because the fact of life is that dialects change.
'The Southern accent the way we think of it now is different than the way people in the South talked 50 years ago, 100 years ago, and so forth.'
Oh yes, this is the politically correct 'descriptive-not-prescriptive' approach to linguistics, which I learned at the feet of my lefty linguistics teacher in college in the late 70s.
The thinking behind it is that standards are elitist, and that language is organic; it just grows, and nobody should try to control the growth in any direction; just let it follow its natural course like a meandering river. Grammar rules should not be emphasized, says this school of thought, because it stifles natural growth and change. Ebonics should be allowed to flourish, of course, because it is a natural outgrowth from vibrant black culture. Now, I wonder what Dodsworth would say if someone said they wanted to 'save' the black American dialect? I have a feeling the answer would be very different.
I didn't buy the PC view of linguistics back in college and I don't now. I think that 'change' in language, just as in culture generally, should be kept within limits, and that's done by not giving way to every change that comes along, such as ephemeral slang, (as the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary recently did) and by not letting things like social change and mass media influence change the regional dialects willy-nilly. Language would change in a chaotic way if we did not make efforts to preserve existing speech habits.
I've written before about how the Southern American dialect has been declining in recent decades, and how I noticed that the younger generations often speak a kind of generic media English and not the Southron dialect that their parents and grandparents speak. It shouldn't even be necessary to explain why I think that is a shame.
Michael at the Southern Nationalist Network blog writes about the Daily Mail article here. He notes that the media and the schools promote a negative view of our culture and Southron people, and that the message being received by young people about their heritage, including their dialect, is a negative one.
Just as most nationalists from around the world emphasize the importance of language in preserving a sense of identity and heritage, those with roots in the South should recognize that language is vital to a healthy sense of identity and heritage. The erosion of the dialect weakens the culture and the people of the South.
There's little doubt that many Americans outside the South tend to have a negative perception of Southern people, based on their speech patterns. I recently had someone tell me that she thought a certain new neighbor from the South was 'stupid' when she first met him, ''because of his accent.'' I am not sure why many Northerners think that people from the South sound 'ignorant' or dull-witted. Is it because of the comparatively slow way of speaking, the fabled 'drawl'? Or is it because of different locutions, syntax and grammar among real Southern speakers? Of course these critics take it for granted that their way of speaking is the 'right' way, without realizing that there are actually different dialects that have their own conventions and habits? This same acquaintance tends to think that any deviations from the dialect she speaks are absurd or wrong. That, my friends, is ignorance.
I think it's a shame that many young people think they need to conform to mass media English, as spoken on TV and in movies. They perceive the dialect their forefathers spoke as 'backward' or embarrassing. I understand the desire for peer approval at that age. When I first came up North as a teenager, I succumbed to the pressure to talk like those around me, because of the teasing and giggles that my accent elicited from my classmates. However pride in my heritage eventually overcame the desire to 'fit in'. I can speak 'standard' English if I choose, or I can revert to what is comfortable and speak Southron. It is true, also, that we tend to be influenced unconsciously by the way people speak around us, and being surrounded by 'standard' American English affects everybody, I suspect. And then there is the growing influence of black idioms: words like 'ho' and bling and other such ''enrichments.''
But what can we do? In the Daily Mail article, Dodsworth says that we can just 'keep speaking that way' and thus preserve our ways. It may not be that easy, especially with the societal change going on around us. I think there should be some effort to hold onto our linguistic heritage, and again, Michael at SNN speaks about such efforts in the video here.
He puts forth some good ideas on how this might be done. One of the projects mentioned is a Southern lexicon or dictionary. I had thought of doing that as a personal project over the last few years, but I think it needs to be a collaborative project with a number of people involved. There are a lot of different variations of the Southern dialect, and input from many different people would be ideal. Michael says contributions to a dictionary are welcome, and I think it's a worthwhile project.
I expect to have more to say about this in another post.
What say you all?

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