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Subject: Regional Accent Revival Initiatives
Question: Dear Ask-A-Linguist Panelists,

A friend and I were discussing how regional accents are becoming
less and less common throughout the U.S. We noticed the Tidewater
Accent, once prevalent throughout coastal Maryland and Virginia, is
now nearly completely extinct with the exception of older speakers.
We also noticed this patter in a number of other areas such as
Boston, New York, and Baltimore. Baltimore no longer feels for lack
of a better term like a "southern" city.

We mused over the idea of finding a way to revive such accents once
more, particularly among younger generations, to continue the culture
and history that goes with those dialects and accents. Do you know
of any such attempts at revival? Or better yet, how would one most
effectively accomplish such a task? Purely hypothetical of course.

Thanks, WG

Reply: I can't comment on the situation in the USA specifically, not being an American; but as a fact about language generally, I would say that whether local forms of language survive or fade out is determined by sociological considerations which have much greater force over individuals' speech habits, I'm afraid, than any preservation campaign would be able to muster. It was very clearly established (by an American linguist, William Labov, studying the speech of an island called Martha's Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts) that whether a particular individual uses the traditional speech patterns of his locality, or adopts a wider standard from outside, goes with his self-identification as a community member: in that case, some islanders thought of themselves as islanders through and through, and they went on speaking the traditional way, whereas others thought of themselves as Americans who just happened to be born on that island (but might well move away), and they abandoned the local speech and spoke like other Americans. This is an entirely representative example, I believe, and it has rather pessimistic implications for the kind of "revival campaign" you are thinking about. Sorry!

Geoffrey Sampson
Reply From: Geoffrey Richard Sampson      click here to access email
 
Date: 15-Mar-2013
 
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Regional Accent Revival Initiatives    Nancy J. Frishberg     (15-Mar-2013)
  2. Re: Regional Accent Revival Initiatives    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (15-Mar-2013)
  3. Re: Regional Accent Revival Initiatives    Susan D Fischer     (16-Mar-2013)

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