LINGUIST List 11.2636

Tue Dec 5 2000

Sum: Attitudes Towards Southern American English

Editor for this issue: Marie Klopfenstein <>


  1. Barbara Soukup, Re: Language attitudes towards Southern AE

Message 1: Re: Language attitudes towards Southern AE

Date: Mon, 04 Dec 2000 14:14:46
From: Barbara Soukup <>
Subject: Re: Language attitudes towards Southern AE

Dear linguists,
About two years ago I sent out an enquiry for material about language 
attitudes towards Southern American English, as I was working on my MA 
thesis based on a field study with the same topic. I got many helpful 
contributions on the subject; and back then some people also indicated that 
they would like to hear about the outcome of my study. As it is now 
finished, I just wanted to give a little summary here for those still 
interested. For the record: What I did was an adapted matched guise test 
with a population of some three hundred U.S. undergraduate students from New 
England and Tennessee. The students were asked to evaluate four speaker 
samples (two with a Southern, two with a 'neutral' accent, with male and 
female sample respectively) on semantic differential scales. The setting 
chosen for the study was a job interview situation in sales.
As it turned out, the data strongly confirmed that a Southern accent is a 
first strike against any job applicant. In the statistical evaluation, I 
filtered out three factors for the analysis - 'competence' (intelligence, 
education, etc), 'personal integrity' (honesty, politeness..) and 'social 
attractiveness' (friendliness, sense of humor..). The Southerners 
distinctively lost out on 'competence', which the informants ultimately 
deemed most important for job performance. 'Personal integrity' scores were 
distributed more evenly, with only the Southern male speaker consistently 
coming in last. 'Social attractiveness' scores were, interestingly enough, 
led by the Southern female, but this did not endorse her scores for job 
performance at all.
Throughout, a sort of 'country boying' phenomenon could be recorded for the 
Southern female (i.e. some comments on her special 'charm'). For the 
Southern male, no 'covert prestige' phenomenon whatsoever was found in the 
Southern informant sample, just as in general the Tennessee students were 
quite relentless with the Southern 'job applicants', sometimes giving even 
lower scores than the New England students.
In short, then, language attitudes towards Southern American English were 
rather negative throughout the tested sample. Positive associations with 
Southern speech could not compensate for the many negative impressions 
called up. A Southern accent was generally perceived as low-status and 
non-standard by the students, though they conceded that it might 'work' 
within the South itself.
For those who would like to read the results in more detail, I have posted 
an abstract of my original MA thesis on the internet under
Thanks again for the contributions from Linguistlist!
Barbara Soukup from the University of Vienna, Austria.
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