LINGUIST List 14.2479

Thu Sep 18 2003

Review: Sociolinguistics: Nagle & Sanders, ed. (2003)

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  1. Jo Tyler, English in the Southern US

Message 1: English in the Southern US

Date: Wed, 17 Sep 2003 22:17:25 +0000
From: Jo Tyler <>
Subject: English in the Southern US

Nagle, Stephen J. and Sara L. Sanders, ed. (2003) English in the
Southern United States, Cambridge University Press, Studies in English
Language Series.

Announced at

Jo Tyler, Center for Graduate and Professional Studies, Mary
Washington College

English in the Southern United States, a volume in the Cambridge
Studies in English Language series, is a readily accessible and
representative volume of essays by leading researchers on the dialects
of the South. Following 'Notes on the Contributors' and
'Acknowledgments,' the book contains an Introduction by the editors,
12 authored chapters, References (25 pgs.), and an Index (12 pgs.).
This review describes each chapter separately and concludes with a
general commentary on the entire volume.


In their Introduction, Nagle and Sanders point out that there has been
no comprehensive substantive work on the subject of Southern American
dialects, and their intent with this volume is to fill that void. But
the book has another purpose as well. Nagle and Sanders recognize the
influence of Michael Montgomery: ''his imprint is found in virtually
every research area within the study of Southern English'' (p. 1).
The dedication page bears Montgomery's name, and indeed the volume is
a festschrift in his honor. Although Montgomery did not author a
chapter in this volume, virtually every chapter opens with background
citations to his work, and the entire volume certainly stands as a
record of his scholarship and a monument to his vast contributions in
this field.

Chapter 1, by John Algeo, is also introductory, and provides an
overview of the origins of Southern American English (SAE), including
Scots-Irish and African influences as well as the English core, and
emphasizing the subvarieties within this dialect family. In addition,
this brief chapter introduces two of the main themes that reemerge
throughout the volume: conservatism vs. innovation, and isolation vs.

Chapter 2, by Edgar W. Schneider, develops the first of those themes,
focusing on the myth that Southern dialects are a ''retention of
'Shakespearean English''' (p. 18). To test this retentionist
hypothesis, Schneider brings together phonological, morphosyntactic
and lexical data, and concludes that ''while there is some limited
continuity of forms derived from British dialects, there is also a
great deal of internal dynamics [and] innovation'' (p. 34). Most of
the similarities between British and SAE dialects can be accounted for
by general patterns found in numerous varieties of English around the
world, and many of the most salient and distinguishing features of SAE
occurred nowhere in Shakespeare's English. One of the most intriguing
aspects of Schneider's article is his discussion of the development
and perpetuation of the retentionist myth, and he also provides
insight into the methodologies of and data sources for historical
dialect comparison.

Chapter 3, by Laura Wright, examines some grammatical features of
Southern white vernacular English (SWVE) and African American
Vernacular English (AAVE) that did occur as variants in Early Modern
English, including invariant BE, variation of verbal *s, 'liketa',
nonstandard preterits, and a-prefixation. She presents a close
analysis of court records involving transportees from London to the
Virginia colony as evidence that these features of SWVE and AAVE were
present in the speech of some of the late 16th and early 17th century
English underclass. Although Wright concludes that the transportees
speech ''would have formed a part of the mix of the emerging Virginia
dialect?and probably greatly influenced its basilect'' (p. 37), her
data consists of written records of relatively few speakers and a
total database of about 150,000 words. Nevertheless, the data
suggests a common source for numerous features of both African
American and Southern white vernaculars.

Chapter 4, by Salikoko S. Mufwene, provides another view of historical
evidence for the shared ancestry of AAVE and SAE varieties. Mufwene
sets forth the Divergence Hypothesis, that the speech of Southern
whites and blacks was very similar until the Reconstruction era of the
late 19th century, and that they have been diverging ever since. He
focuses on the similarities between AAVE and SAE, and provides
indirect evidence from the socioeconomic history of the antebellum
South to argue that there was enough contact between blacks and whites
to account for the similarities. The similarities that still exist
today were well enough entrenched to withstand the subsequent
segregation of blacks as well as the increasing contact between
speakers of SAE and other varieties.

Chapter 5, by Patricia Cukor-Avila, also examines the similarities
between AAVE and SWVE, beginning with an overview of the debate over
the Creole Hypothesis and the Divergence Hypothesis. She supports the
Divergence Hypothesis with a longitudinal study of a small Texas
community. She concludes that the community's rural economy supported
a great deal of contact between African Americans and whites until
World War II, and that increased segregation and urbanization after
the war account for some of the changes that have occurred in both

Chapter 6, by Cynthia Bernstein, presents an overview of scholarly
debates on 3 lexico-grammatical features of SAE: yall, might could,
and fixin to. For each item, she summarizes what (little) is known of
its origin, its usage across regional and social groups, its status as
a dialect marker, and its status in terms of grammaticalization. One
trend noted is that all 3 items seem to be increasing in usage, with
yall leading and spreading outside of the South.

Chapter 7, by George Dorrill, briefly summarizes research that has
been done on the phonetics and phonology of SAE, particularly through
linguistic surveys, covering over 50 years of data collection, from
the 1930s to the 1980s. Dorrill notes the regional, socioeconomic,
and ethnic varieties within SAE, and highlights trends involving
monopthongization of /ay/, presence or absence of post vocalic /r/,
and merger of /I/ and /E/ before nasals as features of the variation.

Chapter 8, by Crawford Feagin, presents a more detailed examination of
the Southern Vowel Shift, beginning with an introductory description
of the components of the shift, discussion of regional variation, and
description of data collection methods. He points out, not
incidentally, that the shift, which is otherwise spreading throughout
the south, is not taking place among African Americans. Feagin then
focuses on research conducted in separate regions and suggests that
particularly in the Inland South, shift phenomena are led by working
class speakers and are moving from smaller communities to urban areas.

Chapter 9, by Walt Wolfram, describes his work on dialect enclaves,
which not only provides ''a window into the earlier structure of
evolving vernacular varieties'' (p. 141), but also an understanding of
the effects of dialect contact. Wolfram begins with a detailed
definition of 'dialect enclave', focusing on the concept of a
constructed identity and ''a strong sense of localized place''
(p. 144). In discussing the linguistic structures represented in 7
southern dialect enclaves, he points out that few of the dialect
features are unique to a specific enclave community, and that their
perceived uniqueness comes from different permutations among a common
range of features. Wolfram concludes that although insularity is a
historical factor in each community, contact and mobility are
increasing, and that the enclave dialects themselves are more dynamic
than static.

Chapter 10, by Jan Tillery and Guy Bailey, summarizes some of the
widespread phonological and grammatical changes that have occurred in
SAE and offer analysis based on socioeconomic historical factors.
Focusing on prototypical features of SAE, Tillery and Bailey identify
several that are in decline (a-prefixation, plural verbal *s, and 11
others) and several other innovative features (/I/ and /E/ merger,
'yall', and 15 others) on the rise. A series of charts graphically
underscore their findings that ''the most dramatic expansion of almost
all of the innovative features and the most dramatic decline of the
recessive ones began around World War II'' and that that war ''has
reshaped SAE more than any other event in its 400-year history'' (p.
166). In discussing the social motivations for these changes, Tillery
and Bailey cite the growth of the urban population in the South as the
impetus for contact between rural and urban, northern and southern,
and black and white varieties and the explanation for changing trends
in the dialects.

Chapter 11, by Connie C. Eble, focuses on Cajun English and varieties
of New Orleans English. Her interest is in ''how the perceptions,
feelings and opinions of users contribute to the workings of
language'' (p. 173). Drawing data from linguistic surveys and from
the 'folk linguistic industry', she points out that although the
socioeconomic factors that shaped southern Louisiana culture no longer
have much influence, features of the language, like the food and the
music, represent the ''salable identity to outsiders'' (p. 179). Eble
concludes her chapter with glossaries of Cajun and New Orleans terms.

Chapter 12, by Barbara Johnstone, describes features of southern
style, such as deferential politeness, rhetorical verbal artistry, and
storytelling practices. She then summarizes four case studies
describing how and why features of southern style are utilized,
avoided or exploited by three women in different social contexts.
While she points out that these examples do not represent the range of
variation in southern discourse styles, they do demonstrate some of
the linguistic resources available to southerners and their strategies
for ''sounding southern'' as part of their performed social


One of the best aspects of this volume is that it represents just a
sampling of the range and variety of work that has been accomplished
in the study of SAE. This might be a criticism in another review, but
what one takes away from this volume is not only insight into the
historical roots, the social evolution, and the distinctive structures
of English in the Southern US, but also an appreciation of the rich
contributions the study of southern varieties has made in the broader
field of sociolinguistics. In fact, this volume could easily serve as
a supplementary text for an introductory course, since each article
provides general theoretical background as well as clear explanations
of various research methodologies, including corpus studies, surveys,
discourse analysis, and ethnography. Although the primary themes
revolve around contact and change, it deals to some extent with nearly
all of the main topics in sociolinguistics, including accommodation
theory, variation theory, social structures, social roles, speech
acts, creolization, language policy, etc. And while a volume on SAE
might be considered one dimensional, the coverage actually includes
numerous varieties including AAVE, Cajun English, Coastal and Inland
varieties, urban and rural varieties, and historical and present day
varieties of both southern and British English. Furthermore, every
level of linguistic analysis is covered, from phonetics, phonology and
morphosyntax to lexicon and discourse.

Another remarkable feature of the book is the editing. Nagle and
Sanders have done a masterful job of creating a concise and coherent
whole from a series of articles that deal with all of the topics just
mentioned. Not only are the articles consistently accessible, but
they are also carefully sequenced so that what emerges is both a
broader and more detailed picture of the structures and contexts of
southern dialects and their evolution. The organization of the
articles seems to build and support two emerging theses that weave
through the study of SAE. First, there is strong evidence that the
varieties of SAE, while sharing traditional roots, are neither
linguistically conservative nor ecologically endangered. Second, the
social history of the south, the events and institutions that endow
the region with its cultural character, is also responsible for the
interplay of language contact and change, regional pride, social
segregation and geographical isolation, that have together shaped and
characterized most varieties of Southern English.

A minor weakness in this collection is the inconsistency in depth of
some of the articles. The offerings by Algeo and Dorrill, for
example, are very brief overviews, while those by Wright, and Feagin
provide a great deal of detailed data and analysis. As indicated
above, however, this is also a necessary feature in a book intended
for an audience of specialists and nonspecialists alike.

The only other drawback to this otherwise representative selection of
essays is that the work of Michael Montgomery is only indirectly
present. As explained in the Introduction, this volume is a tribute
to perhaps the most influential scholar of SAE linguistics, and upon
reading every contributor's recognition of Montgomery's work, one is
impelled to peruse this volume's bibliography and delve into some of
the more than 30 books and articles by Montgomery that are listed.


Jo Tyler is Associate Professor of Linguistics and Education at Mary
Washington College, Fredericksburg, Virginia. Although trained in
structural theoretical linguistics (Ph.D. University of Florida,
1999), she currently teaches courses in applied linguistics,
acquisition, and cross-cultural communication, and conducts research
on standardization and variation analysis.
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