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Review of  English in the Southern United States

Reviewer: Jo Tyler
Book Title: English in the Southern United States
Book Author: Stephen J. Nagle Sara L. Sanders
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 14.2479

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Date: Wed, 17 Sep 2003 06:33:35 -0400
From: Jo Tyler
Subject: English in the Southern US (Festschrift for Michael

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

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

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

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 identities.


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.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER 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.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0521822645
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 260
Prices: U.K. £ 40
U.S. $ 55