Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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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 Montgomery)
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 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.
SYNOPSIS OF CHAPTERS
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. contact.
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 dialects.
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:
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.