Lamont Antieau

University of Georgia


Perceptions of Lexical Variation in Southern American English: Views from the Rocky Mountain Region

This paper studies the perceptions of rural, elderly Colorado natives by analyzing comments recorded in interviews for the Linguistic Atlas of the Western States pertaining to lexical variation in the United States. In particular, I will examine the records of several Colorado informants who attribute lexical variants not currently used in their own speech communities to varieties of American English spoken in the southern United States. The goal is to determine why speakers of American English in the Rocky Mountains should find southern variants salient, while generally ignoring lexical variation associated with other regions in the United States.

The study will first test the geographical distribution of lexical variants proposed by informants with the findings of Atlas surveys collected in the eastern United States. Preliminary results of this analysis find the claims of the Colorado informants to be generally accurate, providing evidence that the South is not only linguistically very salient to speakers in the northern United States, as observed by Niedzielski and Preston (2000: 119), but to speakers of American English in other parts of the United States as well. At the same time, these findings provide evidence to support the observations of Reed (1967: 54) and others that Colorado is largely a mixture of northern and midland influences. Additionally, there is evidence that perceptions of lexical differences are associated with perceived cultural differences between the southern United States and the Rocky Mountains. For example, one Colorado informant suggests that the reason for variation in words for cornbread could be the popularity of cornbread in the South, while other informants suggest that the reasons for other variants are purely arbitrary. Finally, I will argue that perceptual studies like these are crucial to understanding the nature of dialects and dialect formation.

Niedzielski, Nancy A. and Dennis R. Preston. 2000. Folk Linguistics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Reed, Carroll E. 1967. Dialects of American English. Cleveland: World.