Crawford Feagin

Arlington, Virginia

Audio | Handout

A Hundred Years of Sound Change in Alabama

Recorded sociolinguistic interviews with native white Alabamians from Anniston were collected between 1968 and 1973, with a built-in apparent time factor. The speakers consisted of an evenly distributed sample of older men and women born between 1882 and 1907 and teenagers born between 1953 and 1956. The speakers were evenly distributed between local upper and working classes, with a category of older rural working class speakers. In 1990, another survey of that city was undertaken using the same interview schedule, interviewer, and equipment. This time a new cohort of teenagers, both working class and upper class, was interviewed, born between 1973 and 1975. In addition, the previous "teenagers" were traced, and some re-interviewed.

The variables examined include post-vocalic tautosyllabic r (core/heart/mother) , long i (nice/might/pipe), long open o (law/caught), short a (man/bad), and on-glided u (tune/duke/ news) (Feagin 1990, 1993, 1994, 1996a, 1996b), as well as vowel shifting (Feagin 2002).

Four types of changes were observed, ranging from no change over the past 100 years, changes completed in three generations, new changes entering the community, and on-going change. These changes are distributed differently by age and social class, allowing a view of the dynamics and ordering of the changes as they go through the community and through the various linguistic environments.

What are the social and linguistic motivations for these changes--or lack of change? Local loyalty and accommodation to non-local values, intermixed with self-identification all seem to drive these opposing developments, mainly below the level of consciousness. Linguistically, the changes appear to be driven by both internal and external factors-- that is, general linguistic pressures and principles as well as contact with non-local varieties.

While the details here apply only to this data set, that is, to Anniston, similar developments and dynamics can be observed across the American South, though with different timing and perhaps different ordering (e.g., Baranowski 2000; Crane 1977; Feagin 2002; Fridland 1999, 2001; Labov et al. in press; Phillips 1981; Schoenweitz 2001; Thomas 2001; Tillery 1989).

References
Crane, Benjamin. 1977. The social stratification of /ai/ among white speakers in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Papers in Language
    Variation, ed.by David Shores and Carole P. Hines, 189-200. Tuscaloosa. University of Alabama Press.
Baranowski, Maciej. 2000. Changes in the Vowel System of Charleston, S. C. University of Pennsylvania Master's Thesis.
Feagin, Crawford. 1990 The Dynamics of a Sound Change in Southern States English: From R-less to R-ful in Three Generations,
    Development and Diversity: Linguistic Variation across Time and Space , ed. by J. Edmondson et al., 129-146.
    SIL /University of Texas, Arlington.
Feagin, Crawford. 1993 Low back vowels in Alabama: Yet another merger? (poster) NWAVE XXII, Ottawa
Feagin, Crawford. 1994. "Long i" as a Microcosm of Southern States Speech, NWAVE XXIII, Stanford.
Feagin, Crawford. 1996a Peaks and Glides in Southern States Short-A. Towards a Social Science of Language: Variation and
    Change in Language and Society ed. by Gregory Guy et al., 135-160 Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Feagin, Crawford. 1996b The Disappearance of On-glided U in Southern States English. South Atlantic American Dialect Society,
    Savannah.
Feagin, Crawford. 2003 Vowel Shifting in the Southern States English in the Southern United States, ed. by Stephen J. Nagle and
    Sara L. Sanders, 126-140. Cambridge University Press.
Fridland, Valerie. 1999. The Southern Shift in Memphis, Tennessee. Language Variation and Change 11: 267-285.
Fridland, Valerie. 2001. The social dimension of the Southern Vowel Shift: Gender, age and class. Journal of Sociolinguistics 5:
    233-253.
Labov, Wiliam, Sharon Ash, Charles Boberg. In press. Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Phillips, Betty S. 1981. Lexical diffusion and Southern Tune/Duke/News. American Speech 56:7 -78.
Schoenweitz, Thomas. 2001. Gender and postvocalic /r/ in the American South: A Detailed Socioregional Analysis.
    American Speech 76:259-285.
Thomas, Erik. R. 2001. An Acoustic Analysis of Vowel Variation in New World English. Publication of the American Dialect
    Society, 85.
Tillery, Jan. 1989. The merger of /)/ and /a/ in Texas: A study of sociological and linguistic constraints. Texas A & M master's
    thesis.