Thomas E. Nunnally

Auburn University


Pastor, Pitchman, Politician: Examining Variation of Southern States English Features Among Three Georgians According to Current Theories of Language Variation

Considerable quantitative work on Southern States English in general and the English of particular states and ethnic groups within the South has informed the massive amount of scholarship upon which LAVIS III is built (LAGS, LAMSAS, LAVIS I, LAVIS II, TELSUR Project, PST, SOD, etc.). Less numerous, but still important, are qualitative studies, such as those of Johnstone and Cukor-Avila published in the LAVIS II volume (1997), which place the idiolectic particulars of a speaker or small group of speakers within the larger regional context and outlines provided by the quantitatively driven studies. Such micro-studies are needed in that the generalizing act of compiling statistics of variable use lessens the ability to understanding individual variation. It is therefore necessary to look closely at a particular speaker to understand how the generalizations about a language variety and its variables actually play out within the web of competing forces, language ideologies, social constraints, background experiences, and personal attitudes that make a person's language uniquely his or her own. Besides micro-analysis, another important but seldom explored research topic is the comparative evaluation of different models and theories of linguistic behavior, a project requiring the bringing of their various claims and insights to bear upon the same data. Note that this endeavor differs greatly from an eclectic approach that picks and chooses what the researcher deems useful from various hands. Rather, the comparison of theories/models has as an important goal the evaluation of what each can or cannot offer in regard to clarifying the complexities of data. This study includes analyses of public speech by three later-middle-aged White males native to Georgia in order to study their incidence and variation of the common SSE features monophthongized /aI/ and non-constricted post-vocalic /r/. Each subject uses the variables, but frequency among the three varies strikingly: one, a nationally-known politician, has largely removed the SSE variants except in certain sentential and syllabic contexts; another, a radio and television voice-over announcer, has obviously tried to remove them, considering them undesirable according to his own testimony, but has nonetheless retained them against his will, again in describable contexts; the third, a very successful mainline minister in a large urban church, seems to relish their use and hardly ever varies them with standard forms. Using the subjects’ patterns of variation, the study will bring to bear upon the data a selection of current theories/models to investigate their explanatory power. Some of the possible approaches to be discussed, as time permits, are Speech Accommodation Theory (now usually Communication AT), social identity formation, Audience Design, the Markedness Model, socially motivated sound change, language (vernacular) maintenance, standardization ideology, quasi-standard and regional-standard ideology, the critical period hypothesis, perceptual dialectology, social network theory, and salience theory. This paper will therefore provide description of idiolectal variation, as a salutary contrast to homogenized variational studies, and explanation of it as far as the theories surveyed allow.