Dennis R. Preston

Michigan State University


That's What I Like About the South

In several studies, I have shown that US attitudes towards Southern US English (SUSE) move back and forth along the two principal dimensions of language attitude study in general - regard for 1) the standard language of overt prestige and 2) the pleasant language of covert prestige. Northern respondents (e.g., from Michigan) find their own language correct and SUSE incorrect, but they are less certain of their own variety's pleasantness and seem aware of some greater pleasantness for SUSE. Southern respondents (e.g., from Alabama) are more ambivalent about correctness everywhere, but they are absolutely certain (as certain as Northerners are about local correctness) of their own variety's pleasantness.

More recent research seeks further information about the position of SUSE in the public mind, mouth, and ear across several dimensions:1) What specific linguistic features are perceived as belonging to SUSE, and what sort of use do nonlinguists make of each in recognizing, evaluating, and caricaturing (including imitating) SUSE? 2) What folk theory (or theories) of language lie behind attitudes towards SUSE? Is there any evidence that such theories are changing in light of some apparent amelioration of the negative attitudes towards SUSE?

I will report on several sociophonetic experiments and analyses with regard to the questions in 1) and on the analysis of discoursal evidence with regard to the questions asked in 2). As I reported in LAVIS II, I believe the South is still a "touchstone" for US dialect recognition and regard; it is always there first in the minds of nonlinguists, but that its overwhelming presence and importance is purely a reflection of the well-known US doctrine of language correctness is perhaps these days not as clear as it might have seemed at the time of LAVIS II.