Susan Tamasi

University of Georgia


A Cognitive Model of Southern Speech

This research explores the attitudes and perceptions that nonlinguists have about Southern American English (SAE) and analyzes how this knowledge is cognitively organized. Previous studies (cf. Preston 1993; 1997) have shown that the South commonly appears as the most salient dialect group in folk linguistic study and that it is considered to be an area of “incorrect,” yet “pleasant” speech. The aim of this paper is to present a cognitive model that accounts for these perceptions. Using qualitative and quantitative data from a study in which sixty respondents from Georgia and New Jersey were interviewed, I not only review what types of information are associated with Southern speech, but I also show how this information is cognitively categorized. Specifically, I discuss nonlinguist perceptions as they are associated with regional, social, and linguistic information and show how these different areas are inherently connected in the folk mind. For this, the data are analyzed using a variety of cognitively-based techniques, including cluster analysis and consensus analysis. This information is then compared with nonlinguist attitudes toward other perceived American dialect areas, a comparison that quickly reveals that SAE stands out as the one variety of American English that has the most consistent and most developed set of perceptions associated with it.

Preston, Dennis R. 1997. “The South: The Touchstone.” In Language Variety in the South Revisited, edited by C. Bernstein, T.
    Nunnally and R. Sabino. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press.
Preston, Dennis R. 1993. “Folk Dialectology.” In American Dialect Research, edited by D. R. Preston. Philadelphia: John