Walt Wolfram

North Carolina State University

Audio | Handout

Perspectives on LAVIS III

LAVIS III represents an impressive thematic and programmatic expansion in the study of language diversity in the American South. The range of topics and the significance of the issues raised at this conference indicate the enduring linguistic resources—and intrigue—of the region. In part, the impressive array of themes considered at LAVIS III is due to the thoughtful inclusion of topics omitted at previous LAVIS conferences, such as the status of indigenous languages and European languages in the South, and the links of Southern speech to the Caribbean. At the same time, changing social circumstances and sociolinguistic situations have generated new topics for investigation. For example, shifting demographic situations that include proliferating interregional migration within the US and the emergence of new Latino and Asian communities in some regions of the South have raised important questions about the dynamics of evolving language contact situations. At the same time, advancing methodologies that provide ready access to instrumentation and innovative experimentation techniques are helping address once-elusive research questions related to language production and perception. On an applied level, there is an increasing concern for informal and formal language awareness programs and an ongoing commitment to address issues of linguistic inequality.

There are, of course, fundamental questions that remain elusive. Defining the South linguistically, regionally, culturally, and ideologically is still fair game, even as this region becomes increasingly commodified—linguistically and otherwise. There is also continuing debate about the primary linguistic features and levels of language organization that mark varieties of Southern English, and continuing questions about language change. For example, is the now-canonical Southern Vowel Shift accelerating, receding, or perhaps even both under different sociohistorical conditions? Not surprisingly, there are lingering questions about how African American English originated and evolved in time and place throughout the South and beyond? Though the original Anglicist and Creolist hypotheses have been reformulated into the Neo-Anglicist and Substrate hypotheses, respectively, there is persistent controversy—and polemic—about the early development of AAE and its contemporary trajectory(ies) of change. Furthermore, the effects of individual characteristics, various social groupings, sociopyschological attributes, and even broadly based ideologies now figure more prominently in sociolinguistic description and explanation. Meanwhile, there is more critical scrutiny of constructs such as race, ethnicity, gender, and status. There is also more attention to the roles and responsibilities of researchers within communities where they conduct research and serious discussion of power and empowerment in researcher-researched relationships.

With some confidence that the past is a prologue to the future, we can be assured that LAVIS IV, scheduled to take place at North Carolina State University, April 9-12, 2015, will build upon many of the theoretical, descriptive, and engaged themes examined at this conference. At the same time, we may anticipate some major sociolinguistic shifts that take place to ensure that this region will remain a rich resource for the development of innovative and reconstructed approaches to language variation.