Iconic southern accent is slowly disappearing with time, linguists say

An integral part of what makes the American South unique – its iconic drawl – is quickly fading in Georgia, according to collaborative research led by the University of Georgia and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The change began largely with Generation X, or those born between 1965 and 1982, the findings uncovered, as the MTV generation sharply contrasted from the speech patterns of their baby boomer parents or, more specifically, those born between 1943 and 1964.

“We found that, here in Georgia, White English speakers’ accents have been shifting away from the traditional Southern pronunciation for the last few generations,” Dr. Margaret Renwick, an associate professor of linguistics at UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and lead on the study, said, per university news outlet UGA Today.


“Today’s college students don’t sound like their parents, who didn’t sound like their own parents,” she continued.

Using statistical modeling developed by former UGA graduate student and current Brigham Young University professor Joseph A. Stanley, the research focused on voice recordings of 135 White Georgia natives born between the late 19th century to the early 2000s and emphasized vowel pronunciation. Findings indicated a sharp contrast between the way older Georgians articulated certain words compared to their younger counterparts.

“The team found that older Georgians pronounced the word “prize” as prahz and “face” as fuh-eece, but the youngest speakers use prah-eez and fayce,” the outlet reported.


Renwick said one of the “oldest characteristic pronunciation[s]” of southern speech came from changes to the diphthong, or the sound spoken when two vowels are in the same syllable and the speaker’s voice glides between from one vowel’s sound to the next, in the word “prize.”

“The Southern pronunciation of words like ‘face’ emerged in the early 20th century. These are distinctive features of the traditional Southern drawl,” she added.

Dr. Lelia Glass, a professor in the School of Modern Languages at the Georgia Institute of Technology, known more colloquially as Georgia Tech, explained that researchers used a computer and transcribed audio to estimate speakers’ tongue placement while pronouncing each vowel.


“[This] gives us a quantitative metric of accent,” she said. Glass worked in conjunction with student Marcus Ma, who developed a way to streamline the transcription process.

Dr. Jon Forrest, another professor of linguistics at the University of Georgia who co-authored the study, said the ever-shifting demographics of the South as people moved into the area after the Second World War are a large culprit behind the change, and it isn’t exclusive to Georgia.

“We are seeing similar shifts across many regions, and we might find people in California, Atlanta, Boston and Detroit that have similar speech characteristics,” he said.

These shifts specifically in Georgia, according to information Dr. Renwick provided in an email to FOX News Digital, meant people born after the 1960s grew up in a vastly different “linguistic environment” from previous generations.

“In our study, we focused on four vowels: they are exemplified by words like BIDE, BAIT, BET, BAT. We found that all of them are ‘more Southern’ in older speakers, and less so in younger speakers: the Southern drawl versions are BAAHD, BUH-EYT, BE-YUT, BA-YUT. In particular, we found evidence of the strongest Southern accents among Baby Boomers, born in the mid-20th century, followed by a rapid shift away from Southern speech beginning with Gen X, who were born in the late 60s and 1970s…” Renwick’s email explained.

“Although very young children acquire their native language from their parents and caregivers, school-aged children may rapidly shift their pronunciations to be more similar to that of their peer group. We think this is when inter-generational language change occurs,” it added later.

UGA Today reported that researchers, after focusing on White Georgians in this study, are now turning their interests to study changes in cross-generational language patterns of the Black population.

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