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Is the Southern accent in danger?

Research conducted at North Carolina State University shows that the Southern accent is changing and may be disappearing.

Robin Dodsworth, associate linguistics professor at NC State, has been collecting recordings of Raleigh, NC, natives to discover how their accent has changed over time. Using software that breaks down the way people say words and changes it into numbers, Dodsworth can then run a statistical analysis to see how the accent has changed over time and in specific groups of people.

So why is the accent changing?

The major difference is in something linguists call the “Southern vowel shift,” the way of speaking that makes words like “bait” sound more like “bet,” and turns “bed” into a two-syllable word. Those Southern quirks of speech are less noticeable with each generation Dodsworth interviews.

You could try blaming the influx of Yankees over the past couple decades, but the regional quirks of, say, New York- or Chicago-area speech patterns aren’t being picked up locally, Dodsworth said. Rather, the Raleigh dialect is becoming less traditionally “Southern,” smoothing out into an accent that is recognizably American but difficult to place.
Raleigh resident Bob Tomb, 70, grew up around Raleigh, then lived in California for 40 years. When he returned to the city as an adult, his ear caught the change in diction between the generations – the younger they were, the less pronounced the accent.

“It’s very pleasant to run into an older person who sounds like they’re from Raleigh,” Tomb said. “The accent gives the place a little style.”

Lifelong Raleigh resident Jim Stronach, 83, chalks up some of the change to improved schools during the area’s economic boom, plus the increased mobility of modern culture.

“The speech changes to the degree that you don’t really sound like you’re from Dixie anymore,” Stronach said. (Source: News Observer)

And the advice for people who don’t want to see the Southern accent lost forever?

“The best way to preserve it is to keep talking that way,” says Dodsworth.