→ Research paper – Linguistics
North Carolina State Univ. 
FALL 2021

Regional and social dialects

The pieces of discourse I have elected to analyze are a fifteen minute long NC State Belltower tour with Dr. Tom Stafford, of Henderson, North Carolina, and a voicemail from my grandfather, Pap Pap, also of Henderson, North Carolina. Both of these pieces of dialogue from two older white men who grew up in fairly rural North Carolina exhibit a lot of the same qualities—ones that I have long held close to my heart, as they connect me to my grandfather. The linguistic features I’m focusing on for this analysis are their coda /r/-lessness and their monophthongization of certain multi-syllable words. In the case of Pap Pap’s voicemail, his coda /r/-lessness is noticeable especially when he says words like “birthday” and “grandmother.” In Dr. Stafford’s case, with words like “belltower,” “retired,” and “there,” just to name a few. This is a linguistic quality that is not present in many other dialects in the United States outside of the Southeast, and is becoming even less common within the Southeast. With this knowledge in mind, it is a quick jump to understanding that both of these speakers are more than likely older folks who grew up in the rural southeastern United States. The other linguistic quality, monophthongization, is noticeable in Pap Pap’s voicemail in words like “can’t” and in Dr. Stafford’s tour in words like “outside,” “right,” and “time.” The elongation of the pronunciation of these words is a distinctive Southern United States linguistic quality, especially as it is considered one of the primary aspects of a stereotypical Southern drawl. With this in mind as well, it becomes easy to recognize these two speakers as individuals from the South.

Stephen Neagle’s book English in the Southern United States chronicles the different elements that make Southern dialects so recognizable—including things like /r/-lessness and monophthongization. In fact, Neagle describes /r/-lessness as one of many “features commonly associated with Southern English” (Neagle 26). However, the book does note that there is “very little and doubtful documentation” of the monophthongization of /ai/—to this I might say that within my own experience, the dialects used by individuals in my family who have been born and raised in the American South would indicate otherwise. Both of the pieces of discourse I examined exhibit this characteristic in one fashion or another, though it is perhaps more noticeable in Dr. Stafford’s longer video. One of the points that the book makes, though, is with regard to the increasing rhotic accent with younger speakers of Southern dialects—in this situation specifically, I am able to reflect on my own dialect versus that of my grandfather (and of Dr. Stafford as well)—there is a stark difference in the way that I pronounce words like “retired” and the way that Pap Pap or Dr. Stafford would. This, of course, doesn’t mean that I am not from the South—it simply indicates a shift in generation, which Neagle seems to agree with in saying that “New Southern [dialects are] expressed by the increasing use of rhoticity among the young” (Neagle 34). It seems primarily as though the elements I take greatest note of in my grandfather and Dr. Stafford’s speech indicates primarily their age, with their geographic history coming in a close second. I have always found the Henderson area accent to be unique, and it has always been one of my favorites.

Happy birthday voicemail from Pap Pap. MP4 file, created 31 Aug. 2021. Listen here.

Nagle, Stephen J. English in the Southern United States. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2011.

NC State, director. Inside NC State's Memorial Belltower: A Tour with Dr. Tom Stafford. YouTube, YouTube, 13 May 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBakVctQD50.