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American Speech 79.2 (2004) 210-214

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Southern American English:

Past, Present, and Future

Indiana University
English in the Southern United States Edited by Stephan J. Nagle and Sara L. Sanders Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003. Pp. xiv + 244.

From Appalachia to coastal North Carolina to New Orleans to the Lone Star State, Southern American English is as variable as the people and the geography of the American South. In English in the Southern United States, Nagle and Sanders have compiled a collection of 12 papers that reflects this variation. In their introduction, Nagle and Sanders outlined their goal for the volume; they hoped "to capture the past and present of Southern English" (1). In addition to including a historical perspective on the study of English in the American South, the chapters also reflect a range of topics, approaches, and issues that are relevant to current research in the field. The volume is dedicated to linguist Michael Montgomery, whose influence is felt in every chapter throughout the collection.

Chapters 1-3, by John Algeo, Edgar Schneider, and Laura Wright, respectively, discuss the history of Southern American English. The origins of African American English in the South and its relationship to white Southern varieties are taken up in the chapters by Salikoko Mufwene (chap. 4) and Patricia Cukor-Avila (chap. 5). The remaining seven chapters deal with specific aspects of linguistic variation, including Cynthia Bernstein's discussion of uniquely Southern grammatical features (chap. 6), George Dorrill's and Crawford Feagin's chapters on the phonology of Southern American English (chaps. 7 and 8), and Barbara Johnstone's contribution on Southern style (chap. 12). In chapter 9, Walt Wolfram outlines grammatical, phonological, and lexical features of enclave dialects in the American South, while Connie Eble's chapter 11 focuses on the English of Louisiana. Finally, the chapter by Jan Tillery and Guy Bailey (chap. 10) provides evidence for linguistic innovation in both the grammar and phonology of Southern American English as the result of two waves of urbanization. [End Page 210]

This brief summary of the chapters reveals the editors' success in providing an overview of Southern English, past and present. The inclusion of three chapters on the origins of Southern American English, not to mention Wolfram's chapter on enclave communities and Tillery and Bailey's chapter on linguistic innovation in the South, leaves the reader with a sense of the roots of Southern American English. The two chapters on African American English also include discussions of the origins of those varieties with respect to the development of white varieties in the South. The current status of Southern American English is also well established in the chapters on grammatical, phonological, and stylistic aspects of Southern speech by Bernstein, Feagin, Wolfram, Eble, Tillery and Bailey, and Johnstone.

A second aspect of the "past and present" theme that runs throughout the volume is the use of a variety of data sources, particularly in the latter chapters where the authors provide specific examples of linguistic phenomena. Linguistic fieldwork in the twentieth century provided most of the data, but these sources themselves reflect a wide temporal range from the Linguistic Atlas of the Middle and South Atlantic States (1980), the Linguistic Atlas of the Gulf States (1986-93), and the Dictionary of American Regional English (1985-), all of which include speech samples from speakers born in the late nineteenth century, to more recent collections such as Bailey and his colleagues' Grammatical Investigation of Texas Speech, Phonological Survey of Texas, and Survey of Oklahoma Dialects, as well as the Atlas of North American English (Labov, Ash, and Boberg forthcoming). While most of the authors rely on linguistic fieldwork data, some also use historical texts (e.g., Wright and Tillery and Bailey), popular culture sources (e.g., Eble), and literary sources (e.g., Johnstone). The substantial bibliography at the end of the volume includes references to early American Speech articles from the 1920s as well as cutting-edge research on linguistic variation in the South from the last few years.

In addition to providing a historical...


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pp. 210-214
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