The distinct Southern accent that has been a hallmark of Georgia’s identity is dwindling, a joint study by the University of Georgia and Georgia Institute of Technology reveals.
This transformation, which has its roots in the Generation X demographic, those born from 1965 to 1982, starkly contrasts with the linguistic patterns of their preceding generation, the baby boomers, born between 1943 and 1964.
Dr. Margaret Renwick from UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, who spearheaded the research, commented, “Over recent generations, the traditional Southern accent in Georgia, especially among White English speakers, has been waning.” She noted a clear difference in how current college students speak compared to their grandparents.
By leveraging statistical tools introduced by Joseph A. Stanley, formerly of UGA and now at Brigham Young University, the study analyzed voice recordings of 135 White residents of Georgia from the late 19th century to the early 21st century, placing an emphasis on vowel sounds. The results spotlighted pronounced differences in word articulation between the older and younger Georgians. For instance, while older participants pronounced “prize” as “prahz” and “face” as “fuh-eece”, their younger counterparts said “prah-eez” and “fayce”.
Renwick highlighted that some of the classic Southern pronunciations, such as the sound shift within words like “prize”, have their origins in early 20th-century linguistic features of the South.
At Georgia Tech, Dr. Lelia Glass mentioned that technology played a pivotal role in this research. Computers assisted in transcribing audio recordings to determine the tongue’s position during vowel pronunciation. This offered a tangible measure of accent shifts. Glass collaborated with Marcus Ma to refine this transcription method.
Dr. Jon Forrest from the University of Georgia emphasized that these linguistic shifts are influenced by changing demographics in the South post-World War II and aren’t solely observed in Georgia. He stated that similar changes are being detected in various regions, including places as diverse as California and Detroit.
Based on Dr. Renwick’s communication with FOX News Digital, post-1960s birth cohorts in Georgia experienced a significantly altered linguistic backdrop than their predecessors. She detailed, “Our research concentrated on the vowels in words like BIDE, BAIT, BET, and BAT. Older speakers pronounced them more in line with the traditional Southern accent, but this distinctiveness reduces in younger generations.” Notably, the most pronounced Southern accents were found among the Baby Boomers, but a departure from this began with Generation X.
Renwick further highlighted the role of peer influence in language change, suggesting that children often adjust their speech to align with their friends during school years, marking the start of language evolution across generations.
The study, which initially centered on White Georgians, is now expanding to investigate linguistic changes within Georgia’s Black community.