Workshop: Changing perceptions of Southernness

Event Date/Time: 
Wednesday, July 19, 2017 - 9:00am to 4:00pm
Event Details: 

July 19: Workshop: Changing perceptions of Southernness

  • Jennifer Cramer
  • Dennis R. Preston

The Southern United States is unique, in that, as a subculture within the larger tapestry of Americanness, Southernness is something everyone knows something, everything, and nothing about. With or without real exposure to Southernness, a picture of the South has been constructed in the national imagination, and this image is bifurcated – it is Gone with the Wind, Southern belles and front porch swings, or it is Beverly Hillbillies, “unkempt, bearded, and barefoot rifle-toting hillbillies drinking homemade moonshine” (Harkins 2015). Within American dialectology, few varieties have been given as extensive treatment, in terms of both perception and production, as those associated with the American South (e.g., Kurath and McDavid 1961, Preston 1989, Bailey 1997, Feagin 2000, Wolfram 2003, Nagle and Sanders 2003). Historically, perceptions of linguistic Southernness could be characterized as bifurcated along similar lines (though such perceptions tend to coexist): the speech is pleasant, friendly, and homey or it is incorrect, uneducated, and slow (e.g., Preston 1989, Hartley 1999, Cramer 2016). And while Southerners have been more kind to their own varieties (Preston 1998), the “friendly and stupid” notion exists amongst outsiders and insiders alike. In the more global, highly-connected world (e.g., Favell et al. 2007) in which we live, where the potential for Americans to base perceptions in reality is greater, the question arises as to whether those perceptions of Southern American English have changed. Do Southerners still devalue their own speech? Do non-Southerners still denigrate Southern varieties? Are there new ideologies in circulation that shatter the old?

In this workshop, we will invite scholars from numerous subfields (such as perceptual dialectology, social psychology, and sociophonetics) who have current research interests in perceptions of Southernness to explore the nuances of the current perceptions held about Southern varieties.