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Is The Southern Accent Fading In Raleigh?

Downtown Raleigh Skyline

It’s no secret that Raleigh and other parts of the Triangle have changed drastically in the past decades. But new linguistic research shows that along with social and industrial change, the Triangle is seeing its Southern accent fade.

Although the prevailing notion suggests that the Southern accent is as old as the South itself, linguists debunk this as myth. 

“We think of the Southern dialect of being this old, traditional thing  that we’re only now beginning to lose.  But, in fact, there’s some evidence that suggests that it really didn’t get going until after the Civil War,” said Robin Dodsworth said in an interview on The State of Things.

Dodsworth is an associate professor in linguistics at North Carolina State University.  She and her team recorded and analyzed the voices of hundreds of Raleigh natives.  They were able to trace the accent building and fading.

“You see that the oldest speakers in the corpus born early in the 20th century are, as a group, not as Southern as speakers who were born in the 30s or 40s,” Dodsworth said.

But when the linguists looked at Raleigh natives who were born in the 1950s, they started to see the accent fade.

The tech industry boom may be the biggest culprit for the dying accent.  IBM and Research Triangle Park came to the Triangle in the 1960s, attracting talent from all over the country and all over the world.  These tech workers migrated to Raleigh, and their children went to school with Raleigh natives. 

But why do we see Raleigh natives lose their accents? And why didn’t new Raleigh residents pick up Southern accents?

“We also can’t discount the fact that the Southern way of talking, the Southern dialect, is kind of stigmatized.  People in other parts of the country think that it sounds uneducated, think that sounds [like] various negative things.  They also think that it sounds friendly, research shows.  But a lot of people don’t want to sound Southern, right?  So there’s a certain motivation, within especially urban areas to not sound Southern,” Dodsworth said. 

Shawn Wen joined the staff of The State of Things in March 2012 and served as associate producer until February 2014.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.