Faculty Research at Morehead State University


On the Southern Shift in Appalachian English

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Contemporary sociophonetic research has identified two major vowel shifts in progress in North American English, characterized as the Northern Cities Shift (NCS) and the Southern Vowel Shift (SVS). The Northern Cities Shift originated in major urban centers in the Inland North and the stages in its advancement and diffusion in real time are well-documented. Further, a considerable body of evidence suggests that the NCS is dynamic and advancing. Differing radically from the distribution of the NCS, the Southern Vowel Shift is most advanced in rural areas of the Appalachian regions of the upland south, which appears to be the “originating center of the widespread Southern Shift, which has expanded to influence all but the marginal coastal areas of the South” (Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2006:263). Additionally, some evidence suggests that the SVS is slowly receding in apparent time, particularly the later stages of the Shift involving the reversal of the high front vowels (Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2006:257). Unfortunately, much of the work in understanding this pattern of change focuses on urban speech and as a result, the timing of the stages in the advancement of the SVS is not easily determined or well understood.