REGIONAL AND
SOCIAL DIALECTS
by Don L. F. Nilsen
and Alleen Pace Nilsen
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Language vs. Dialect
“A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.”
(Smith & Wilhelm 49)
Speakers of different dialects may have difficulty
understanding each other, but speakers of different
languages can’t understand each other at all.
Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and Icelandic are different
dialects.
Mandarin, Cantonese and seven other varieties of
“Chinese” are different languages.
SETTLEMENT OF AMERICA # 1:
NEW ENGLAND NAMES
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
New England
Plymouth Rock
New York
New Jersey
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Boston Celtics (Irish)
New Amsterdam (Dutch)
Harlem
New York Knickerbockers
Dutch West Indies
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EASTERN U.S. DIALECTS (Marckwardt and Dillard 280)
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SETTLEMENT OF AMERICA # 2:
PENNSYLVANIA NAMES
• William Penn
• Pennsylvania Dutch (Deutch)
• “thee” “thy,” “thine” and “thou”
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SETTLEMENT OF AMERICA # 2:
SOUTHERN NAMES IN DELMARVIA
• Jamestown, Virginia
• Williamsburg, Virginia
• The Slave Trade: Charleston, South Carolina; Liverpool,
England; and Sierra Leon, West Africa
• Pidgins and Creoles resulting from “Maritime English”)
• The development of black English as a pidgin
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SETTLEMENT OF AMERICA # 3:
THE CUMBERLAND PASS
• Scottish and Irish settlements in the South
• Irish story tellers (the Jack tales like “Jack
and the Beanstalk”)
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NORTHERN, MIDLAND & SOUTHERN EXPANSION
WESTWARD (Shuy 294)
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PHONOLOGICAL DIFFERENCES
• Greasy
• With
• spoon (noon)
• Creek
• Roof
• However, wash is not so much regional as rural.
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PHONOGICAL DISTINCTIONS
THAT ARE BECOMING LOST
• cot-caught
• witch-which
• mourning – morning
• However, pin-pen is remaining stable.
(Fromkin Rodman Hyams 413)
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NEW ENGLAND PHONOLOGY
• lot (New England)
• park the car; Cuba-r-is
• merry – marry – Mary
• calf (pass, path, dance)
• Brooklyn: dis, dat, dese, dose, dem
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The Southern Dialect
• “The South, because of its rural, isolated past,
boasts a diversity of dialects, from Appalachian
twangs in several states, to Elizabethan lilts in
Virginia, to Cajun accents in Louisiana, to Africaninfluenced Gullah accents on the coasts of Georgia
and South Carolina.”
• “One accent that has been all but wiped out is the
slow juleps-in-the-moonlight drawl favored by
Hollywood portrayals of the South. To find that socalled plantation accent in most parts of the region
nowadays requires a trip to the video store.”
(Collins & Wyatt [2009]: 333-334)
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The Plantation Drawl vs. Appalachian Speech
• “Even as the stereotypical southern accent
gets rarer, other speech patterns take its
place, and they’re not any less southern.”
• “The Upland South accent, a faster-paced
dialect native to the Appalachian mountains,
is said to be spreading just as fast as the
plantation drawl disappears.”
(Collins & Wyatt [2009]: 334)
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Walt Wolfram on Southern Speech
• Walt Wolfram says that “the vowel shift
where one-syllable words like “air”
come out in two syllables, “ay-ah” is
certainly vanishing.”
• “Other aspects—such as double-modal
constructions like “might could”—are
still pervasive.”
(Collins & Wyatt [2009]: 335)
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Roy Blount Jr. on Southern Speech
• Roy Blount Jr. said, “My father, who was a surely intelligent
man, would say ‘cain’t,’ He wouldn’t say ‘can’t.’ And, ‘There
ain’t no way, just there ain’t no way.’ You don’t want to say,
‘There isn’t any way.’ That just spoils the whole thing.”
• “I just think that there’s a certain eloquence in southern
vernacular that I wouldn’t want to lose touch with…you ought
to sound like where you come from.”
• “There are still plenty of professions that thrive on a good
southern twang—from preachers to football coaches to a
certain breed of courtroom litigators.”
(Collins & Wyatt [2009]: 335)
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SOUTHERN PHONOLOGY
•
Mrs.
•
hog (frog, dog, Deputy Dog)
•
south => souf
•
during => doin’, and going => gon
•
help => hep
•
test => tes
•
ring => rang
•
boy => boah
•
car => cah
•
POlice
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SOUTHERN VOCABULARY
• chitlins and grits
• to buy a pig in a poke
• “Carry me Back to Old Virginie”
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CALIFORNIA VALLEY-GIRL &
SURFER-DUDE SPEECH
• Rising Inflections (like Australian English)
• Animated Body Language (like sticking a
finger down the throat)
• Specialized Vocabulary (like “dude”, esp.
relating to shopping malls, the beach, and
personality types)
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CANADIAN PHONOLOGY
• out and about the house
• schedule
• Canadian -eh
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VOCABULARY DIFFERENCES
• What do you fry your eggs in?
• creeper, fryer, frying pan, fry pan, skillet, or spider
• What do you call a soft drink?
• coke, pop, soda, soda pop, or tonic?
• What do you call a long sandwich containing salami
etc.?
• hero, submarine, hoagy, grinder or poorboy
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• What do you drink water out of?
• drinking fountain, cooler, bubbler or geyser
• How do you get something from one place to
another?
• take, carry, or tote
• What do you carry things in?
• a bag, a sack, or a poke
• How do you speculate?
• ponder, reckon, guess, figure, figger,
suspect, imagine
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BRITISH-AMERICAN
PRONUNCIATION DIFFERENCES
• calf, bath, pass, aunt
• learn, fork, core, brother
• carry, very
• secretary, stationery, territory, dictionary, laboratory,
necessary, missionary
• either, neither, potato, tomato
• clerk, schedule
• captain, bottle (glottals [in Cockney])
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BRITISH-AMERICAN
VOCABULARY DIFFERENCES
• girl, cop, hood (of a car), trunk (of a
car), suspenders, apartment, elevator,
truck, wig, gasoline, bar, line, monkey
wrench, television, flashlight, subway
• bird, bobby, bonnet, boot, braces, flat,
lift, lorry, peruque, petrol, pub, queue,
spanner, tele, torch, tube
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BRITISH-AMERICAN
STRESS DIFFERENCES
• Aluminum
• Applicable
• Cigarette
• Formidable
• Kilometer
• Laboratory
• Secretary
(Fromkin Rodman Hyams 413)
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BRITISH-AMERICAN
SPELLING DIFFERENCES
• Cheque
• centre, theatre
• colour, honour
• defence, offence
• labelled, travelled
• Pyjamas
• tyre
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BRITISH EXPRESSIONS TO
WATCH OUT FOR
• fag or faggot (wood for the fireplace, or
cigarette)
• soliciter (lawyer)
• to knock someone up (wake them up in
the morning)
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COCKNEY RHYMING SLANG
• apples and pears (stairs)
• Aristotle (bottle)
• pig’s ear (beer)
• Mother Hubbard (cupboard)
• plates and dishes (Mrs.)
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GRAMMAR DIFFERENCES
• Double Modals: might could
• Negative Modals: hadn’t ought
• Strange Past Participles: larnt
• Strange Possessive Pronouns: yourn, hisn, hern, ourn, theirn
• Strange Prepositions: a quarter before eight
• Strange Conjunctions: unless => without, lessen, thouten
• Strange Adverbs: anywheres, nowheres
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SOCIALLY–VARIABLE
LINGUISTIC RULES
• Minimal Pairs
• Word Lists
• Reading Style
• Careful Speech
• Casual Speech
(William Labov’s Observation)
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FIVE DEGREES OF FORMALITY
• Frozen: Prissy Text Book
• Formal: Most Text Books
• Consultative: Conversations among Strangers or
Large Groups
• Casual: Conversations among Close Friends
• Intimate: Conversations among Family Members or
Lovers
Martin Joos The Five Clocks:
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HUMOROUS
EXAMPLES
OF
REGIONAL
DIALECTS
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BORSHT BELT HUMOR
• The Borsht Belt was a chain of hotels in
the mountains near New York.
• These hotels provided entertainment
from their guests, most of whom were
Jewish vacationers from New York City.
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DOWN-EAST YANKEE HUMOR
• This humor is taciturn and reluctant.
• There is a story about Calvin Coolidge. He was
seated next to a woman at an official White House
function. She leaned toward him and confided that
someone had bet her that she couldn’t make him say
three words.
• He responded, “You lose.”
(Nilsen & Nilsen 251)
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• While southern and western humor is
filled with grammatical errors, New
England humor is shown through the
use of archaic or old-fashioned words
like “clumb,” “tonk,” or “holp.”
• They make the character sound quaint
rather than ignorant.
(Nilsen & Nilsen 251)
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MINNESOTA & LAKE WOBEGON HUMOR
• In Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, “all the
women are strong, all the men are goodlooking and all the children are above
average.”
• Tourists in the upper Midwest can find the
Paul Bunyan Logging Camp. They can find
his mail box, and can climb the ladder to
drop in their letters.
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• As they travel the roads in Minnesota
tourists will also find a huge ear of corn
mounted on a water tower, a Jolly
Green Giant, an oversized snowman, a
huge Uncle Sam, and the “World’s
Biggest Revolver.”
• Each state of the upper Midwest has its
own share of roadside attractions.
(Nilsen & Nilsen 251)
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SOUTHERN HUMOR
• “A radio comedian once remarked that ‘the MasonDixon line is the dividing line between you-all and
youse-guys.”
(Fromkin Rodman Hyams 412)
• People from Alabama feel particularly picked on
because they have become the butt of jokes made
by talk show hosts, disc jockeys, newspaper
cartoonists, columnists and such TV personalities as
Conan O’Brien, Bill Maher, and Jon Stewart.
(Nilsen & Nilsen 253)
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• Wayne Flynt, a history professor at
Alabama’s Auburn University explained
that this is because of Alabama’s trying
to “invent a world consistent with our
ideals, and it’s a world that doesn’t
exist anymore. We’re trying to squeeze
rural values into an urban world.”
(Nilsen & Nilsen 253)
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WESTERN FRONTIER HUMOR
• The frontier humor of the American West or of
Australia tends to be exaggerated:
• He is so stingy that he sits in the shade of the
hackberry tree to save the shade of the porch.
• His feet are so big that he has to put his pants on
over his head.
• His teeth stick out so far that he can eat a pumpkin
through a rail fence.
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• When Slue-Foot Sue married Pecos Bill, Sue
insisted on riding his horse, Widow-Maker.
• Widow-Maker bucked her off and she
bounced so high on her spring bustle that
she orbited the moon and they had to throw
jerky to her to keep her from starving to
death.
• When Pecos Bill died, they marked his grave
site with, “Here lies Pecos Bill. He always
lied and always will. He once lied loud. He
now lies still.”
(Nilsen & Nilsen 128)
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• Joe Barnes was “sired by a yoke of cattle, suckled by a shebear and had three sets of teeth and gums for another set.”
• Nimrod Wildfire was “a touch of the airthquake. He had the
prettiest sister, the fattest horse, and the ugliest dog in the
district.”
• Wirt Staples has “a shadow that can wilt grass, breath that can
poison mosquitoes, and a yell that can break windows.
• Mike Fink was “a Salt River roarer, a ring-tailed squealer, half
wild horse and half cock-eyed alligator and the rest crooked
snags and red-hot snappin’ turtle.”
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WESTERN COUNTRY HUMOR
• Country humor is associated with the “Corn
Belt,” and is therefore sometimes called
“corny.”
• In The Henry Holt Encyclopedia of Word and
Phrase Origins, Robert Hendrickson said,
“Corn came to be known as what farmers
feed pigs and comedians feed farmers.”
(Nilsen & Nilsen 250)
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• Jim Garry of Big Horn, Wyoming says that
farmers and ranchers are subject to three
uncontrollable forces: the weather, the bank,
and the government.
• Therefore, their humor tends to be fatalistic,
even though the details change from region
to region. It could be based on blizzards,
floods or droughts.
• Garry tells about a guy smiling as he walks
away from a bank. The guy says, “I’ve won!
There’s no way I’ll live long enough to have
to pay this note off.”
(Nilsen & Nilsen 250)
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• Marvin Koller described rural humor as
“down-to-earth” as when a small Oklahoma
town each summer sponsors a “cow chip”
throwing contest, and a rural Ohio town has a
“chicken-flying” contest to measure how far a
hen will fly when released from her coop. In
Vermillion Ohio there is a “wooly bear”
festival to celebrate the amount of “fur” or
“fuzz” on brown and black caterpillars.
• This last festival is designed to predict
whether the coming winter will be severe or
mild.
(Nilsen & Nilsen 251)
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• In the 1940s, country singer and comedian Judy
Canova was Republic Studio’s top female star. Her
show foreshadowed Hee Haw and she wore clodhopper shoes and carried a cardboard suitcase. Her
hair was braided into pigtails.
• During the 1950s, there was the National Barn
Dance featuring Homer and Jethro. Homer played a
guitar and Jethro a mandolin, and both would crack
jokes and then say, “Oooh, that’s corny!”
• This phrase later became part of an advertising
campaign for cornflakes.
(Nilsen & Nilsen 252)
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• Cousin Minnie Pearl was a favorite on Hee
Haw. She told corny jokes, wore a straw hat
with a price tag hanging down, and greeted
the audience with, “How-deeee! I’m just so
proud to be here!”
• Hee Haw, and The Grand Ole Opry in
Nashville, Tennessee were the roots of
today’s country music industry. Earlier, the
Old Southwest had been settled by Scottish
and Irish immigrants who had come through
the Cumberland Pass and settled in the
Ozarks.
(Nilsen & Nilsen 252)
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• !A nasal twang that imitates the sound of a guitar
has long been a feature of country and Western
singing, and CB radio. There has also long been a
tradition of “moonshine” humor, as can be seen in
these book titles by Lewis Grizzard:
• The Shoes I Bought and Paid For are Walking Out on
Me
• My Daddy was a Pistol, and I’m a Son of a Gun
• If You Want to Keep the Beer Real Cold, Put it Next
to My Ex-Wife’s Heart
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• !Drop-Kick Me, Jesus, Through the Goal Posts of
Life.
• Don’t Cry Down My Back, Baby, You Might Rust My
Spurs
• My Wife Ran Off with My Best Friend, and I Miss Him
• She Stepped on my Heart and Stomped that Sucker
Flat
• Jeff Foxworthy and other redneck comedians on the
Comedy Channel continue this tradition.
(Nilsen & Nilsen 252)
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• !!Between 1910 and 1920, one-third of all Americans
lived on farms, but by the late 1990s fewer than 2
percent did.
• In a 1997 Wall Street Journal article, Cynthia
Crossen wrote, “The record shows the evolution of a
people from innocent, hopeful, rural and God-fearing
to plugged-in, ironic, inward-looking and dripping
with ennui.”
(Nilsen & Nilsen 250)
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!!!REGIONAL & SOCIAL DIALECTS WEB SITE:
*American Dialect Society:
http://americandialect.org/
*Yankee-Dixie Quiz:
http://www.angelfire.com/ak2/intelligence
rreport/yankee_dixie_quiz.html
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References # 1:
Blount, Roy. Roy Blount’s Book of Southern Humor. New York, NY:
W. W. Norton, 1994.
Clark, Virginia, Paul Eschholz, and Alfred Rosa. Language:
Readings in Language and Culture, 6th Edition. New York, NY:
St. Martin’s Press, 1998.
Collins, Jeffrey, and Kristen Wyatt.” “Whither the Southern
Accent?” (Eschholz, Rosa & Clark [2009]: 333-335.
Eschholz, Paul, Alfred Rosa, and Virginia Clark. Language
Awareness: Readings for College Writers, 10th Edition. New
York, NY: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009.
Fromkin, Victoria, Robert Rodman, and Nina Hyams. An
Introduction to Language, 8th Edition. Boston, MA: Thomson
Wadsworth, 2007.
Koller, Marvin R. Humor and Society: Explorations in the Sociology
of Humor. Houston, TX: Cap and Gown Press, 1988.
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References # 2:
Labov, William. “The Study of Nonstandard English”
(Clark, Eschholz & Rosa [1998]: 313-320).
Leary, James P., ed. Midwestern Folk Humor. 1991.
Mey, Jacob L. Pragmatics: An Introduction, 2nd Edition.
Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001.
Nilsen, Alleen Pace. “Labels of Primary Potency.”
Living Language. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon,
1999, 145-194.
Nilsen, Alleen Pace, and Don L. F. Nilsen. Encyclopedia
of 20th Century American Humor. Westport, CT:
Greenwood, 2000.
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References # 3:
Marckwardt, Albert, and J. L. Dillard. “Social and Regional Variation”
(Clark, Eschholz & Rosa [1998]: 277-291).
Raskin, Victor, ed. The Primer of Humor Research. New York, NY: Mouton
de Gruyter, 2008.
Roberts, Paul. “Speech Communities” (Clark, Eschholz & Rosa [1998]:
267-276)
Shuy, Roger. “Dialects: How They Differ” (Clark, Eschholz & Rosa [1998]:
292-312) .
Smith, Michael W., and Jeffrey D. Wilhelm. Getting It Right: Fresh
Approaches to Teaching Grammar, Usage, and Correctness. New York,
NY: Scholastic, 2007.
Sonnichsen, C. L. The Laughing West: Humorous Western Fiction, Past
and Present. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1988.
Winter, Anne. “Graffiti as Social Discourse.” in Living Language. Ed.
Alleen Pace Nilsen. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 1999, 106-111.
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