Southern accent fading away in North Carolina, research finds

Tom George Image
Wednesday, February 21, 2024
Southern accent fading in North Carolina, linguists find
The Southern accent could be fading away--or at least changing. That's what linguists are learning as they track changes to accents in North Carolina.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- North Carolina is known for a lot of things: the food, the people, the nature and also its iconic Southern accent.

But now, research suggests the Southern drawl may be fading away as younger generations grow up and the state welcomes more transplants.

North Carolina natives such as Marianna Morin, who grew up in New Bern, are becoming more of a rarity.

"I notice myself -- when I'm around people not from here -- that my accent is not as strong, but then when I'm around people who grew up here, I get right down into that accent with them," Morin said.

Linguists have found with each generation, that the iconic drawl is fading.

"Some of the younger kids I know definitely don't have much of a Southern accent at all, but I think it just comes more with what part of North Carolina you're from," NC State senior Jack Dortch, who grew up in Charlotte, said.

Demographics show nearly half of North Carolina adults, 49%, were born somewhere else, and non-natives are now a majority in 18 counties, including all three counties that make up the Triangle: Wake, Durham and Orange.

That has affected how people talk.

NC State Professor Robin Dodsworth studied the speech patterns of people from Raleigh from across races, age groups and parts of town. She said that through the years, the vowel shift was the first thing to go -- think the "Southern" pronunciation of words like high or tide.

But the trend isn't just in North Carolina, recent studies from Georgia are seeing the same thing amid booming population growth in the Atlanta metro -- more transplants and travel mean changes in language.

"Beginning around World War II, there was kind of greater mobility, greater geographic mobility, and to some extent greater social mobility. And that allowed for people to become exposed to dialects that were not just their home dialect. Right. Not just their sort of native regional dialect," Dodsworth explained.

But all of this doesn't mean the Southern accent is dying. In fact, depending on how you look at it, it could be growing. Some NC State students from Connecticut and New York spoke to ABC11 Tuesday and admitted they've adopted "y'all" in their vocabulary since moving South.

According to linguists, among younger generations, the same trends are happening with other iconic regional dialects, such as those in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago.

Meanwhile, back at NC State, linguists are applying for grants to continue their studies of how accents are changing, with more research planned in both Raleigh and Chatham County.