UGA Project Aims To Catalogue Diversity Of Southern Accents | WABE 90.1 FM

UGA Project Aims To Catalogue Diversity Of Southern Accents

Aug 29, 2016

Southern accents differ depending on where in the South you're from, for instance, plus race, class and age. Researchers at the University of Georgia are starting a project to catalogue the South’s many accents.  

In the past, UGA professors have studied what words people in different places around the country use – like "pop," "soda" or "Coke." Now, they're looking beyond word choice and into pronunciation in the South.

Here are different Southerners saying the word "white" from UGA’s collection.

“Vowels are one of my areas of specialty,” said Margaret Renwick, assistant professor of linguistics at UGA. “Vowels are the aspect of speech that tells you the most about someone’s dialect in the U.S.”

Renwick and her collaborator, UGA English professor William Kretzschmar, are using recordings from the 1960s through the 80s that were originally collected for the Linguistic Atlas Project.

“We're going to make maps of how different people say different things across space, that is, between Florida and Texas,” said Renwick. “And maybe even across time, because there are people who are 15 years old who are recorded, and there are people who are 90 years old who are recorded, and they probably talk pretty differently.”   

She said they're hoping to describe all the ways that someone can sound Southern.

Better technology and students transcribing hundreds of hours of recordings make a project on this scale possible, said Renwick.

“Now we have automatic methods that make it much, much faster to get a lot of data, and that allows us to see more subtle patterns that just weren't visible before,” she said. 

The data they collect could also teach computers to better understand southern accents. Because there are a lot of ways to say the word "five":