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How do we say it? The variations in sounding Southern

Automated phonetic analysis and a significant grant from the National Science Founation will allow UGA linguistics researchers to delve deeper into what makes Southerners sound Southern:

The researchers will use computer software to analyze 64 interviews with speakers from Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas recorded from 1968 to 1983.

"We hope to document the wide range of pronunciations in the South, both to provide a database of that variation and to demonstrate how to model that variation," said William Kretzschmar, Harry and Jane Willson Professor in the Humanities in the UGA department of English and principal investigator on the grant. "We think there are good chances for industrial uses of the database, to make automated airline phone systems work better for example, with all the different ways of speaking their clients have."

Transcriptions of the interviews, the vowel pronunciation data, and the visualizations will be presented on the website of the Linguistic Atlas Project.

"We will be using methods of computer analysis that have not previously been fully exploited to study the way Southerners' language varies," said Margaret Renwick, assistant professor jointly appointed in the department of Romance languages and the Linguistics Program at UGA and co-principal investigator on the project. "A lot of research exists on dialectal speech based on small samples, but we now have the tools and technology to do it on a larger scale, and the data will provide much greater detail about how people talk."

Taking stock of langauge as it exists is fundamental to documenting changes over time as well as language preservation - both potentially enabled by this project. Dr. Kretzschmar, as we noted recently, brings leading-edge humanities research to our campus while making lasting contributions to public scholarship that direct impacts society. With this new grant, he and Dr. Renwick will further broaden our understanding of ourselves and how we perceive each other. Great work and more wonderful opportunties for UGA undergraduates.

Image: detail from cover image for Signet Books paper back of Sanctuary by William Faulkner

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