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Classic Georgia accent fading fast

Katie Cowart

A collaborative study between the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech has found the classic Southern accent is undergoing rapid change in Georgia. The instigator? Generation X.

“We found that, here in Georgia, white English speakers’ accents have been shifting away from the traditional Southern pronunciation for the last few generations,” said Margaret Renwick, associate professor in UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of linguistics and lead on the study. “Today’s college students don’t sound like their parents, who didn’t sound like their own parents.”

The researchers observed the most notable change between the baby boomer generation (born 1943 to 1964) and Generation X (born 1965 to 1982), when the accent fell off a cliff.

“We had been listening to hundreds of hours of speech recorded in Georgia and we noticed that older speakers often had a thick Southern drawl, while current college students didn’t,” Renwick said. “We started asking, which generation of Georgians sounds the most Southern of all? We surmised that it was baby boomers, born around the mid-20th century. We were surprised to see how rapidly the Southern accent drops away starting with Gen X.”

The UGA/Georgia Tech team is the first to identify the accent shift in Georgia.

“The demographics of the South have changed a lot with people moving into the area, especially post World War II,” said co-author Jon Forrest, UGA assistant professor in the department of linguistics. Forrest noted that what the researchers see in Georgia is part of a shift noted by others across the entire South, and furthermore, other areas of the U.S. now have similar vowel patterns. “We are seeing similar shifts across many regions, and we might find people in California, Atlanta, Boston and Detroit that have similar speech characteristics,” Forrest said.

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Image: Savannah riverfront, via Getty Images

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