Georgia's classic Southern accent may be fading away, study finds

Georgia's classic Southern accent may be quickly fading into history,

A new study from the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech's linguistics departments has identified what professors call a "rapid" accent shift in the Peach State between generations.

Using transcribed audio of white native Georgians born from the late 19th century to the early 2000s, the researchers examined the way that the subjects pronounced certain vowels, such as the "i" in "prize" and the "a" in "face." 

"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. "Today’s college students don’t sound like their parents, who didn’t sound like their own parents."

The professors say they saw a "notable change" between the Baby Boomer generation and Generation X - describing Georgia's accent as falling "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."

While older generations tend to pronounce "prize" like "prahz" and "face" as "fuh-eece," younger speakers say them completely differently.

"Changes to the diphthong in ‘prize’ are the oldest characteristic pronunciation in Southern speech, that can be traced back well over 100 years," Renwick said. "The Southern pronunciation of words like ‘face’ emerged in the early 20th century. These are distinctive features of the traditional Southern drawl."           

While the study focused on archived audio and new recordings from white Georgia speakers, the team is now examining changes in accents in the state's Black citizens.