Phonological variation and change in the dialect of Charleston, South Carolina

Maciej Andrzej Baranowski, University of Pennsylvania


Charleston has long been known for the distinctive character of its sound system, which sets it apart from most other dialects of American English, including the rest of the South. The best-known features of the traditional dialect---including and monophthongal long mid vowels /e:, o:/, as in take and goat, Canadian Raising, and a lack of distinction between /iyr/ and /eyr/, as in beer and bear---have now largely disappeared. This study traces the retreat of the traditional features with a sample of 100 speakers, aged 8-90, representing 5 social classes. The speech of 43 of the speakers has been analyzed acoustically, and the results have been subjected to multivariate analysis. In its current form Charleston remains a marginal Southern dialect, in the process of acquiring the pin-pen merger, but lacking the defining characteristic of the South, i.e. the Southern Shift. It is now also acquiring the unconditioned merger of the word classes of cot and caught. Charleston is leading American English in the fronting of the back upgliding vowels /uw/ and /ow/, as in two and go. It is progressively conforming to the Southeastern super-region, which is defined by the lack of marked Southern features, advanced fronting of back upgliding vowels, and a variable merger of cot and caught. The fronting of /uw/ and /ow/ in Charleston is being led by the highest-status social group, and as such, does not conform to the generalization of the Curvilinear Principle.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Baranowski, Maciej Andrzej, "Phonological variation and change in the dialect of Charleston, South Carolina" (2006). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3211033.