Lexical Shifts in the English of Southeastern North Carolina Public Deposited

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  • March 19, 2019
  • Reyes, Kayleigh
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Linguistics
  • The aim of this study is to describe changes in lexical items elicited from residents of New Hanover County, North Carolina between 1937 and 2015. Lexical shifts are evaluated in relation to generation, education, and locality. An important secondary goal of this study is to explore the idea that changes in participants’ opinions of Southern dialects relates to the change in lexical preference. The original hypothesis for this study expected to find the lexical items used in 2015 to be markedly different from the lexical items in 1937. Furthermore, it was assumed that participants with negative opinions of Southern dialects would be more likely to differentiate themselves from their Southern peers in lexical usage. Data analyzed come from three sources: 1937 elicitations conducted for the Linguistic Atlas of Mid-South Atlantic States, 1990 recordings collected by Ellen Johnson, and 2015 data collected specifically for this thesis through in-person interviews in which participants were given a list of lexical items to identify and from an online survey that asked participants to identify a smaller set of lexical items. Both experiments from 2015 also collected demographic information and participants' attitudes towards Southerners and Southern dialects. The lexical items elicited come from a variety of categories including home, illness/death, family, food, weather, and animals. Not surprisingly, the category that shows the most variability is home across all demographic breakdowns. Data was analyzed in three groupings. The first analysis included the 1937, 1990, and 2015 responses to twelve lexical items given by twelve participants. For analysis, participants were sorted by generation, education, and locality. The second analysis involves only the 2015 responses from the in-person New Hanover country residents for the same twelve lexical items analyzed in the first grouping as well as the responses to twenty four other distinct lexical items. The participants again were sorted by generation, education and locality. The final data analysis was done looking only at the online participants sorted by region and language attitudes. New Hanover county residents were compared to residents from the rest of the Southeastern US and from the rest of the US and abroad. The findings of this full study show that not only has lexical usage changed across generations in New Hanover County, but the trends in lexical usage from this region are different from the trends seen in the larger Southeastern US region. What’s more, there is a clear link between lexical choice and participants’ opinions of Southerners seen in both the in-person and online 2015 data.
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  • In Copyright
  • Mora-Marín, David
  • Terry, Jules
  • Wolfram, Walt
  • Master of Arts
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2015
Place of publication
  • Chapel Hill, NC
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