This article explores the perceptions of the American South within a perceptual dialectology framework, guided by Sean Carroll’s metaphor PLANETS OF BELIEF: “Planets don’t sit on foundations; they hold themselves together in a self-reinforcing pattern. The same is true for beliefs: they aren’t (try as we may) founded on unimpeachable principles that can’t be questioned. Rather, whole systems of belief fit together with one another, in more or less comfortable ways, pulled in by a mutual epistemological force” (The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself [New York: Dutton, 2016], 116). Because perceptions of Southernness often appear as unchanging and unquestionable, this metaphor provides an appropriate framework for understanding how Southern dialects have often been perceived to be the “worst” American dialects. The analysis centers on the labels used by Kentuckians in the draw-a-map task used in perceptual dialectology research. They serve as a glimpse into the linguistic belief planets people have and suggest how individuals view their beliefs to be unimpeachable. Results show that Kentuckians present complex understandings of Southernness and even Kentucky-ness as they relate to dialect labels, and the belief planets they demonstrate are intimately connected to their perceptions of their own Southernness.

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