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.
Southernness and Our Linguistic Planets of Belief: The View From Kentucky
Jennifer Cramer is associate professor and chair of the Department of Linguistics at the University of Kentucky. Her research focuses on the perception and production of linguistic variation at dialect and regional borders, with a specific interest in the dialects spoken in Kentucky. Her research utilizes the tools of perceptual and traditional dialectology to investigate connections between language and identity. She has coedited Cityscapes and Perceptual Dialectology (with Chris Montgomery; Mouton de Gruyter, 2016), and she is the author of Contested Southernness: The Linguistic Production and Perception of Identities in the Borderlands (PADS 100; Duke Univ. Press, 2016). E-mail: email@example.com.
Susan Tamasi is professor of pedagogy and director of the Linguistics Program at Emory University. She received her Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Georgia in 2003. Her work focuses on attitudes toward linguistic variation, Southern identities, and social and political issues connected to American English dialects. She also works in health communication, studying physician-patient interactions and women’s health narratives. She is the coauthor of Language and Linguistic Diversity in the US: An Introduction (Routledge, 2015). E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Paulina Bounds is an associate professor of linguistics at Tennessee Tech University. She received a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Georgia in 2010. Her research focuses on perceptions of speech in the United States, especially in the American South. In her research, she uses methods of perceptual dialectology to investigate differences and similarities in national- and state-level perceptions. Moreover, she examines the tools for perceptual dialectology to explain their effect on the results and to establish tools that are more widely available online. She has presented her work at numerous national and international conferences and has published papers in Southern Journal of Linguistics and Journal of Linguistic Geography. E-mail: email@example.com.
Jennifer Cramer, Susan Tamasi, Paulina Bounds; Southernness and Our Linguistic Planets of Belief: The View From Kentucky. American Speech 1 August 2018; 93 (3-4): 445–470. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00031283-7271272
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