Southern American English (SAE) is one of the most famous dialects in the English-speaking world. We see it in Westerns, soap operas, and blockbuster films: Southern American English is the stereotypical "southern accent" we recognize from the southeastern region of the United States. Linguists estimate that the southern accent stretches as least as north as southern Maryland and Kentucky, and as west as Texas and New Mexico, but excluding southern Florida (Thomas 2005). Rural areas tend to demonstrate linguistic features of SAE to a greater degree than urban centers. Actual boundaries between dialects, known as "isoglosses," remain under debate and are constantly shifting, but most linguists have generally agreed upon this area.
Southern Speech may fall under one name, but it encompasses lots of diversity; many Americans are familiar with "Texan" accents as opposed to "North Carolina" accents, and these distinctions are significant as well. SAE serves as a broad term that describes general characteristics of the dialect for easy reference rather than specific qualities of each speaker. In fact, as you probably already know, not all features of Southern Speech are possessed by all residents of the South. Linguistic patterns also vary between generations, races, and social classes, so that some characteristics of Southern Speech may be unfamiliar to other speakers. General features of Southern American English, along with audio examples from the Digital Archive of Southern Speech, are described here as Linguistic Features.
It's important to also know what doesn't qualify as Southern American English. African-American Language (AAL) is a separate dialect of English that shares some features with Southern Speech, but ultimately remains distinct. More information on AAL, and how it differs from SAE, can be found at this page on African American Language.
Finally, Appalachian English is another dialect that has some overlap in geographic area and linguistic features with SAE, but remains a separate entity. More information on this accent can is described at this page on Appalachian English.
Website developed by Bailey Bigott (UGA BA 2020, MA 2021).