Committee Chair: Dr. Renée Blake
This dissertation examines language and regional identity among the students of Greenley Field, a private high school in the American South. I focus on adolescent subjects because an investigation of the social and linguistic practices of adolescents gives me a suggestion of what the future might hold. The ideal location in which to study adolescents is the high school, because, as Penelope Eckert (2000:5) observes, "the adolescent's relation to the school is almost a defining fact." While many important sociolinguistic studies have been conducted in American public high schools, few have been conducted in private high schools. This dissertation is the first sociolinguistic study set in a private school in the American South.
The American South has long been different from the rest of the country in culture, politics, and language. These differences have been highlighted with the dissemination of traditional southern identities like the southern belle. I use the methodology of sociolinguistic variation studies and ethnographic fieldwork to examine the extent to which demographic changes have had an impact on these traditional southern identities and on southern speech. I find that no students overtly embrace traditional southern identities like the belle, and that, while some students embrace the South and southern identity, other students distance themselves from the region.
To investigate the extent that changing southern identities have affected southern language, I focus on the diphthong /ay/. When /ay/ is monophthongized ([a:]), the vowel is a well known feature of Southern American English. By and large, students who distance themselves from the South use less [a:] than do students who embrace the South.