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Georgia Accent Losing Its Drawl

Joey Stanley publishes findings about the decline of the classic southern accent in Georgia.

Georgia, the “Empire State of the South,” houses plenty of peaches and pecan pies—but not as many southern accents as it once did. Assistant Professor Joey Stanley (Sociophonetics, Dialectology) recently co-authored an article titled “Boomer Peak or Gen X Cliff? From SVS to LBMS in Georgia English” that examines the loss of traditional southern features of the Georgia accent.

To gather research for this article, Stanley and his colleagues analyzed audio recordings from seven generations of native Georgians born between the 1880s and 2003. Some of the oldest data came from the Linguistic Atlas Project, an effort that began in the 1930s with the goal to map and study North American English dialects. Stanley says, “You don't stumble upon recordings that are 50 years old very often. It's a nice time capsule into what people sounded like 50 years ago.”

Blue sign on the side of a road. The sign reads, "Welcome to Georgia. We're glad Georgia's on your mind" with a peach logo.
Photo by Michael Rivera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Stanley conducted statistical analysis of the data, compiled results, and created almost all of the visuals in the article. He determined that, based on observations of four vowel sounds in words like bait, bet, bat, and bite, the Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) have the strongest stereotypically southern accent of all the generations studied. After their generation, there appears to be a “cliff,” in which the accent sharply dropped off starting with Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980).

The Georgia accent faded quickly, which Stanley and his colleagues attribute in part to people migrating from non-southern states to the Atlanta Metro area during the latter half of the twentieth century. As Georgian Gen X children grew up mingling with children from different areas, they engaged in a different linguistic climate than that of their parents or grandparents.

Stanley says that the classic Georgia accent is “being replaced by an accent that started off in California. It's sort of going in the direction of California English.” Other research points to the same phenomenon occurring in big cities like Detroit and Boston. Modern, diverse linguistic climates have contributed to an increase in the use of California English by Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012); Stanley describes it as “spreading like wildfire across the entire country.”

His article garnered significant attention in the media, with news outlets like The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Reader’s Digest reporting its findings. Stanley thinks that this public interest stems from the easy-to-grasp idea that Georgians no longer sound like Georgians. Many people can also relate to the experience of speaking differently than older family members and acquaintances in their native area, so the topic is appealing to a widespread audience.

“Boomer Peak or Gen X Cliff? From SVS to LBMS in Georgia English” was published in the journal Language Variation and Change by Cambridge University Press on July 24, 2023. Read it here.

See a complete list of news outlets that have covered the article.