Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Elaine Chun


This dissertation explores the language practices of high school sorority members in a mid-sized city in the U.S. South. Specifically, it describes how economically privileged, white, female youth in the Young Ladies’ Society of Midway (YLSM) used Southern language to position themselves and others in relation to widely and locally circulating ideologies of language, region, gender, and class. Drawing on sociolinguistic and linguistic anthropological methods, this study addresses the issues of how Southern language practices and language ideologies relate and how indexical meanings and social identities emerge through linguistic interaction. As a study that examines the language of a group of Southern girls, this dissertation contributes to linguists’ understanding of what Southern language is. I argue that Southern language is best understood not as a set of linguistic features used by people in the South but as an emergent construct that is informed by and serves various ideological purposes. First, by drawing on ethnographic insights and interactional analysis, I illustrate how YLSM members defined the language practices of working-class others as “accented” and “ignorant” compared with the “polite” and “charming” language practices of upper-class, or preppy, Southerners like themselves. In doing so, these speakers reproduced the widely circulating stigma of Southern language, specifically with respect to phonological forms, yet they also erased linguistic stigma for themselves by calling attention instead to the positive functions of preppy Southern language. Second, I show how Southern language practices were not merely indexical of regional identity but rather were indexical of social types defined along multiple intersecting dimensions of identity. Specifically, when they invoked images of redneck and preppy Southerners to describe their male friends, YLSM members constructed Southern language forms as indexing region, gender, and class at once. Third, I use both interactional and sociophonetic analyses to demonstrate how two speakers used glide-weakened /ai/ and fronted /u/, often considered hallmarks of Southern language, to reflect their different orientations to Southern identity. The regional indexical meanings of these vowels emerged through their strategic use in interactions, for example, in stylized moments, where their use reproduced both positive and negative types of Southern identity and Southern speech. This dissertation illustrates the complexity of the social meanings of language practices: social meanings are partially shaped by regionally and widely circulating ideologies, yet they are also partially emergent within the course of interactions themselves.


© 2014, Sara Lide

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