Skip to main content
Research and Innovation

So Long, Drawl

A woman listens in on a conversation between two merchants at the North Carolina famers market.

For more than half a century, the familiar Southern accent has been fading in Raleigh. Its disappearance has been so slow and so subtle that locals may not even have noticed. But for Robin Dodsworth, an associate professor in sociolinguistics at NC State, the decline tells the story of rapid social change across the urban South.

“It’s not as though, all of a sudden, everyone said, ‘Let’s lose this Southern dialect,’” says Dodsworth. “So what caused this to happen? What is the interface between language and society?”

Sociolinguists like Dodsworth examine how factors such as ethnicity, gender, education and class affect how we speak. Everything from the words we choose to the way we pronounce our vowels is influenced by a complex web of social interactions and expectations. By analyzing our speech, sociolinguists can begin to untangle that web of social dynamics.

“We want to help people recognize the cultural value of how they speak.”

—Robin Dodsworth

Starting in 2008, Dodsworth and other researchers at NC State recorded hundreds of hour-long sociolinguistic interviews with people who grew up in Raleigh. By comparing properties of the recordings using acoustic analysis software, Dodsworth could measure just how “Southern” each speaker’s vowels were. She then tracked the prevalence of certain linguistic features — for example, the pronunciation of “kid” as “kee-yid” — among Raleigh natives who were born in different decades.

Dodsworth discovered that the vowels of speakers born between 1920 and 1950 were remarkably stable. Then, in the middle of the 20th century, Southern linguistic features began to steadily decline. But why?

The White-Collar Tide

The answer was Raleigh’s emergence as a technology hub in the 1960s. One of the largest high-tech research and development centers in the country, the Research Triangle Park, was built in 1959, heralding a decline in the area’s traditional Southern dialect.

A woman in black and red, Robin Dodsworth, in conversation.
Robin Dodsworth, associate professor of linguistics

“After that, IBM arrived in the early ‘60s,” notes Dodsworth. “If you’re born in 1950, you’re in junior high right about the time when those white-collar workers are coming down from Northern places to work.”

That sudden and sustained influx of workers — and their children — sparked what Dodsworth calls a “dialect contact situation” in Raleigh. Children who attended school in the 1960s and 1970s grew up speaking with less of a Southern accent than their parents, in large part because they spent their days talking with many more Northerners.

“One thing we know in sociolinguistics is that your accent largely depends on your peers,” Dodsworth confirms. “It doesn’t matter as much how your parents speak or who you heard on NPR. Who is it that you’re seeing every single day and having to get along with? That’s the people at school.”

Through her analysis of K-12 networks in Raleigh, Dodsworth found correlations between the increasing social diversity of the city and the slow “leveling” of its traditional accents. It also helped to explain why rural areas — or even the parts of Raleigh that saw the least inward migration — remain the most Southern-sounding.

“Linguistic changes often jump from city to city at first and leave the rural spaces in between untouched for some time,” says Dodsworth. “Part of that is that rural areas have a less concentrated population, so it’s harder for change to spread.”

Documenting Language Difference

Those rural areas are often the focus of other research undertaken by the university’s linguistics program. Walt Wolfram — the first William C. Friday Distinguished Professor of English at NC State — has spearheaded the NSF-funded Language and Life Project, which produces documentary films showcasing linguistic diversity, from Appalachian “mountain talk” to the Atlantic coast’s “Core Sounders.” In this way, NC State linguists help to preserve language differences and share them with the public.

A middle-aged man, Walt Wolfram, stands in front of a map detailing the dialects of North Carolina.
Walt Wolfram, William C. Friday Distinguished Professor of English

Wolfram’s forthcoming film, Talking Black in America, explores the diversity of language among African Americans and African diaspora communities, shedding light on the variety of English that most often endures negative stereotyping and discrimination. Dodsworth and her graduate students, meanwhile, have been involved in the preservation and study of oral histories concerning Chavis Park in southeast Raleigh, a site of deep social significance for the historically black community it serves.

“Language is part of the Southern tradition and culture, and across North Carolina you have all these pockets of linguistic diversity,” says Dodsworth. “These projects are an effort to make our research relevant to people who are proud of their heritage — or insecure about their heritage. We want to help people recognize the cultural value of how they speak.”

Note: A version of this story first ran on the National Science Foundation website.

Leave a Response

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.

  1. “Thanks Trump.”

    For almost ten years I have lived in Southern California with absolutely no trouble from my Southern accent. All of a sudden you rural idiots elect a reality TV star to be president–and my life is a living hell.

    Since the election, almost everyone I meet says something like: “you sound like you are from the South, did you vote for Trump?” Seriously! Every day someone wants to know who I voted for and then that person wants to talk about politics. I hate politics and think only boring old people (like my parents) know or care about politics.

    The worst thing that has happened though is that my son’s 5th grade teacher, principle, counselor and a group of “concerned parents” called me into a meeting because they were concerned that my son might: 1) bring a gun to school, 2) bully transgender or gay students or spread homophobia, 3) try to recruit other students into “joining an alt-right hate group.”

    I am frantically Googling around and trying to find a way to get rid of my Southern accent. No longer is a Southern accent only viewed as uneducated–it now is viewed as dangerous by many.

  2. Its rather ironic. Having a “drawl” – was once considered the hallmark of being part of the upper crust aristocracy. People from that elk have more leisurely lifestyles- hence the slower manner of speaking. Now its considered uneducated? I grew up in Northern Virginia- and I actually have been told i have a Southern accent by Northerners. When going further South, I feel like a Yankee! But I am a Southerner, always will be. My family has been in Richmond, Virginia for 11 generations- and they have most distinctive of all accents- the TIdewater.

  3. I hate the accent is being lost. It’s part of the local identity. I’m afraid the blended accent is going to be very bland. If you go to Boston, a lot of the traditional Boston accent is also disappearing except in outside areas just as it is here.

  4. rich, educated white people are kicking all the poor white trash out. rich white people hate poor white people more than they’re afraid of black folks. they try to act like poor white people don’t exist. ignore them and hope they go away. there are three times as many poor white people in this country than the entire black population. it’s a dirty little secret this article perpetuates.

  5. I’m a NC native, born in 1946, and I take exception to Thomas insinuating that Southern drawl has anything to do with education or intellect. I don’t sound like Barney Fife but anyone who talks to me knows I am from the South. I do use proper grammar when speaking and writing. That’s the difference.

  6. We are being forced to talk “Northern”. I was even verbally berated for using my Southern words and speech pattern. I was told I was being “disrespectful” by someone with a foreign accent (and I don’t mean Northern accent). If you move down South, you should at least become familiar with our speech and our words.

  7. Here in Tennessee I’ve noticed the most change as the Internet became such a social chain. You can easily see the dialog change as Youtube and other media sources trend. Without mentioning names, some famous people are altering their speech according to their current location. Yeah, you can sell southern soul in NY.

  8. Grew up and went to school about an hour south of Raleigh – in Harnett County – but eventually moved to Nevada at age 24, then to California right before my 30th birthday. Almost 38 now and my once pretty thick accent is pretty much completely gone; save for a few words here and there. (“Mama” in particular – I don’t think that one will EVER change.)

    Year or two ago while home for the holidays, watched a video of my brother’s wedding from when I was around 18. Didn’t even recognize myself speaking.

    Though, I do slip back in to it when back visiting and staying with my mom. My friends out here always like to point it out – “Oh, you were back in NC weren’t you?” Ha.

  9. A few things. 1) more people from elsewhere in the country. 2) more people from outside the country. 3) TV, Radio and the web are all homogenized into a bland midwestern chat.

    The Wake county school system’s own website is in what? 6 languages? 7? Including Arabic and Hindi. To say nothing of the influx of ahem, less than sufficiently documented persons of vaguely south of the border ethnicity.

  10. I was born in late 1949 and moved to Raleigh from Pittsburgh in 1956, three years before Triangle Park opened, a child of the early Westinghouse invasion. There was not only a difference in dialect, there were jarring sociological differences as well as a general prejudice against “Yankees” often articulated among my early schoolmates. I’m currently writing a novel based on this clash of cultures and how it affected those growing up there during the tumultuous fifties and sixties. Having moved back ‘up north’ several decades ago, I stil hear people comment on my North Carolina drawl (which I think is actually softer and more subtle than the accents of folks from Georgia and Alabama, etc.) I believe I tend to lapse into it naturally when I’m tired. Ironically, people down south still think I sound like a Yankee. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, “So it goes.”

  11. I am from Raleigh, born and raised. I live here currently. Recently someone came in to the shop where I work and commented that my accent was “so interesting! Where are you from?!” Now, I know my accent is not like my parents’ or my grandparents’, but I thought it curious that our accent has gotten so rare that this person couldn’t recognize it when it’s right in front of them!

  12. This is a very interesting study. I grew up in Raleigh (born in the 80’s), and my younger sister and I are always asked why we don’t have a southern accent. I think it would be interesting to study the presence of the southern drawl in different regions/neighborhoods of Raleigh.

  13. Two thoughts prompted by the ideas shared above.

    First, I grew up west of Baltimore in the 1950-60s and went to school with suburban and rural kids who did not have the typical Baltimore accent. So did my brother and sister 1.5 and 2.5 years younger than I am. We all speak with accents more or less alike. But when I was 14 and 16 my mom had two more sons. These brothers both grew up with kids whose families moved outward from Baltimore in the 1970-80s. Both of these brothers have the typical East Baltimore accent: they “warsh” the dishes and call the nearby cities “Balmer” and “Warshington.”

    Second, when I moved to NC State from Idaho to teach freshman English, in one of my classes I encountered a student who forever banished my prejudice aligning Southern accents with less educated folk. Ben, a farm boy from Creedmoor, NC had the deepest southern drawl I had ever heard. But he turned out to be the most logical thinker and best writer with the most correct grammar in any of my four classes. From that semester through 38 years of teaching, I still appreciate the lesson he taught me as a young Yankee who moved south.

  14. This article is absolutely true and I am one person in particular who helps to confirm the argument of the author. I am originally from Mount Airy, NC (many call it Mayberry) and I went off to Raleigh to study at NCSU in 1989. After five years of studying in Raleigh and working as a co-op student in Richmond, I had absolutely had no trace of Southern Drawl by 1994. Many people have commented to me that my accent is much different than that of my parents.
    In my opinion, the absence of the Southern Drawl helps improve my perceived level of education. I will say however, when I return to Mayberry I often find my tongue getting lazy and slipping back into a drawl when speaking with other natives there!

  15. Yes, I grew up in Eastern Carteret County where a heavy Irish accent is spoken. Everytime I go back home and here the Brouge I am surprised it has not been lost because of kids watching tv. So I agree its the peers who help form your accent.

  16. I believe this article specifically tackles Raleigh not NC or the South as a whole. Raleigh is very unique! With six colleges/universities and RTP we ship in thousands of non-natives annually. Some people leave and some people stay bringing along their families, dialects and cultures. As new Raleigh natives are born they are taught by care givers and educators who are non-natives. It would be interesting to see this same study conducted in Cary. However, it would be difficult to find someone in Cary who was actually born in NC.

  17. This is indeed sad to read.

    I was in England and became so embarrassed when my English friends and I heard the loudest and most obnoxious voices in museums, restaurants, etc. They were Americans. But no surprise – by the sharp accent – I recognized that they were “yankees.”

    Also, when I heard the southern accents in a various places in England and Scotland, instant kinships were created! It was awesome.

  18. While I agree that Raleigh’s southern accent is on the wane, based upon personal experience, I REALLY have to take issue with Professor Dodsworth that your parents’ accent doesn’t influence your accent as much as your peers based.

    For example, we moved here with our 1 year old daughter from Iowa 18 years ago and live in rural Johnston County where most folks still have a very pronounced southern accent. Our daughter’s “accent” however sounds just like her Yankee parents, not any of her NC native friends who have strong southern accents and we’ve found that to ALWAYS be the case with the children of other Yankees as well. In fact, any young kids I’ve ever met sound like their parents by the time they start talking much.

    It could be that Raleigh’s southern accent is fading away because there are simply more Yankees who have raised their children here than there used to be.

    Bottom line: your accent will sound most like your parents and not anyone else. I think that Professor Dodsworth’s research needs a second look.

  19. Having grown up in north eastern pa i could go 50 or so miles in any direction and hear a different dialect including the pa deutsch (German) dialect of ” take your Grandfather in the shed his hammer”. Or the Scranton pa: datooaya ( the two of you)

  20. An engineer, not an linguist, but I would love to see a study of the degree that the roughly half century of television saturation has had on this phenomenon. My hunch would be that hearing speech on television alone is not a sufficient condition for significant change in personal speech (Supported by observing many relatives and friends who still live in isolated rural communities but who have watched untold hours of television over decades).

    However, I would also hypothesize that the daily exposure to wide range of speaking styles and a predominance of “neutral” accents on television would have a significant priming effect that would predispose one to more rapid linguistic adaptation if one is subsequently in a situation in which they live and work with people outside of their native dialect.

  21. I am originally from NJ, here now almost 10 years in Wake County. It is a beautiful area, with a very diverse population, which I think is wonderful. I do learn something new just about everyday from all different people whether I live near them or work with them or encounter them as part of my job daily. Everyone has a different accent, some harder to understand than others. What I do find though, is that everyone in my particular development from day one, wave hello to everybody whether you know them or not, greet you politely and respectfully from youngsters to adults. This I believe is a wonderful southern custom, and it truely is contagious . I love to listen to people with all their different area, southern accents because there are many. You shouldn’t ever be uncomfortable because of how you speak I am always told I have the Jersey accent?!!!! I just don’t hear it. It does make for a good laugh. Always be proud of your Heritage, and treat people how you would like to be treated yourself,

  22. We’ve all experienced the ‘North-ification’ of Southern accents/dialects, but I’m curious to know whether it’s really a blend or if the Southern accents/dialects have had/do have any influence the other way. I started in Pittsburgh, moved to Raleigh, moved to Boston, and moved back to Raleigh. Here: everyone comments on my Northern accent. In Boston: everyone comments on my Southern accent. Personally, I can hear myself pronounce certain words with various regional dialects.

  23. I love being from the South, and having that “Southern Drawl” that often becomes much heavier when I visit non-southern cities. Depending on the reaction of those I am speaking to, I can really pour on the southern charm. Overall, I have found folks love to hear me talk. Especially when they figure out I am more intelligent than my accent would lead them to believe.

  24. I was amused by a bulletin board announcement I saw when my hubby was hospitalized in UK Hospital in Lexington, KY. They were having an “Appalachian Dialect” seminar over the course of several weeks for non-native English speakers. Jess gozta show ya, ri’cheer in Eastern Kentucky the draw-uhl is alive and well! If hit ain’t left most ovem out in the country yet, I don’t reckon it ever will.

    When I was 23, I had a scary brush with death while driving one afternoon. Afterward, I pulled off the road and exclaimed to my sister, “Di’jew see that?! He wuz comin’ right tworge me!” Some how in that midst of all that adrenalin, I heard exactly how I sounded and vowed on the spot to work on a more generic accent. Now at the age of 59, I don’t have much of an drawl. But I find myself falling back into it when I’m with a group of family or old friends. I don’t want them to think I’m “highfalutin.” Do y’all still use that word? ; )

  25. Having only scanned the article, I have two comments.

    First, it could be / is likely that Raleigh is becoming a much more diverse society – thereby “diluting” the concentration (percentage) of people with a “drawl”…

    Second, Dad grew up in rural western Colorado, and Mom grew up in Atlanta. When they dated (in late-1950’s Pensacola), she had to translate for him…

  26. I am not an American, I am a Kenyan with a strong accent. Whenever I speak to someone, the next immediate question that always comes flying at me is: “where are you from?” to which I proudly reply, from Kenya. To me, this is my identity which I am proud of. Back to the topic at hand, I arrived in the U.S. in 2001 and I can really tell the difference of how fewer and fewer people I come across now with the Southern accent.

  27. Born in Wilmington NC, grew up in Cary, and moved to eastern NC in my mid-twenties where people would ask “Where’re you from?” My reply of “the Raleigh area” generally drew confused stares and replies of “But you didn’t grow up there, right? You don’t sound Southern, so where did you live before Raleigh?” It took my moving to Wisconsin before people would consistently identify me as a Southerner. Well, except for the two Wisconsinites who pegged me as British. Go figure…. 😉

    1. We moved here from Chicago in the late 90″s and we say we are from Raleigh and we get the same thing…………..But you aren’t from there originally? That happens ALL THE TIME!

  28. Interesting study!!! I suppose my sister and I, and all of my cousins living in NC are 1st generation half-backs. I was born in Miami but raised all my life in NC by parents originally from Northern NJ. My parents have a neutral accent, they did not grow up having a northern accent as children of immigrants, My aunts and uncles have noticeably mild to heavy northern accents. What is funny is that I sound as though I hail from NY to the point I am asked about it all the time and when I spent 18 months working in Manhatten and Brooklyn inside NYC agencies the folks there were shocked I was from NC and traveling there every week. My sister grew up with a neutral accent with some words sounding slightly more southern. My one aunt with her heavy NJ accent had two sons who have Southern and deeply Southern accents. I think it heavily has to do with peers and what is spoken inside the home. I visited my Northern and Floridian family regularly, half of them spoke other languages besides English, and I attended private schools which also had substantial diversity. It still doesn’t explain how I grew up sounding as though I came out of Brooklyn having spent half of my life in Pfafftown/Winston-Salem and the other half in Raleigh. Now my son and daughter sound pretty neutral to the point I don’t know what accent they really have. I am sure NC cities are filled with the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation descendants of Northerners and Foreigners along with recent arrivals all weaving their way into society having their impact on each other and on local natives.

    1. Was the “heavy NJ accent” in question a “neutral” accent save for a twanged long O sound and the “dem-dese-dose” of NYC, or the straight-up NYC accent (aka Brooklyn accent or “Brooklynese” (not spoken in NJ except in the Jersey City area) that, for the longest, has been stereotyped as being THE NJ accent?


    1. Larry – The few cases of someone choosing to change the way they speak aside, how we speak is 99%+ involuntary adaptation to the day to day conversation. I grew up in eastern NC, attended NC State in the early 80s living with and making many friends from NJ, Connecticut, etc. Never felt any shame or consciously tried to change anything about the way I spoke. Nevertheless, over the four years, my accent did, as the article calls it, “flatten.” After graduation, I spent four years living in Southern California and DC, and the flattening of my accent continued. Some of my relatives who have never left down east assumed this was conscious, but it was definitely not.

      One of the most fascinating features of this subject for me is that I have never actually “lost” my tobacco country accent. When I visit my down east relatives, I automatically begin to shift back. Accent, word choice, phrasing all start to return. Within an hour, my kids are looking at me with “What’s up with you?” expression. If I were to visit my father without my wife and kids for several days, my guess is that by something in day two or three, except for a bit of “foreign” vocabulary, I would sound like I had never left. All of this would happen without a hint of conscious decision on my part.

      One of my favorite examples of this was while I was still an undergrad at State. In Metcalf dorm, we had an RA who was from England. His father was an engineer for Bechtel working on the DC Metro construction. I can’t recall how old my friend was when his parents came over to the states, but in Raleigh, you could barely hear a hint of his British accent. However, we visited his home in DC over a Christmas break. As soon as he walked in his front door and started talking to his parents, it sounded like we had teleported to London. This change was immediate, and he told me later that it was completely subconscious.

      I am sure that personality type plays into this. There is probably a scale of resistance to adaptation. But except for extreme exertion of will, I believe we all will adapt to some degree to the forms of speech that predominate in our daily relationships.

    2. One other thing Larry. With Johnson County now fully engulfed in the population explosion that is occurring in the Triangle, it’s characteristic of being a largely rural county nearby but not significantly impacted by the changes in Wake County in waning. My hunch is that ten years from now, the base line Johnson County manner of speech and accent will have undergone a noticeable transformation. It’s not a conspiracy. It’s just what happens when real people from different cultural background live together.

      1. . . . And perhaps sometime in the upcoming ten-years, you may come to realize that Johnston County is actually the land mass that is attached to Wake County.

      2. The area of Johnston County that will be affected will be the western part- from the Clayton area down to McGees Crossroads and a little bit east of that but not near Smithfield. Reasoning? Fastest growth and greatest growth in school populations. When my family moved out here, there were exactly two schools within ten miles of our house- and no high school! Now there are nine with another just approved… all within ten miles. By the way, there are two high schools now.

  30. I read your article while attending Orientation at NC State with my son who is entering as a Freshman. As a native NC resident, people have always commented on my “southern drawl”. When entering the workforce in the 1980’s, it was reinforced that my “drawl” made me seem ignorant and was something I needed to change. How refreshing to meet another parent at Orientation from NJ who said she loved my drawl! Glad I didn’t follow the advice of the 80’s to lose it.

  31. I wonder how many southerners have had their southern drawl so criticized by those who do not speak with those accents that they self imposed the speech changes upon themselves to avoid being embarrassed. I can’t count how many times my accent was commented upon negatively beginning from early childhood at the visits of my more northern cousins until I was ashamed of it. So do we change due to the pressures exerted upon us as well as for other reasons?

    1. I majored in Spanish and minored in French in college. I grew up in Birmingham. I spent 4 years in Kansas, 2 years in Texas, 7 years in Hawaii, 20 years in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the last 20 years back in my hometown of Birmingham. I try my best to adapt my speech to that of the person with whom I am speaking, but never in a derogatory manner. I can say “can’t” as well as “cain’t”; “aunt” as well as “ain’t” or “isn’t”; “you as well as “y’all”. If I don’t understand a person’s dialect, I can always pretend deafness and ask them to repeat or clarify.I try to maintain conversation on a grammatical and diatectic level that is comfortable and comprehensible for all parties involved. It’s called communication.

  32. This is definitely an interesting viewpoint. I’m a native son of Southern Alabama who last year moved up here to Raleigh, so my perspective is from the side that our dialect is the norm. When I first moved up here, I could hear the difference pretty clearly. Not that there aren’t folks who speak with our dialect, but there are lots of those who don’t. I’d listen to people when we’d talk, but at the same time wonder, “where are y’all from?” Some of my new friends were surprised that I could even tell they weren’t from around the South. What’s more is I miss hearing “yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am, & no ma’am,” more than anything. It’s so sad to me that this habit is fading. I grew up such that it was the minimum level of respect you showed someone, even folks younger than you (you’d end up having to “pick your switch” if you didn’t). I can understand Northerners thinking it’s weird or cute, but Southerners ought to know better (as their grandmammas might say). It bothers me when I don’t hear it or especially when I catch myself missing it on occasion. All in all, it’s truly a Southern thing that, although Raleigh’s phasing out, I certainly hope it stays true to who we are as a culture in these United States.

  33. Are we really losing it? Or are there more educated persons in larger cities?

    Drive through the deep south or other rural areas in NC, I dont think the drawl has gone away at all Miss Daisy.

    Oh, I didn’t read the article yet

    1. Seriously Thomas? “Or are there more educated persons in larger cities”…

      A Southern accent makes you no less educated. Horrible grammar makes you sound less educated. Some of the worst grammar I have ever heard has come from larger cities up North, transplanted to our largest city, Charlotte. I was raised (and educated!) in a small town, proudly have my degree from NCSU, and say yes ma’am and no sir. With a little drawl. And correct grammar.

      1. I was born in Raleigh in 1952. My family moved up North in 1952. I went to school at Fred A. Olds and Leroy Martin and I learned to speak well. Or is it good? White kids around here in NJ never say “Yes sir” to me, but black, Hispanic and Asian kids (and adults) very often do.

      2. Thank you for responding to him. Neither your accent nor the language you speak indicates education nor intelligence.

        1. Don, I have an associate degree, bachelors, masters and advanced education degree. I speak properly with a southern accent. I assume by your post, you are more educated than me.

        2. Well, if that’s true, we’re all doing g it wrong. We would speak like well-educated LONDONERS, and wouldn’t lazily drop letters from our words, like the ‘u’ in ‘colour’. It should really be noted that American English’ (or simply ‘American,’ as I prefer) is itself a hodge-podge of ‘incorrect’ dialects. Indeed, within England ITSELF there are dialects that are not ‘proper’ English: the Scouse, the Mancunian, et al.

          So, let us just say that it really is often a question of region, rather than education, when it comes to pronunciation and dialectical foibles. As for grammar: THAT you can usually chalk up to education…so you still have that.

          1. As far as accents / pronunciation goes, there are standards for both American English and English. There are proper ways to pronounce words, and there are improper ways to pronounce words. It’s really quite simple. Anyone with access to the internet can also access these standards. It’s not a matter of opinion, and it’s not a matter of perspective. There’s right…and then there’s wrong.

        3. There are many regional and socioeconomically-based accents and dialects of the English language, each with its own set of standards for what is “proper” pronunciation. No level of education can completely eliminate traces of the accent and/or dialect one spoke growing up, no matter how hard one tries to cover them up. Standard English grammar in formal written and oral communication is a better measure of education level than accent (which actually is not a measure at all). I spent years trying to cover and eliminate my accent and actually became quite adept over time at adopting the accent of those with whine I was communicating at the time. In fact, my occupation requires I present to groups all over the country, and I find that it puts people at ease and generates better engagement when I adopt elements of local speech patterns. However, this does not reflect anyone’s education level — whether it be mine or that of the participants. I’ll add that in recent years I’ve come to embrace my southern accent as an identity marker to be honored. (In case you’re wondering, my accent in no way impacts my command of the language’s rules of grammar, structure and/or style.)

          Some of the most educated and brilliant people I’ve ever known spoke with a gorgeous syrupy southern lilt.

          1. And by “with whine,” I meant “with whom.” Autocorrect can be such a pain in the backside at times.