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Collaborative UGA & Georgia Tech Linguistics Study Featured in Columns, Across News Outlets

A graph showing vowel changes across generations

UGA Linguistics faculty members Dr. Margaret Renwick and Dr. Jon Forrest were featured in this week's Columns article, discussing the rapid decline of the Georgia accent among younger generations. 

The study is the first to identify Georgia's changes in accent among white English speakers. Using recordings of white native Georgians born from the late 19th century to the early 2000s, the research team found that the accent was most prevalent among baby boomers, but "fell off a cliff" with Generation X. "We were surprised to see how rapidly the Southern accent drops away starting with Gen X," Dr. Renwick explained in the Columns article. Demographic changes after World War II is the main reason that the change is so dramatic between baby boomers and Gen Xers. 

Nevertheless, the shift is not necessarily one unique to Georgia, although it uniquely impacts the Georgia accent in particular. Dr. Jon Forrest identifies what researchers are seeing as a change also noted across the entire South: "We are seeing similar shifts across many regions, and we might find people in California, Atlanta, Boston and Detroit that have similar speech characteristics." 

The research team is now expanding the study to include analysis of cross-generational accents among Black Georgians. 

The collaborative study, co-authored with Georgia Tech faculty member Lelia Glass and titled "Boomer Peak or Gen X Cliff? From SVS to LBMS in Georgia English," has garnered general interest across Georgia. The change in accent is apparent to everyday Georgians and that they can see even within their own families. 

The study has been covered by several local news networks across Georgia and even by outlets across the world. Atlanta News First reporter Don Shipman joked about being part of "the problem" himself as a Gen X resident of Georgia and, although having family in Vidalia, as a native New Yorker. During ANF's segment, they spoke to passers-by in Atlanta, who commented on the large migration of New Yorkers and Californians to the city, particularly among younger generations, as well as the "new knowledge" and "new ways of saying things" that have come about due to the increasing linguistic diversity of the city. The news anchors also discussed the prevalence of code switching, where people will have a differing accent depending on which majority they are interacting with.

Dr. Renwick was also interviewed by WSB-TV and WABE about the research. 


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