(De)Segregation: The Impact of De-facto and De-jure Segregation on African American English in the New South

(De)Segregation: The Impact of De-facto and De-jure Segregation on African American English in the New South
Mary Kohn, PhD
Kansas State University

About the Presentation

Neighborhood and school segregation varies across time and place in the US and likely influences how language change spreads across communities. Yet, few studies investigate the role segregation plays in local patterns of sound change.

This analysis takes a two-pronged approach to analyzing segregation and AAE in the urban South: First, I use data from the FPG project to compare 29 participants born in 1990 who attended schools ranging from 14% to 96% African American enrollment. Second, I consider apparent-time data from participants in the SR project comparing the speech of 11 participants who attended de-jure segregated schools to 9 who attended post-segregation schools. I use multiple regressions to compare the front lax vowels for both analyses as front lax vowels have undergone lowering in the local European American variety over the past 60 years. The contemporary analysis reveals a correlation between segregation levels and front lax vowel raising so that African-American participants who attend majority African-American schools are less likely to participate in local European-American sound changes than those who attend majority European-American schools. However, the apparent time analysis reveals only minor differences in the front lax vowels of pre-integration and post-integration participants.

These findings suggest that community segregation patterns are an important factor in whether African Americans participate in regional European American sound changes. Additionally, such variables may elucidate the conditions under which African Americans do not participate in regional sound changes outside the South, including the more highly segregated urban North.