Department of Linguistics
University of Pennsylvania
Regional Variation in African American English Accents after the Great Migration
Early work on African American English (AAE) described its phonology as remarkably uniform, however nearly five decades after the end of the Great Migration, is this still the case? In order to investigate this, I developed new methods — including both a new reading passage and method of data collection, as well as new statistical methods to investigate mergers and monophthongization. Here I demonstrate not only is the AAE vocalic system no longer regionally homogeneous, but that it cannot be characterized by the descriptions of regional variation in the Atlas of North American English, nor by the proposed African American Vowel Shift. Rather, there are distinct dialect regions in AAE that align with patterns of movement during the Great Migration, which I show using various data clustering algorithms. Certain features, like the PIN-PEN merger or conditional monophthongization of /ay/, are no longer uniformly present in AAE. As such, I argue that AAE should no longer be treated as a single dialect having a single defining accent, but rather as a dialect continuum.