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The Connotative Content of Regional Accents

With the onslaught of mass media and the entrenchment of standard languages, regional accents are becoming an endangered species throughout the industrialized world. To be sure, these varieties continue to play a role in cementing solidarity among members of a (relatively) homogeneous speech community without necessarily excluding newcomers whose speech adheres without exception to the standard. From the perspective of an outsider looking in, moreover, regional accents can be seen to have a certain connotative content, one that arouses a kind of exogenous aesthetic admiration for the colorful, unadulterated, and authentic features of language in use. What is routinely taken unreflexively by the speaker of a regional dialect as nothing more than linguistic habit, in the service of purely utilitarian communicative goals, can alternately be perceived by the speaker of the standard as an aesthetic object.

Thus, episodic exposure to an authentic native pronunciation in a region (like rural Vermont) where the colorless standard otherwise reigns supreme can have the effect of causing a positive reevaluation of dialects for their (unintended) symbolic byproduct, viz. a heightened awareness of the historical persistence of linguistic mores that connote a subtle form of human solidarity.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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