Charleston, South Carolina, is known today for its sense of southern charm, hospitality, ghostly hauntings, and uniqueness. The first permanent English community was established in native Catawba and Cherokee inhabited territory. European settlers constructed vast plantations and began harvesting crops for sustainability, while African slaves provided workforce labor representing the majority population (Baranowski 30). The distinctive dialect of the white upper-class Charlestonians is partly due to interactions with Gullah, the dialect spoken by the African slaves (31). Charlestonian dialect remains distinct due to “. . . its unique combination of features and to the sources of these traits” (30).
One of these unique aspects of traditional Charlestonian accent is vowel pronunciation. Vowels are “produced by maintaining the quality of the first vowel element throughout the syllable (the vowel of dead in day and that of bought in go); they are monophthongs” (Baranowski 31). This is also known by linguists as “ingliding vowels.” In the Charlestonian version, “the tongue is closer to the roof of the mouth, not unlike the vowels in bee and boo” (32). This ingliding pronunciation of the vowels is not found in any other American English dialect, except for Gullah (32).
Known as the heartland of America, Ohio presents a division of dialectic variations (due to migration route influences) that can be broken out into three separate geographic locations: Northern, Central, and Southern Ohio. Collectively, the various dialects exemplified throughout Ohio were influenced by speech patterns of Northern England and Scottish-Irish variety (Flanigan 119-121). Southern Ohio featured bilingual schools of English and German, creating a dialectal influence of the German language (122).
While Northern Ohio dialect keeps the pronunciation of vowels distinct (known as Northern Cities Shift), such as the differences heard between cot and caught, in Central Ohio pronunciation, “rounded back vowel is essentially lost” (Flanigan 121). Traditional Charlestonian dialect distinguished a difference in the pronunciation of the vowels in cot and caught, similar to the Northern Ohio dialect, while “the youngest speakers do not distinguish between the vowels in these words: they hear them as the same and pronounce them identically” (Baranowski 34). Southern Ohio features distinct lexical forms, such as “you’uns,” that share commonality with Appalachia (Flanigan 121).
Both Charleston, SC, and Ohio, showcase settlers’ cultural influences in both spoken and written language. However, as embodied in the “Northern Cities vowel shift in Cleveland and Toledo, the cot/caught merger in Columbus, and South Midland with a touch of Kentucky in Cincinnati,” and the “Pin/pen, him/hem, and sinned/send” (Flanigan 123; Baranowski 34) word pairs, dialects blend, merge, and evolve with time and exposure to outside influences.
Baranowski, Maciej. “Doing the Charleston (South Carolina).” American Voices, edited by Wolfram, Walt and Ben Ward, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2006, pp. 29-35.
Flanigan, Beverly Olson. “Different Ways of Talking in the Buckeye State (Ohio).” American Voices, edited by Wolfram, Walt and Ben Ward, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2006, pp. 118-123).
Jovanovic, Biljana. Pixabay, 2020, pixabay.com/photos/english-english-language-language-2724442/.
Stelmaszek, Don. Pixabay, 2020, pixabay.com/photos/charleston-south-carolina-bridges-2343974/.
Sturgell, William. Pixabay, 2020, pixabay.com/photos/barn-rustic-barns-ohio-digital-art-2686500/.
Wolfram, Walt, and Ben Ward, editors. American Voices. Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2006.