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date: 12 August 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Survey research in Atlanta suggests that the usual national generalizations about race and language need to be examined in the light of local evidence. Recordings of interviews with a number of African Americans from the 1970s set a historical baseline for the community. A contemporary random-sample study of African Americans in Atlanta showed that our speakers were highly variable in their vowel production. They not only did not match national generalizations, but appeared to have more of Labov’s “Southern Shift” than the local non-African American speakers who were supposed to be characterized by it. Only a minority of speakers show “mean” behavior for the whole set of vowels. History and contemporary evidence combine to show that African American voices in Atlanta belong to a complex system in which speakers can be themselves in their neighborhoods, while at the same time they participate in historical and national trends.

Keywords: Atlanta, African Americans, complex system, Southern Shift, vowels

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