Language change in North Carolina's cities
In this activity, students view a video about the changing dialects of North Carolina's urban areas and then respond to a series of questions.
A lesson plan for grade 8 Social Studies
Adapted from Reaser and Wolfram (2007), Voices of North Carolina Dialect Awareness Curriculum.
- Students will examine language change in North Carolina’s urban areas.
- Students will understand that dialect change is happening in urban and rural areas.
- Students will learn that, despite this dialect change, not all speakers in a given region sound the same.
Time required for lesson
All “living” language varieties (languages that are learned as a first language, as opposed to, e.g., Latin) are constantly changing due to a number of factors: migration, cultural influence, group contact, isolation, etc. Rural white dialects like Outer Banks English or Appalachian English are undergoing changes. The cities of North Carolina have also shown considerable linguistic change over the past half-century or so. Many people are shocked to learn that some of the older speakers in North Carolina’s cities such as Charlotte or Raleigh speak with what sounds like a stereotypical Savannah or lowland South Carolina dialect or something out of Gone with the Wind. (See the article “Sounds of the South” from the PBS website Do You Speak American?”).
Due to the increased mobility of urban populations, life-long residents of cities are becoming the exception rather than the rule. This results in the erosion or weakening of local dialects in favor of more mainstream ways of speaking. Now, even children who grow up in North Carolina’s urban areas seldom have what would be considered a strong Southern accent. Instead, their speech is more likely to be less regionally marked and more mainstream.
The growth of North Carolina’s cities is clear from census data. In the 1990s, Charlotte grew by 27%, from 1.4 million to 1.8 million people. The Raleigh-Durham area grew even more, up 35%, from 1.1 million to 1.6 million people. During that time, the fastest-growing rural counties were the ones that border these urban areas, suggesting that much of that growth can also be attributed to the cities. The population growth of the urban areas is now transforming the traditionally rural areas of the state as well.
- Be sure students understand the definition of the word dialect. (See “critical vocabulary” below.)
- Share background information with students.
- Show the video clip and have students write their answers to the following questions. When students have finished writing their answers, discuss the questions as a class:
- How do the older speakers sound compared to the younger speakers? What did the speech of the older speakers make you think of?
- How do the older African American speakers sound in comparison to other older Charlotte speakers and younger African Americans?
- What do people say is happening to Charlotte? Why is this? How do residents feel about the changes?
- In your opinion, is language change a good thing, a bad thing, or neither?
- In your opinion, should anything be done to try to stop language change? Is there anything that should be done to preserve older varieties of English?
Assess by students’ written responses and participation in discussion.
- a form of language spoken by a group of people from the same regional or cultural background. Everyone speaks a dialect, even though some dialects are more noticeable than others.
- North Carolina Essential Standards
- Social Studies (2010)
- 8.C.1 Understand how different cultures influenced North Carolina and the United States. 8.C.1.1 Explain how exploration and colonization influenced Africa, Europe and the Americas (e.g. Columbian exchange, slavery and the decline of the American Indian populations)....
- 8.H.3 Understand the factors that contribute to change and continuity in North Carolina and the United States. 8.H.3.1 Explain how migration and immigration contributed to the development of North Carolina and the United States from colonization to contemporary...
- Social Studies (2010)
North Carolina curriculum alignment
Social Studies (2003)
- Goal 8: The learner will evaluate the impact of demographic, economic, technological, social, and political developments in North Carolina since the 1970's.
- Objective 8.04: Assess the importance of regional diversity on the development of economic, social, and political institutions in North Carolina.
- Goal 9: The learner will explore examples of and opportunities for active citizenship, past and present, at the local and state levels.
- Objective 9.01: Describe contemporary political, economic, and social issues at the state and local levels and evaluate their impact on the community.