“G” is in a sensitive spot when it comes to the English language. Finding that “g” can reveal the hidden truth behind social status and aspirations of the women of Pennsylvania.
Recent research by Susan Evans Wagner, an MSU researcher, suggests that those accents are actually a sort of self-imposed prerequisite for ambitious students eager to get ahead. High school homies who plan to stay in the hood stick to local non-standard dialect, continuing to drop the “g” in their speech.
In her Philadelphia-area study, “it seems as if in high school, students who want to go to a good college are the ones who early on begin to dial back their use of nonstandard language,” Wagner said. “And the ones who have no aspirations to leave their local community, or who have no particular aspirations to raise their social class, are the people who have no obvious social incentives to change the way they speak.” So they don’t.
Wagner counted the dropped “g”s in the speech of 16- to 19-year-old women from Philadelphia to measure how nonstandard their speech was. As an example the phrase, “He was frying the scrapple for breakfast,” would be nonstandard if pronounced, “He was fryin’ the scrapple for breakfast.” Note the missing “g.
Kids attending a local community college or area school felt no need to add that high-class “g” to their speech. Wagner thinks that since most students attending regional schools are drawn from the local area, peer pressure keeps kids local, in word and deed. Kids attending major universities, which attract students from a national and even global pool start adding a “g” sound to their diction during high school in anticipation of the new speech patterns they expect to start using.
Wagner is using college choice to gauge social prestige since occupational prestige is harder to tie to the language of those so young.
College, community or otherwise, marks a big change in the life of an individual. It is when people are experiencing big social change that their language is most likely to change, argues Wagner. “When you track people across their lives — even if it’s only a short space in between — as long as it timeframe involves a lot of upheaval, it seems you really can see linguistic change,” says Wagner.
Moving on up is great, but as a former Pennsylvanian myself, I hate to see those Pennsylvania girls lose their accents. The flat Mid-Atlantic tones of southeastern Pennsylvania’s regional dialect are hardly dulcet to most critics, but to my ears remain ever so. Instant rapport for me with these Pennsylvania girls, as if it was just the two of us again, driving in the night down County Line Road, the car heady with your fine scent. Oh, Pennsylvania!
It’s always interesting at the HS reunions to see who has stuck with the local accent and who has not. Hard to do draw any conclusions from that sample, since they all seem pretty successful to me. But when have you ever met a loser at a high school reunion? Losers don’t go to high school reunions.
So I conclude with an appeal:
Women of Pennsylvania, aim high! But never forget your linguistic roots in the Land of the Mountain Laurel . I implore you on behalf of every son of the Keystone State to never say “g,” since the way youz talk is all music, you know, to our ears and like that.