Warren County, NC

Research Questions

Beginning in 1993, fieldworkers from the NCLLP began conducting a sociolinguistic study of Warren County. This project was funded by a National Science Foundation dissertation grant. The researchers focused on the social construction of dialect boundaries between ethnic communities of African Americans, European Americans, and Native Americans in Warren County.

These boundaries are referred to as ethnolinguistic boundaries. For example, all three ethnic communities may have the same sociolinguistic feature (e.g. all three ethnic communities pronounce “wif” and “birfday” for “with” and “birfday”), but they may produce this feature at different frequencies. These differences in frequencies are part of the ethnolinguistic boundaries which distinguish the dialect of one community from the dialect of another. Dialects are unique not by the presence or absence of a particular feature but through differences in frequencies of features.

The Warren County Project also investigates how factors like age and gender affect the dialect of the speaker. Because of the complex interaction of all the social variables and the manner in which dialects distinguish themselves from each other, there is no clear way to describe how many dialects there are in Warren County.

Although some preliminary sociolinguistic analysis on Warren County has been done (Wolfram, Hazen, and Tamburro 1997), the first major work on the ethnolinguistic boundaries of Warren County was the dissertation 'Past and Present Be in Southern Ethnolinguistic Boundaries' (Hazen 1997). This dissertation set Warren County speech in a sociohistorical context in order to illustrate the effects of society on language, analyze the current ethnolinguistic boundaries of the three ethnic communities as whole units, and assess if and how these ethnolinguistic boundaries have changed over the last 80 years. Through an analysis of copula absence (e.g. They all nice people and She near about a hundred year old) and regularized past tense be (e.g. We was plowing mules and I wont making a whole lot), Hazen assessed whether the dialects of these ethnic communities pattern in similar ways and if the dialects are growing more alike or more different.


Hazen, Kirk. 1997. 'Past and Present Be in Southern Ethnolinguistic Boundaries'. Dissertation.

Hazen, Kirk. 2000. Identity and Ethnicity in the Rural South: A Sociolinguistic View through Past and Present Be. Publication of the American Dialect Society, 83. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Thomas, Erik R., and Elizabeth L. Coggshall. Forthcoming. “Comparing Phonetic Characteristics of African American and European American English.” Linguistica Atlantica (Journal of the Atlantic Provinces Linguistic Association).

Wolfram, Hazen, and Tamburro. 1997.