The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture - Vol. 5

The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture - Vol. 5

The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture - Vol. 5

The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture - Vol. 5

Synopsis

The fifth volume of The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture explores language and dialect in the South, including English and its numerous regional variants, Native American languages, and other non-English languages spoken over time by the region's immigrant communities.

Among the more than sixty entries are eleven on indigenous languages and major essays on French, Spanish, and German. Each of these provides both historical and contemporary perspectives, identifying the language's location, number of speakers, vitality, and sample distinctive features. The book acknowledges the role of immigration in spreading features of Southern English to other regions and countries and in bringing linguistic influences from Europe and Africa to Southern English. The fascinating patchwork of English dialects is also fully presented, from African American English, Gullah, and Cajun English to the English spoken in Appalachia, the Ozarks, the Outer Banks, the Chesapeake Bay Islands, Charleston, and elsewhere. Topical entries discuss ongoing changes in the pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar of English in the increasingly mobile South, as well as naming patterns, storytelling, preaching styles, and politeness, all of which deal with ways language is woven into southern culture.

Excerpt

In 1989 years of planning and hard work came to fruition when the University of North Carolina Press joined the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi to publish the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. While all those involved in writing, reviewing, editing, and producing the volume believed it would be received as a vital contribution to our understanding of the American South, no one could have anticipated fully the widespread acclaim it would receive from reviewers and other commentators. But the Encyclopedia was indeed celebrated, not only by scholars but also by popular audiences with a deep, abiding interest in the region. At a time when some people talked of the “vanishing South,” the book helped remind a national audience that the region was alive and well, and it has continued to shape national perceptions of the South through the work of its many users—journalists, scholars, teachers, students, and general readers.

As the introduction to the Encyclopedia noted, its conceptualization and organization reflected a cultural approach to the South. It highlighted such issues as the core zones and margins of southern culture, the boundaries where “the South” overlapped with other cultures, the role of history in contemporary culture, and the centrality of regional consciousness, symbolism, and mythology. By 1989 scholars had moved beyond the idea of cultures as real, tangible entities, viewing them instead as abstractions. the Encyclopedia’s editors and contributors thus included a full range of social indicators, trait groupings, literary concepts, and historical evidence typically used in regional studies, carefully working to address the distinctive and characteristic traits that made the American South a particular place. the introduction to the Encyclopedia concluded that the fundamental uniqueness of southern culture was reflected in the volume’s composite portrait of the South. We asked contributors to consider aspects that were unique to the region but also those that suggested its internal diversity. the volume was not a reference book of southern history, which explained something of the design of entries. There were fewer essays on colonial and antebellum history than on the postbellum and modern periods, befitting our conception of the volume as one trying not only to chart the cultural landscape of the South but also to illuminate the contemporary era.

When C. Vann Woodward reviewed the Encyclopedia in the New York Review of Books, he concluded his review by noting “the continued liveliness of inter-

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