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So Long, Drawl

Posted on July 29, 2015 1:20 pm by Lauren Kirkpatrick

Robin Dodsworth is studying the decline of the Southern accent.

Robin Dodsworth is studying the decline of the Southern accent.

For more than half a century, the familiar Southern accent has been fading in Raleigh. Its disappearance has been so slow and so subtle that locals may not even have noticed. But for Robin Dodsworth, an associate professor in sociolinguistics at NC State, the decline tells the story of rapid social change across the urban South.

“It’s not as though, all of a sudden, everyone said, ‘Let’s lose this Southern dialect,’” says Dodsworth. “So what caused this to happen? What is the interface between language and society?”

Sociolinguists like Dodsworth examine how factors such as ethnicity, gender, education and class affect how we speak. Everything from the words we choose to the way we pronounce our vowels is influenced by a complex web of social interactions and expectations. By analyzing our speech, sociolinguists can begin to untangle that web of social dynamics.

Starting in 2008, Dodsworth and other researchers at NC State recorded hundreds of hour-long sociolinguistic interviews with people who grew up in Raleigh. By comparing properties of the recordings using acoustic analysis software, Dodsworth could measure just how “Southern” each speaker’s vowels were. She then tracked the prevalence of certain linguistic features — for example, the pronunciation of “kid” as “kee-yid” — among Raleigh natives who were born in different decades.

Dodsworth discovered that the vowels of speakers born between 1920 and 1950 were remarkably stable. Then, in the middle of the 20th century, Southern linguistic features began to steadily decline. But why?

The White-Collar Tide

The answer was Raleigh’s emergence as a technology hub in the 1960s. One of the largest high-tech research and development centers in the country, the Research Triangle Park, was built in 1959, heralding a decline in the area’s traditional Southern dialect.

A woman in black and red, Robin Dodsworth, in conversation.

Robin Dodsworth

“After that, IBM arrived in the early ‘60s,” notes Dodsworth. “If you’re born in 1950, you’re in junior high right about the time when those white-collar workers are coming down from Northern places to work.”

That sudden and sustained influx of workers — and their children — sparked what Dodsworth calls a “dialect contact situation” in Raleigh. Children who attended school in the 1960s and 1970s grew up speaking with less of a Southern accent than their parents, in large part because they spent their days talking with many more Northerners.

“One thing we know in sociolinguistics is that your accent largely depends on your peers,” Dodsworth confirms. “It doesn’t matter as much how your parents speak or who you heard on NPR. Who is it that you’re seeing every single day and having to get along with? That’s the people at school.”

Through her analysis of K-12 networks in Raleigh, Dodsworth found correlations between the increasing social diversity of the city and the slow “leveling” of its traditional accents. It also helped to explain why rural areas — or even the parts of Raleigh that saw the least inward migration — remain the most Southern-sounding.

“Linguistic changes often jump from city to city at first and leave the rural spaces in between untouched for some time,” says Dodsworth. “Part of that is that rural areas have a less concentrated population, so it’s harder for change to spread.”

Documenting Language Difference

Those rural areas are often the focus of other research undertaken by the university’s linguistics program. Walt Wolfram — the first William C. Friday Distinguished Professor of English at NC State — has spearheaded the NSF-funded Language and Life Project, which produces documentary films showcasing linguistic diversity, from Appalachian “mountain talk” to the Atlantic coast’s “Core Sounders.” In this way, NC State linguists help to preserve language differences and share them with the public.

A middle-aged man, Walt Wolfram, stands in front of a map detailing the dialects of North Carolina.

Walt Wolfram

Wolfram’s forthcoming film, Talking Black in America, explores the diversity of language among African Americans and African diaspora communities, shedding light on the variety of English that most often endures negative stereotyping and discrimination. Dodsworth and her graduate students, meanwhile, have been involved in the preservation and study of oral histories concerning Chavis Park in southeast Raleigh, a site of deep social significance for the historically black community it serves.

“Language is part of the Southern tradition and culture, and across North Carolina you have all these pockets of linguistic diversity,” says Dodsworth. “These projects are an effort to make our research relevant to people who are proud of their heritage — or insecure about their heritage. We want to help people recognize the cultural value of how they speak.”

By Alastair Hadden

Note: A version of this story first ran on the National Science Foundation website. It also ran at

Digital Humanities Team Not ‘Donne’ Yet

Posted on July 20, 2015 5:11 pm by Lauren Kirkpatrick

Paul's Cross exhibition

The Hunt Library hosts a display of the Virtual Paul’s Cross project for special guests, including the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Photos by Becky Kirkland.

It remains unclear if the recent visit by National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman William Adams was the first to NC State by a sitting NEH chairman, but it is clear that NC State faculty and administrators hope it won’t be the last.

While learning more about the university’s digital humanities projects in the Hunt Library’s Teaching and Visualization Lab, Adams surprised about two dozen digital humanities scholars and supporters by announcing a new $324,135 grant to NC State to fund the next phase of a particularly successful digital humanities project – a visual and acoustical model of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The award is the largest NEH grant in NC State history.

NEH Chairman William Adams (right) and N.C. Rep. David Price discuss the digital humanities at NC State.

NEH Chairman William Adams (right) and N.C. Rep. David Price discuss the digital humanities at NC State.

The new grant continues work supported by a 2011 Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant of $49,998 from NEH that underwrote the creation of a 3-D model of the cathedral’s outdoor pulpit called Paul’s Cross as it would have appeared in the early 17th century, prior to the 1666 Great Fire of London that destroyed the original church.

The project team, led by English professor John Wall and design professor David Hill, staged a performance of John Donne’s Nov. 5, 1622 Gunpowder Day sermon featuring a voice actor experienced in the dialect of early modern London. Using acoustical models, they recreated how the sermon would have sounded with different numbers of spectators standing in different locations within St. Paul’s Churchyard.

The funding, which runs from January 2016 to December 2018, will extend the 3-D model to encompass the interior of St. Paul’s Cathedral. It will also develop openly available acoustical modeling software that other scholars could use to analyze historical models of a variety of sites from different eras.

Interdisciplinary Team

NEH head, congressman visit NC State

The event highlighted NC State’s work as a global leader in the emerging field of the digital humanities.

Recently, Wall and Hill expanded their interdisciplinary team by joining with Assistant Professor Yun Jing in the College of Engineering. Jing, who holds a Ph.D. in architectural acoustics, will enable the team to complete their digital model of St Paul’s Cathedral and to recreate worship services held inside the cathedral, including choral and organ music composed by musicians at the cathedral in the early 1600s.

Adams visited NC State along with N.C. Rep. David Price.

“The humanities in many ways are anchored in lived experience,” Adams said, “which is why they are so important and so irreplaceable. To see this project, which is so much about that dimension of things, is to me enormously impressive. I think some of the most exciting things happening in the humanities are happening in the digital humanities space.

“John (Wall) mentioned his hope that the Endowment will continue to fund this work – and we will,” Adams said to applause from the crowd as Wall and Hill beamed.

“We hope you come again soon,” quipped Jeff Braden, the dean of humanities and social sciences, after Adams announced the gift.

In addition to the Paul’s Cross project, the officials learned about these digital humanities projects at NC State:

  • Professor Victoria Gallagher (Communication) and Keon Pettiway (CRDM doctoral student) explained the Virtual MLK Project, which recreates Martin Luther King’s historic “Fill Up the Jails” speech of Feb. 16, 1960.
  • Professor Tony Harrison (English) presented  Victoria's Lost Pavilion that virtually reconstructs Queen Victoria’s Buckingham Palace garden pavilion, a Victorian time capsule encompassing a variety of artistic styles, influences, and critical conversations.
  • Professor Timothy Stinson (English) spoke about the Medieval Electronic Scholarly Alliance (MESA) that organizes the federation of digital projects in the field of medieval studies and provides peer review of electronic scholarship in the field. He also described the Piers Plowman Electronic Archive, a collaborative, open-access project that provides access to the complex textual tradition of Piers Plowman, a fourteenth-century poem surviving in more than 50 manuscript copies.
  • Professors Matthew Booker (History) and Michael Young (Computer Science) shared information about a newly created (2015) Visual Narrative faculty cluster at NC State that applies the ancient humanities tool of narrative to the modern technical problem of overwhelming quantities of visual data. Designers, engineers and humanists will collaborate to unlock the potential of visual information.

By Mick Kulikowski. An earlier version of this article first appeared at

Grad Student Focuses Research on Child Welfare

Posted on July 15, 2015 11:42 am by Lauren Kirkpatrick

Jenna Armstrong

Psychology Ph.D. student Jenna Armstrong has received a Doris Duke Fellowship. (Natalie Hampton photo)

The stress of life in a homeless shelter can take a toll on families. NC State psychology graduate student Jenna Montgomery Armstrong wants to find out if an evidence-based family intervention tool called Triple P can help prevent child abuse and neglect among families living in shelters.

To support her work on her doctoral dissertation in school psychology, Armstrong received one of 15 Doris Duke Fellowships for the Promotion of Child Well-Being. These competitive fellowships provide an annual stipend of $30,000 for up to two years to help graduate students complete their dissertation and related research at their academic institutions.

The Doris Duke Fellowships are designed to develop a new generation of leaders with skills to create practice and policy initiatives to enhance child development and help prevent all forms of child maltreatment. The program also provides a peer learning network of fellows, their mentors, researchers and policymakers.

Families experiencing homelessness are more likely to be referred to child protective services. Armstrong wants to investigate whether an intervention tool called Triple P – Positive Parenting Program – can help reduce the incidence of parents being referred to child protective services.

“When you think about families experiencing homelessness, they’ve often experienced several traumatic events that have led them there. Whether that’s domestic violence or parental mental illness or extreme poverty – all of those risk factors lead to higher risk for child maltreatment,” Armstrong said.

“And then you add experiencing homelessness to that list, it is clear these families are at increased risk for negative outcomes. These parents and children already have so many things working against them,” she said.

In a study published in February, Armstrong and her adviser, Professor of Psychology Mary Haskett found that 25 percent of children experiencing homelessness in Wake County are in need of mental health services, another stress factor for these families.

Triple P is a tiered intervention program being used throughout Wake County. The first three levels of intervention are: 1) information for the general population; 2) a brief interaction, such as a tip sheet shared with a parent or a one-hour lesson; and 3) a more intensive interaction with a parent and follow-up phone calls or a group session.

After conducting an intervention with parents, Armstrong will follow up with families three months later to determine the effectiveness of the intervention. Because homeless families tend to be transient, she wants to reach out to families within a short period of time.

“So many people are reluctant to try evidence-based programs with this population because they’re so transient,” Armstrong said. “So I’ll be looking at the effectiveness of these programs, as well as the feasibility and acceptability of these programs. Do the parents feel like they’re getting something out of it?”

Though the funding for the fellowship will be helpful, Armstrong says she is equally excited about the peers she’ll work with through the program. She will also have a policy mentor, Carmela Decandia, from the National Center for Family Homelessness. Fellows will participate in two meetings and four webinars each year. The experience will place Armstrong in a network with scholars from many other disciplines.

“These peer relationships will help launch me into my career – that’s the networking aspect of it,” she said.

After she completes her doctorate, Armstrong said she would like to be involved in policy work related to family resiliency. “I would like to advocate for larger systems-level changes for these children at higher risk and these families that are invisible to society,” she said.

By Natalie Hampton. This article first appeared in NC State's Graduate School News.


More about Armstrong’s dissertation and the Doris Duke Fellowship: Armstrong

Story from NC State’s The Abstract on February journal article co-authored by Armstrong and her adviser, Dr. Mary Haskett, Early Childhood Education Journal

Outstanding Young Alums

Posted on July 7, 2015 7:30 am by Lauren Kirkpatrick

Tony Caravano and Vansana Nolintha.

Tony Caravano and Vansana Nolintha.

The NC State Alumni Association recognized two outstanding young alumni at its Evening of Stars gala.

Both award recipients were Caldwell Fellows and both earned majors or minors in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Tony Caravano (Sociology ’04) served two terms as student body president. After graduation, he worked for the president pro tem of the North Carolina Senate, as a consultant to the general administration of the University of North Carolina system, as deputy state director for U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and as a vice president with Compass Group USA. Now he is a principal in business development and university relations with Amazon Campus.

Vansana Nolintha (Chemistry ’09, minor in Religious Studies) immersed himself in religious studies, art, design and chemistry at NC State. After earning a master’s degree in international peace and conflict resolution from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, Nolintha returned to Raleigh, where he and his sister opened Bida Manda, a hugely popular Laotian restaurant.

This article first appeared in the college's Accolades 2015 magazine.

"I am ..." Humanities and Social Sciences at NC State

Posted on July 1, 2015 7:35 am by Lauren Kirkpatrick

What can you do with a degree from NC State's Humanities and Social Sciences? Students graduating with a degree from our college become entrepreneurs, scholars, business leaders and thoughtful citizens. They forge careers that require intellectual flexibility, outstanding communication skills, broad knowledge of the world, and a sophisticated understanding of human beings and their challenges.


This video was produced by students in NC State's Department of Communication taking COM 437, Advanced Digital Video, led by Jim Alchediak.