I just returned from my annual pilgramage down South (North Carolina) and was amazed at what I heard. To understand it, let me give a little background.
I was born in Fayetteville, NC but was raised in the rural area north of it, Eastover Township and Beard, NC (which used to have a post office but no longer does). The dialects I was exposed to differ significantly. The urban dialect of Fayetteville is very similar to the urban dialects of other Southern cities (Atlanta, Charlotte, Spartanburg, etc.)
The rural dialects and those of small towns are the funny ones, like Andy Griffith’s and Kyra Sedgewick’s. I started out with one of those since both my parents came from farms.
I spent a good deal of time last week playing with my grandnephews and grandnieces, all of whom live in rural areas or in small towns. They range in age from 6-12, so all have mastered their version of English. I was amazed that they all spoke the “standard” dialect of radio and TV announcers. In both Cumberland and Onslow counties we would seem to be no more than one generation away from losing the color and regional individualism of Southern dialects.
Those of my age still retain their accents, of course. As I discuss elsewhere,what is popularly called an “accent” is in fact a regional dialect. A regional dialect is a slightly different grammar of a language which is just as complex and rigid as the standard variant. Thus, like any grammar, it is “hard wired” into our brains as we learn language between the ages of 2 and 6 and this makes it difficult to change.
So the old folks I hob-nobbed with at my 50th HS reunion spoke pretty much like they did when we were in HS but their grandchildren probably speak like your average Yankee.
The mass media makes retaining regional differences difficult. In many US families today children hear radio and TV more than they hear their parents. Since we pick up language and whatever dialects it carries from those we hear speaking it, regional dialects in the US are probably doomed. It is just a matter of time.
One aspect of this disappearance, however, may slow it down. People who listen to little radio and TV—or restrict there conact with the media to country radio and the popular redneck humor of Comedy Central—tend to retain their accents longer. Hopefully, this will not strengthen the prejudict that an association exists between southern accents and lack of education or knowledge.
But this is just my impression. I know of no research that has been conducted on the subject. Maybe I am wrong. (I was once before back in November of 1983).