At a recent Christmas banquet, I was sitting next to a Yankee who had just moved to these parts. We were kidding him about the way he pronounced some words. He had questions, so I agreed to write a brief little guide to the Southern Accent which I hope will be useful to him and any others in a similar state of confusion.
First, I warn, don’t judge the speech of any state or area by that of university towns. These are islands in a vast sea of regular Southern talkers.
Also, there is no one Southern Accent, there are many kids who grow up in a university town are exposed to accents from many areas and countries. Therefore, they usually wind up with an accent-less accent. My parents thought my kids talked like Yankees.
It’s an over-simplification, but the main two Southern Accents are what I call Hillbilly Southern and Plantation Southern. The main — and it’s a big one — dividing line between the two is the letter R.
HB Southerners love it. If there’s not one there, they’ll put one. Piller, holler, foller, warsh, Even names. Mother’s name is Edna. All her life she has been known as Edner. Then there’s Aunt Rama. If she had heard anything but Ramer she wouldn’t have known who they were talking about.
Plantation Southerners, on the other hand, abhor R’s, except at the beginning of a word. They still talk about that horrible Waugh Between the States. We had a new teacher from PS country one time. She was talking about the benefits of drinking liquids. She that that coffee and tea and milk and everything were OK, but that a body needed just plenty of good old waugh-tuh.
Waugh-tuh? What in the world was that? After we caught on, the whole class erupted in laughter. “What, what’d I say?” she asked. She never quite regained control of the class.
She ort (that’s HS for “ought”) to have said watt-er. Everybody knows that.
We all have trouble with long I’s. The rubber things you put on your car’s wheels are tars. the stuff that’s burning over there is a far.
Short I’s, too. Things become thangs, as in, “We’ve got to go home and do the thangs (chores).” And, “The all-day sanging is comuing up this Sunday.”
And don’t fall for the fiction that all Southerners talk with a slow drawl. No, sir. There are real Southern people who can spit out words like a Tommy gun spits out bullets.
A few things you should know: The three main meals are breakfast in the morning, dinner at noon, and supper at night. Lunch is that peanut butter sandwich and a baked potato that you take to school or work in a paper poke.
For all practical purposes, Southerners don’t have afternoons. Morning goes from midnight to noon, evening goes from noon to dark, and night is dark to midnight. “Evinin, how y’all doin,” could be any time after noon. Y’all, by the way, is never used about a single person. Y’all is, simply put, plural for “you.” When somebody says Y’all’ come, they mean, bring the famiily, all of y’all.
There are pockets within pockets of speech styles. One time a lady was sponsoring a girl in a beauty contest. The girl had everything: looks, intelligence, personality–”If,” the sponsor said, “she’d just get rid of that flat little Valley Accent.”
Other helpful hints: An electric ice box is a Frigidaire, no matter what the brand. When talking about milk, you specify sweet milk or butter milk. You go to the tooth dentist to get your teeth fixed. “Fixin’” to” is a perfectly good way of saying you’re about to do something. The rest of the country just hasn’t caught on yet.
Southerners, like all people, are pretty lazy about “ing” endings. The G is usually forgotten or swallowed (swallered). In fact, if somebody does pronounce that G too obviously, he/she is looked at kind of funny. Once knew a girl who went from our town to Washington, D.C. When she came home a month later, her speech was so proper, so many ing’s floating around, that you could hardly understand her. The word “something” is not done the way they did it in “Heat of the Night.” Thy tried to sound Southern by saying “somethin’.” No. It’s sump’n. Got it? “Ain’t that sump’n!
An easy way to spot a Yankee is by listening to what they call the place where you try to get an education. It is a school. Period. Not a “schoo-ul.
It is written.
Bob Sanders is a veteran local radio personality, columnist, author and raconteur of note.