View Full Version : Southern U.S. accents disappearing?

24-11-05, 00:09

Whither the Southern Accent?
By JEFFREY COLLINS and KRISTEN WYATT, Associated Press Writers
Wed Nov 23,12:57 PM ET

COLUMBIA, S.C. - "Y'all" isn't welcome in Erica Tobolski's class in voice and diction at the University of South Carolina. And forget about "fixin'," as in getting ready to do something, or "pin" when talking about the writing instrument.

Tobolski's class is all about getting rid of accents, mostly Southern ones in the heart of the former Confederacy, and replacing them with Standard American Dialect, the uninflected tone of TV news anchors that oozes authority and refinement.

"We sort of avoid talking about class in this country, but clearly class is indicated by how we speak," she said.

"Many come to see me because they want to sound less country," she said. "They say, 'I don't want to lose my accent completely, but I want to be able to minimize it or modify it.'"

That was the case for sophomore Ali Huffstetler, who said she "luuuvs" the slow-paced softness of her upstate South Carolina magnolia mouth but wants to be able to turn it on and off depending on her audience.

"I went to New Hampshire to visit one of my best friends and all they kept saying was, 'Will you please talk, can you just talk for me?'" Huffstetler said. "I felt like a little puppet show."

Across the fast-growing South, accents are under assault, and not just from the modern-day Henry Higginses of academia. There's the flood of transplants from other regions, notions of Southern upward mobility that require dropping the drawl, and stereotypes that "y'alls" and "suhs" signal low status or lack of intelligence.

But is the Southern accent really disappearing?

That depends what accent you mean. The South, because of its rural, isolated past, boasts a diversity of dialects, from Appalachian twangs in several states to Elizabethan lilts in Virginia to Cajun accents in Louisiana to African-influenced Gullah accents on the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina.

One accent that has been all but wiped out is the slow juleps-in-the-moonlight drawl favored by Hollywood portrayals of the South. To find that so-called plantation accent in most parts of the region nowadays requires a trip to the video store.

"The Rhett-and-Scarlett accent, that is disappearing, no doubt about it," said Bill Kretzschmar, a linguist at the University of Georgia and editor of the American Linguistic Atlas, which tracks speech patterns.

"Blame it on the boll weevil," he said, referring to the cotton pest. "That accent from plantation areas, which was never the whole South, has been in decline for a long time. The economic basis of that culture started going away at the turn of the last century," when the bugs nearly wiped out the South's cotton economy.

Even as the stereotypical Southern accent gets rarer, other speech patterns take its place, and they're not any less Southern. The Upland South accent, a faster-paced dialect native to the Appalachian mountains, is said to be spreading just as fast as the plantation drawl disappears.

"The one constant about language is, it's always changing," Kretzschmar said. "The Southern accent is not going anywhere. But you have all kinds of mixtures and changes."

For a long-term study on whether the Southern accent is disappearing, University of Georgia linguists went to Roswell, Ga., an Atlanta suburb that is just the kind of transient place that leads to the death of indigenous dialects. It's packed with strip malls and subdivisions with no cotton patches or peach trees in sight.

"I don't hear it," 21-year-old Roswell native Amanda Locher said of the accent. She's never lived outside the South, but even Northern newcomers question her Southernness. "People tell me I sound like I'm from up North. To hear a true Southern accent, you'd have to go deeper south than here."

Adam Mach, a 25-year-old tire shop worker who moved to the Atlanta suburbs from Lafayette, La., has got a noticeable Louisiana lilt. But he said his accent seldom makes conversation because the area is such a melting pot of newcomers.

"Everybody I meet's not from here," he shrugged.

North Carolina State University linguist Walt Wolfram said it's a misconception among Southerners that Yankee newcomers are stamping out traditional speech. More likely, he said, is that newcomers pick up local speech patterns.

"When people move here and don't think they've changed at all, they go home and people say, 'Wow. You've turned Southern.' They pick up enough to be identified as Southern. So it's still there, still strongly identified with the South," Wolfram said.

But that doesn't mean that population change in the South isn't chipping away at old-timey dialects, especially in cities. Wolfram said the "dearest feature" of the Southern accent — the vowel shift where one-syllable words like "air" come out in two syllables, "ay-ah" — is certainly vanishing. Other aspects — such as double-modal constructions like "might could" — are still pervasive.

Kretzschmar, who has recorded Roswell speakers for three years, said his suburban Atlanta studies have backed up his suspicion that the Southern accent is morphing along with the urbanizing South.

"It's not really disappearing, but the circumstances of living make it different," he said. "People don't have connections with their neighbors to maintain their way of speech.

"The circumstances of how people get together and talk in the cities have changed; they're not constantly talking to people who talk just like them. But in the South outside the cities, you have a lot of similarities."

Georgia-bred humorist Roy Blount Jr. understands that people with strong Southern accents are often perceived as "slow and dimwitted." But he thinks it's "sort of a shame" that people should feel the need to soften or even lose their accents.

"My father, who was a surely intelligent man, would say `cain't'. He wouldn't say `can't.' And, `There ain't no way, just there ain't no way.' You don't want to say, `There isn't any way.' That just spoils the whole thing," Blount said.

"I just think that there's a certain eloquence in Southern vernacular that I wouldn't want to lose touch with ... you ought to sound like where you come from."

But never fear. There are still plenty of professions that thrive on a good Southern twang — from preachers to football coaches to a certain breed of courtroom litigators.

And South Carolina's Tobolski, an Indiana native who came south eight years ago, can help there, too. As a private coach she has even taught a politician she wouldn't name how to ratchet up his Southern accent to make him appear more folksy before certain crowds — a technique she calls "code switching."

"He didn't want to lose his dialect entirely. He just wanted to be able to adapt."

"I don't think that any regional accent is going to be eliminated," she said. "There's still people who want to hang on to how they sound. That's who they are. That's their identity. And that goes from New Jersey to Minnesota to Wyoming to Georgia."


EDITOR'S NOTE — Kristen Wyatt reported this story from Roswell, Ga.; Greg Bluestein in Atlanta and Allen G. Breed in Raleigh, N.C., also contributed to this report.

24-11-05, 01:05
some of our members from the deep south(US) to talk to you on SKYPE !

Mars Man
24-11-05, 12:23
I grew up in 'Bama, the heart of Dixie, but never really acquired so much of a drawl or accent that it couldn't change, and change it did. As I started hanging out with folks for India and Japan in highschool, it may have weakened a bit. After going out to Arizona after one year at the University of North Alabama, I guess I just really lost it. Then, after having spent some nine years here in Japan, I went back to Alabama to visit my folks in '92. On several occasions the likes of the following occured:

I went into a restaurant, the waitress came up and took my order, and then with some delighted, enthusiastic smile, said, "Oh, why you're from France, aren't you!!" o.k.....

My two little sisters, esp. the younger one, well she'd fit in Scarlet O Hara just any ole day. But I would not be surprized at all if that style of talk slowly fades off into history as so many other accents and dialects have done over the tens of thousands of years.

A nice post !:cool:

05-01-06, 19:00
In fact, the Southern drawl is very charming. It is one of my favourite dialects to listen to! I love it when people speak with a Southern drawl..

16-01-06, 22:56
Interesting article! I'm from Florida but I don't have a Southern accent. I can imitate it near perfectly though, having heard it from my grandparents. It is indeed a charming thing to listen to!:cool:

17-01-06, 05:34
I grew up in Florida, but after living so many places my accent kind of disapeared.

Mike Cash
17-01-06, 13:15
Erica Tobolski and those of her ilk need to be publicly horse whipped.

17-01-06, 13:31
If you think the Southern accent is disappearing, just listen to me talk!

You can definitely tell where I'm from.

17-01-06, 19:21
If you think the Southern accent is disappearing, just listen to me talk!
You can definitely tell where I'm from.

I think just the right amount of Southern-ness in an accent is very sexy.:p

18-01-06, 04:30
I'm just glad that people who read this will finally know that there is no southern accent! There are a multitude of them.

By the way, mine's pretty localized; it's even different from my mom's, my dad's, and at least one of my brother's.

Just because I found this interesting I'll share with y'all: I was on a plane from Pheonix to Honolulu, and a guy sitting next to me said that he was from Lafayette (LA). I told him I was from Donaldsonville (also LA), and he said, "you don't sound like you're from Donaldsonville." When I asked him why that was, he said, "I thought you would've sounded more cajun." I said "you should hear my mom." We're from the same state (about seventy miles apart) and we have markedly different accents. Funny that he said that, though. Lafayette's in the heart of Acadiana, one of the heaviest cajun areas. I guess the city thing neutralized the effect.

18-01-06, 04:47
Well, that's true. Where I live now is only an hour's drive from where I grew up, and the accents are completely different. I'm made fun of here for my long i's, but at least I don't make "hair" a three syllable word ending in "ah" instead of "r"! :p

19-01-06, 22:34
In fact, the Southern drawl is very charming. It is one of my favourite dialects to listen to! I love it when people speak with a Southern drawl..

Let's trade places... No really.

I live in Texas, but I'm originally from Baltimore, Maryland.
You won't believe how many people around here are "fixin' to" to do things. Texans will even tell you they're "fixin' to git ready" to do something.

22-01-06, 01:14
I kinda hope it does disappear. No offense to anyone, I just don't like how it sounds.

Mike Cash
22-01-06, 03:40
I kinda hope it does disappear. No offense to anyone, I just don't like how it sounds.
And I find the accent (or bland lack of one) found in your area of the country equally as displeasing, if not more so.
I remember once conversing with a flight attendant who was from the Pacific Northwest and not being able to get over a sort of weird fascination with her bland "network standard" accent-less English. I listened with the same fascinated revulsion with which one views a train wreck. And I couldn't help but feel pity for the woman if that was truly the way people spoke where she was from.

No offense, though.

22-01-06, 03:48
Thank you, Mike.

I can't help the way I talk.


Mike Cash
22-01-06, 03:51
Thank you, Mike.
I can't help the way I talk.

You're looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

You meant so say, "I'm proud of the way I talk and I feel pity for others who speak differently."

23-01-06, 01:39
I'm cool with bland.

Mike Cash
23-01-06, 16:02
You have my pity, for what very little it is worth.

23-01-06, 16:08
Sorry to push in (not being from the US), but it amused me inordinately to see the heading 'Southern US accents disappearing?' come up under 'Serious discussions'.

(No offense meant! ^^)

This kind of debate has been held about English regional accents for donkey's years.

Personally as a UK-er, I prefer a slightly southern US accent which tends to be a bit slower. I only went to the States one time, that was Washington DC, and I actually found the (prevailing) accent quite difficult to understand, because people spoke quickly. :mad:

23-01-06, 17:20
Kinsao, a lot of people like the southern accent for just that reason. I know lots of people from other countries(including my best friend who is a Brit) who find it easier to talk to people with southern accents because they tend to talk slower and also because of the low(er) tone.

Can you imagine talking to Fran Drescher all the time? Gah.

Our accents are just something else that makes us who we are. It's one of the good things about living in this country, I think. So many regions, so many different landscapes, so many different ways of doing things, so many different races, so many different accents, etc. etc. That is one thing Americans should appreciate. We have so much diversity.

Mike Cash
23-01-06, 18:09
This kind of debate has been held about English regional accents for donkey's years.

I have heard it said that it is impossible for one Englishman to open his mouth without causing another Englishman to despise him.

23-01-06, 18:10
I have heard it said that it is impossible for one Englishman to open his mouth without causing another Englishman to despise him.

You heard right.

25-01-06, 11:43
Awwww, I quite like southern accent(s),They're charming. My late Granny had one. And she was the coolest granny on the block.

06-02-06, 05:54
Hey, used to live in North Carolina before i moved to the middle of the country. People kept teasing me about how I said certain words. I listened closely to their words, and I was able to mimic most of them. i learned to speak like them, but every time i go back to North Carolina, I subconsiciously switch and find myself speaking with a slight twang again. Now, i can hear the difference in all accents, and i adjust to it after a little while. I don't even do it on purpose, but I know I'm doing it.

08-01-11, 05:10
I agree that much of the regional differences in US pronunciations, especially the various ones of the South, are starting to wither away. I think that Cable/satellite/network TV had much to do with it, as did the work force being much more mobile than in the past. Whole companies picked up and moved south, bringing boatloads of northerners there.

It is disappointing, since it is a pleasure to speak to someone and be able to ask if he or she is from, say, Texas or Suffolk Virginia just because you were able to pick it up in their accent. Those who have been in the US Military tend to have the greatest range of exposure to the regional styles. I myself, though from central northern New Jersey, have most of my mother and father’s accent (Bronx and Brooklyn New York).
I have taken more than my fair share of good-natured abuse because of that, both at home and away.