Heard on The Judges: St. Louis BE

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Thu Aug 5 23:21:13 UTC 2010

On Thu, Aug 5, 2010 at 8:39 AM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com> wrote:
> Have never noticed "hyar" in East TN white English

"Hyar" was based upon childhood memories of the dialect of radio and
movie horse operas and the standard Li'l Abner/Barney Google & Snuffy
Smiff eye-dialect of the era. Of course, it now seems to me that
"Early Cuyler" (Wasn't there once a baseball-player named _Early_
Wynn? Yes. EW, Jr., in fact, "born in The 'Bam' " in Hartford, AL)
does say hyur. But, since it turns out that his voice is from NC, that
answers the question as to whether "Early's" accent is genuine

I once knew a girl from Cleveland, TN - sigh! Girl? She'd be a woman
of late middle age, at least in her early 60's, today. Google Maps
shows the town as being located so far east in TN as to be practically
in NC. However, she was a Tulane PhiBK and spoke with the accent that
I've been brought up to regard as that of the better class of Southern
white folk: stereotypically seen (among blacks) as ahra-less and
drawling, with the dulcet tones of Ol' Massa, unlike the speech of
Scotch-Irish hill-folk, what with their harsh twanging and serious
ahra-fulness, and being so po' that their ancestors didn't own nary a
slave, let alone a whole plantation's worth. That is, she used "heah"
[hi@], very like unto the (old-school?) BE pronunciation.

Of course, that is mere prejudice and not fact. Indeed, I've mentioned
that I have - well, *had* - a pretty heavy twang myself. I'd wince
every time that I heard myself on tape giving the Security Agency code
for Tempelhof AFB, DT: delta tah-ang-go. My belief had been that *no*
BE-speaker twanged, especially not one such as I, who'd devoted a
lifetime to erasing that "beneath-the-magnolias" sound from his voice.

Reality once again goes mano-a-mano with perception and loses badly. I
can't possibly have been the only BE-speaker in existence with a
twang. It must have been typical of StL BE. But, in those days, I
noticed it only in the speech of white speakers from somewhere
"outstate," like Saxton - spelled "Sikeston" - MO, in whose speech I
*expected* to hear twanging.

WRT to the StL drawl as first defined, AFAIK, by a Boston-Globe music
critic, based on her hearing of the pronunciations used on Nelly's
"Hot In Herre," as much as I'd like to believe the article and the
special representation in spelling, I admit that I don't really hear
the word spelled "herre" as [h^r]. It sounds pretty much like ordinary
"here" to me.

OTOH, on records by another St. Louis hip-hopper, Anti-Social, e.g.
I'm Hurr, I'm Thurr, I'm Urrwhurr, there can be no doubt. WRT to the
"Judges" speakers, one used [^r] as the spoken reflex of *every*
string spelled with _air -air, -err, -urr, ere, -ere_," whereas the
other set used only the standard pronunciations of such words.

Oh, well.  Perhaps, as Anti-Social suggests, if one has a big boody,
one should hold it in the [^r], and leave it at that.

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"––a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
–Mark Twain

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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