Teaching With a Kentucky Accent

Beverly Flanigan flanigan at OHIO.EDU
Fri Dec 6 17:02:40 UTC 2002

At 10:43 PM 12/5/2002 -0500, you wrote:
>At 2:19 PM -0500 12/5/02, Beverly Flanigan wrote:
>>I tell my students that this prejudice will change as power and money move
>>southward, as they now are.  Four presidents since LBJ have been from the
>>South, and no one considers them dumb (well, maybe excepting the present
>>one...), and the two recent midwestern presidents, Truman and Eisenhower,
>>didn't talk like the Eastern elite by any means.
>Actually I think there is some dialect prejudice at work here.  There
>were (and for all I know still are) jokes about both Carter and
>Clinton being dumb, even though by objective standards neither is the
>case (Rhodes scholarship for Clinton, various honors for Carter, and
>so on).  I suspect a lot of it had to do with them "sounding like
>crackers", as I've heard it put, and some it specifically linked to
>what people from Georgia or Arkansas are like. There may be a
>disconnect in each case, part of which is presumably mediated by the
>politics involved, but at least some of it by the dialect/accent.  I
>don't recall similar jokes about Mondale, McGovern, or Dukakis,
>although there were of course other sorts of jokes involved, as there
>were about Ford, Bush Sr., Reagan, and especially Nixon.  In fact, a
>nice minimal pair might be Ford vs. Carter or Clinton:  while there
>were those jokes and routines about Ford not being able to walk and
>chew gum at the same time, nobody (or not that many) made fun of the
>way he talked or looked (remember the parodies of the Carter smile?)
>or ate/farmed (remember the jokes about the peanuts?).  I don't think
>regional prejudice can be entirely dismissed.
>P.S.  Consider too JFK vs. LBJ:  the latter was often treated as
>dumb, the former never, although again objectively I think this would
>be hard to support.

You're right, of course; I was idealistically looking both backward and
forward.  But Ford and Mondale, with their "older" Michigan and Minnesota
voices, were mocked a bit, weren't they?  (Cf. the woman in "American
Tongues" who says Wisconsinites "sound like they're Norwegian.")  On
JFK:  I wonder if he benefited somewhat from the good memories of FDR,
whose upper-class NY speech must have sounded strange to Midwesterners in
the 30s but who did good things "in spite of" his origins?  As someone else
pointed out, JFK was hardly a Brahmin (with his intrusive /r/, for
example), but he looked elite and posh--not for nothing, I might add.

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