AP on Southern "accent" reduction

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Wed Nov 30 20:04:06 UTC 2005

Benjamin Zimmer wrote:

> Re: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20051123/ap_on_re_us/southern_identity_accents_1
> Quoting "Dennis R. Preston" <preston at MSU.EDU>:
>>Erica Tobolski's accent wouldn't be welcome at my house either.
> Celia Rivenbark of Myrtle Beach, SC, feels much the same way...
> -----
> http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/mld/myrtlebeachonline/news/local/13267077.htm
> Posted on Sun, Nov. 27, 2005
> CELIA RIVENBARK: Them's fightin' words to me

More backlash against the AP article, this time from Marion, NC...


Marty Queen (Opinion): Lose the Southern accent? I reckon we ort not to

Marion McDowell News
Wednesday, November 30, 2005

There’s a Southern accent
Where I come from.
The young’uns call it country.
The Yankees call it dumb.
I have my own way of talking
And everything is done
With a Southern accent
Where I come from.

- Tom Petty

You’uns may not like what I’m fixin’ to tell you, but some folks are
saying the Southern accent is disappearing. They say it won’t be long
until it’s as rare as mountain panthers or homemade peach brandy or
integrity in Nashville.

An Associated Press story last week suggested the classic Southern drawl
which most of us grew up with is being replaced by something called the
"Standard American Dialect," a speech pattern similar to those used by
network TV news anchors.

Amazingly (at least to me), colleges in the South are actually offering
courses for students who want to get rid of their accents and speak more
like people from other parts of the country. The kids think their twangs
will keep them from getting high-paying jobs and make it harder for them
to interact with fast-talking city folks.

According to the story, the Standard American Dialect - let’s call it
SAD, a truly appropriate acronym - "oozes authority and refinement."

Pardon me if I think it oozes pretense and superiority and a few other
things that ought not be mentioned in a family newspaper. And we, as
Southerners, need to make sure SAD remains the exception and not the
rule down here.

And here’s why:

It isn’t easy being Southern. Many of us are hamstrung from birth by the
difficult socioeconomic conditions that have existed here, especially in
rural areas, for centuries. We’re haunted by a shameful chapter in our
past, shackled eternally to the specter of slavery, guilty by
association. To many, we’ll always be racist, sexist, inbred rednecks
who are stupid, dim-witted and hopelessly backward. And despite today’s
extreme political correctness, it’s still apparently perfectly
acceptable for others to express that sentiment.

It shouldn’t bother us, because we know our critics are totally off
base. We know the truth; most of us are good people. We’re not the
uneducated hillbillies they think we are.

I’ve always believed we should be proud of the things we accomplish
rather than the things, like being Southern, which we inherit via
accidents of birth. But we are who we are, and we certainly shouldn’t be
ashamed of the way we talk.

Now, if all us Southerners communicated via dramatic, arm-waving
histrionics and wildly exaggerated sing-song lilts like gross parodies
of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara, that would be something of which to
be ashamed.

But nobody talks that way. We’re not stereotypes.

Our dialects are as rich and varied as the Southland itself.

Here in Appalachia, we speak with rhythm and resonance and softness,
like our mothers and grandmothers did. Some of our unique colloquialisms
and linguistic idiosyncrasies likely have their origins in the
old-country brogue of our Scots-Irish ancestors. Others come straight
from the primitive river valleys on the Blue Ridge where our forefathers

We leave the "g" off the end of a lot of words that end in ‘g’.

We pronounce the letter "i" with a flat, "ah" sound, as opposed to the
sharp ‘i’ the Yankees use (And yes, if you’re from any part of this
great nation except the South, we consider you a Yankee).

We call kids young’uns, and dogs dawgs.

Sometimes words like ‘ham’ come out in two syllables (hay-um).

We tend to forego the use of the first two letters in words like ‘this’
and ‘that’.

Our way of talking is as genuine as a mother’s love; as heady as the
fragrance of honeysuckles in May; as sweet as molasses and biscuits on a
cold winter morning.

We get our accents honestly, and there is honor in perpetuating them.

If ‘at makes us stupid, so be it.

--Ben Zimmer

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