wws's picture

    Southern Speak

    I am southern, so to speak.

    Yet I do not speak in what is commonly -- if erroneously -- accepted as a one-size-fits-all "southern accent." What I do speak is the American equivalent of BBC English .... which is softened by a southern intonation that is further honed into something identifiable by sociolect, as a subset of dialect.  Many, many southerners can say the same. Stephen Colbert, for example, is a man who might be from anywhere  -- unless one recognizes the specific combinations of intonation and sociolect in his speech.

     Accent/Intonation/Sociolect/Dialect. What do I mean by these distinctions?

     Accent refers to the way in which a word is, or words in a phrase are pronounced. Intonation, on the other hand, refers to emphasis - the syllabic emphasis within a word, or the word(s) that are emphasized within a phrase. So accent, then, is a sound, while intonation is a cadence or rhythm.

     That's the basic distinction but, of course, it's a little trickier than that. To be southern in terms of speech patterns also means - and this is a really important part of understanding a southern voice- not only which words are selected for use but how they are strung together.

     Which brings us to sociolect as compared to dialect. Dialect is language usage common, even specific to a particular region; whereas, sociolect is language usage common to a particular group within that region.

     I heard a good example of this, just an hour ago.

     A friend of mine stopped by - a person born in Atlanta who has spent her adult life in Charleston. 

    Observing that my male "Morris" cat was looking decidedly tentative at the trough, she might have said - if she were strictly BBC/ American version: "Harry's lost weight; is he ill?" Or -- if she spoke in the clichéd southern accent believed to be ubiquitous by people in other parts of the country or the world -- she might have said (acknowledging the assumption by "people from off" that every southerner necessarily sins by dropping end consonants): "Harry, darlin' boy - you look like somethin' that's been rode hard and put up wet." But instead, because she has an authentic southern voice -- one which is based on both intonation and sociolect rather than on accent and dialect -- she said, conversationally: "Harry - are you fasting? If so, is it for a cause I should endorse?"

     Do "y'all" see what I'm talking about?





    Willie and Wallace say, "Yes, ma'am," and are feeling for your cat.

    "Harry, darlin' boy - you look like somethin' that's been rode hard and put up wet." is Western as well.
    Are you saying you're offended by dialect? LisB asked me the other night why I used (and she made some references to spellings I'm pretty sure I've never used) why I, could say thus-and-so, but she got metaphorically swatted down for the same.
    My only response to her (at least somewhat passive-aggressive question) was that I don't make the rules, and that if I offend someone, I'd love to hear it, apologize, and move on.
    A couple of my Southern friends write to me in dialect or accent or intonation...I can't say I grasp the precise meanings of your differentiation (more due to my thick head than your good explanation).
    I do talk in regional inflections at home, all the way from East Indian to local Westuhn to Cockney, which is hard to type out.
    Please let me know if Ah've offended you. ;-)

    They're all fun, Wendy -- accent, intonation, dialect, sociolect; hey - throw in ethnolect and idiolect for good measure.
    I love hearing authentic voice, in any permutation. And want to encourage others to hear the difference between that and hackneyed stereotypes.
    PS -- I did not know "rode hard and put up wet" is western as well as southern. Sounds as if that might be the start of a story about a traveling man. :-)
    PPS -- apparently the tone I intended in this piece failed. I was feeling friendly and wishing to "share" -- not at all critical or 'marmish.

    Ack! May have been my hearing was wrong since Lis's question. Oh, yes; this area's 'Western' is heavily influenced by Texans; our local dialects/intonations are varied and often strong.
    I am a natural mimic; always have been. Ah spend any time around any different language patterns, and I pick them up. I am an incurable copy-cat; so glad I hadn't offended you!
    I had actually speaking to a mentor about how to type regional speaking sounds... ;-)
    I am obviously more of a hack, but "God saays, dees ees a Goood ting to get better at! You must practice!"
    (In my house, God is almost always East Indian; don't ask me why.)

    Not preaching, Bwak -- just sharing. ;-)

    Thanks, LisB, for you concern about Harry. He may be taking his night shift on the front porch -- which he has demanded to do everywhere I've lived since I adopted him -- a bit too seriously in this heat. I'll keep him in for a few days and see if his appetite returns. Which it probably will if I mention that, otherwise, we'll be going to the VET. (Best regards to you and to Willie and Wallace.)

    I can't mimic deliberately to save my life but put me around people and I will sound like them within two hours.

    I think that's known as perfect pitch. Congratulations.

    Your voice is a resonant wonder, Wendy, in any accent or dialect.

    I know you weren't preaching. I was.


    It was your "mah", Wendy. Er, Davis. When I got knocked down for saying something like "I do declare", or "Fiddle dee dee, or some such."

    Mah goodness, are you still after me for being passive aggressive? I thought we got over that, mah deah.

    ;-) I hear that! I love words and tone and vocal inflections and melodies!

    Wendy, it's my hope that if he stays indoors for a few days, it will restore his health.

    None of us wants to bring our cats to the vet, ever. Although, my sister had to laugh last time she came to Pelham to visit me, and I pointed out my vet's building to her while we were driving around.....the vet's name is Dr. Katz.

    Yes, I bring my cats to Dr. Katz. :)

    Here's hoping Harry will put on some needed weight. Willie, Wallace and I all hope so.

    Kind of you to say so, Wendy.
    G' night.

    Or was it your "Ah" instead of "I"? Good lord, I dunno! Do I care at this point???

    Stop calling me passive aggressive or I *will* care, dammit.



    Meantime, any time I drink I invariably sound more southern by the time the night is through.

    Go figure.

    Good night, dear ladies...I am departing to bed now.

    Yeah I like this.

    One of my buddies was stationed in Germany during the Vietnam War.

    During boot camp in the states he talked about sitting around the campfire somewhere in Georgia and two guys were talking politics and the Georgian spoke up and said:

    Now that there...that there sounded like a communism. Now I aint sayin yer a communism. I'm just sayin you sound like a communism.

    In Germany he recalled being in a bar and when the waitress came by for orders a Southerner spoke up:

    Spleckin the English there Frauline.

    My buddy told me that the German Girls just loved the Southerners. hahahaha

    TV has really stolen something. Intentionally of course. The drawls of the South and the nasal tones of the North seem to have abated.

    I wonder if that is why Palin does so well?

    And I wonder if that may be the reason that--except for Obama--the Southern intonations are not more popular. Bush and Clinton fared well even though the former has to have been the single worst Presidential speaker I have ever witnessed.

    But Obama will sneak in those Southern intonations from time to time when it suits him. For a guy raised in Hawaii for chrissakes.

    I told you over a year ago I could hear the South in your writings.

    We have not become completely homogenized linguistically.

    Which is a good thing.

    A small point. "I am southern" or "I am Southern?" I always have trouble with this.

    Also, isn't the identification of a dialect often dependent on how the dominant power group speaks ? Since "dialect" usually has a pejorative meaning, isn't calling a language a dialect a way to undermine the value of the group who speaks it ? Is Eubonics a dialect or a language ? Is English spoken by a Scot a dialect?

    I don't know about this. I've lived in Mississippi, North Carolina and Florida and was always perfectly comfortable with whatever way anyone spoke. Or maybe I didn't find the differences of speech to be a big deal. I'm a yank by birth (NY) and have lived other places in the midwest and west as well so maybe for me the differences aren't important or even noticeable to me anymore. Personally, I take great pleasure in all the variety that is this country and feel strongly the whole are my neighbors. I'm sure that once upon a time I noticed how we're different. Not so much now though. Or maybe I've simply forgotten. That happens.

    Kali --
    In answer to your questions:

    1) According to rule#12 of the capitalization guide used by the University of South Carolina, I should have capitalized "Southern": http://www.sc.edu/webpresence/editorial_guide/capitalization.html
    I'll see what some y(Y)ankee style guidelines have to say.... OK: three others say yes, one says no.

    2) I'm not sure that the identification of a dialect has much to do with how the dominant power group speaks, but the value judgement -- positive or negative -- that is attached to it obviously does.

    3) As to whether or not the term "dialect" is a pejorative: I think that depends on which dialect is being considered, where (what subjective feelings do those who are considering that dialect have about that place? ) and by whom (is the person doing the considering an outsider or an insider, educated or not?) Etc..

    For example, as an outsider, I am charmed by the dialect (as if there is only one) of Scotland, the intonation of which sounds musical to me. I have a positive response to it, although I can barely understand a word that is being said until I have allowed myself to listen to it in beta wave mode. But, I suspect that urban/educated Scots who speak their version of BBC (aka Southern British English) may find the dialect of their countrymen grating as a reflection of sociolect, which is, to some degree, dependent on level of education/sophistication. That is the very reason I am rubbed the wrong way by the pervasive belief that country/less well-educated southern speech is "it," in terms of southern speak, in the eyes of the world at large.

    4) Ebonics -- I think -- is not dialect per se, but an ethnolect first, a sociolect second and a dialect last.

    DD -- thanks for your comment.

    While looking up the capitalization question for Kali (comment below) I found this wonderful essay on a classic s(S)outhern travel/political/socio/economic analysis book I had forgotten:

    Imo, well worth the read; I think you'd really enjoy it.

    DD --

    When I cited Stephen Colbert as a southerner who has no discernible accent but does have discernible intonations and phrasing typical of a particular SC sociolect, I should have added Charlie Rose, who does have a discernible, if faint North Carolina accent -- although it is muted by his sociolect -- and Nancy Pelosi, whose "southern voice" mine resembles a lot because we both had a formative elementary school experience in Maryland.

    Common denominator: not a single dropped consonant among them; on the contrary, considerable intonation emphasis on crystal clear consonants.

    TPC --

    Like you, I do take great pleasure in all the permutations of voice in America.(I said that, above, in reply to WendyDavis).

    However -- because you do see voice variation as all good, doesn't it, then, bother you -- as a native New Yorker -- that the stereotype of New York speak is the "whachhoowannadoinbouddit"
    socio/dialect and that is a pejorative?

    I would think that certain "mistakes" are part of a regional dialect. For example: Many people in my area say "supposebly" instead of "supposedly." I hear it as a mistake. Within a certain social group, that is the way it's said. Another phrase,"all's I know" is widespread. Again, I hear it as a mistake, yet it's common in the region.

    Certain mistakes are specific to particular dialects but, when they are made, the person making them fits into a particular sociolect within the dialect. In Maryland, Pennsylvania, NJ and parts of NY, it is not uncommon to hear someone say "youz" rather than "you." That choice is one made based on level of education within a general geographic area.

    It just occurred to me that one pronunciation denotes a Southern accent/dialect/sorry I can't get it all yet for me...and that's the pronunciation of *didn't*.
    I don't know if I can type the pronunciations, but it comes out: 'did-dent', rather than 'DIDent'.
    Hear what I mean?
    Jan Foster Greenberg, I think her name is, the Constitutional expert often on PBS, plus Charlie Rose, Bill Moyers, et.al., pronounce that contraction the 'did-dunt' way.

    I think I hear the distinction you're making, Wendy. In the Baby Boom generation, those differences are probably related to regional accent, dialect and sociolect.
    I've noticed, though, that the pronunciation of that word by GenX and GenY is not only incorrect, but also more uniform across the country and across educational levels. Whether said by someone of that age group from New York, the South or the West, most of them say: "didUND."

    Then there's the Ghetto-speak while swiveling one's head on a still neck, much like a dashboard dog with a spring for a neck:
    "No I DI-NT!" Man; I just hate that!

    Hard core Nordern speaker, here. Upon seeing your cat, Wendy, I probably would have asked, "Hey, Harry, are ya off yer feed or what?"

    Several deep holes have been filled with all the g's I've dropped and for some reason, suppose gets transformed into s'pose. I also say reckon right out loud with no apologies. Also, ain't. It's natural speaking for me, it's how I was drug up.

    Can I clean up my English when the occasion arises? I can, and I do. But, it's work, and some days I'm just flat out lazy.

    Some of my nieces and nephews, who have lived around Columbia, SC their entire lives (so far), like to talk to me on the phone because they get a kick out of the way I speak northren. Northren is not a typo.

    A long time internet friend, a %100 California girl, phoned me up one day. She wondered why I sounded Canadian. What's that aboot?

    Personally, I love the diversity of our speech patterns. I love the articulate and the profane.

    You asked thepeoplechoose if the stereotype of New York speak bothered him. I will say that for myself, no, Northern speech patterns being derogatorily typed, like Palin's you betcha and don'tcha know, do not bother me because I know that for every willfully ignorant Palinator there are five nimble-minded and articulate Norderners to put lie to the stereotype.

    So, go ahead stereotyper-ers. Have yer fun. No skin off my nose. :o)


    Flower --
    In Nordern, how would I say: Thank you, Flower, for demonstrating that wobbly use of our mother tongue may well go hand-in-hand with wit?

    So ees a might under the weathah....Ayuh.


    "Mah goodness, are you still after me for being passive aggressive?"

    I've noticed that people are often most offended by witnessing their most obnoxious qualities in others, Lis.

    I've got some weight I'd love to give him! Would 20 pounds do it?

    Wendy, I take this blog as a playful and pleasant hello; don't know why or how anyone could be offended. I realize that I have southern artifacts in my speech (I purposely dropped the ones that would stop conversations), but I think I'll always pronounce "i" in a very wide way.

    My kids made fun of me mercilessly for the ways I used to pronounce the days of the week: Mondy, Tuesdy, well, you get it, I'm sure. But I have enjoyed your TuesDAAY post!

    Oh, one other thing: I was a senior in high school before I actually realized that "you" is both singular and plural. I honestly thought ya'll was the plural form -- and this from a life-long reader!

    Ha! Is that Mainespeak, C?

    So funny, C'Ville. But, actually, isn't it a fact that y'all is the plural of "you"?

    Having been born and raised in West Palm Beach, FL, most people that hear me assume I'm from New York.

    That changed for a while when I attended boarding school in GA as a teenager. Within 2 days, "hey" and "I'm fixin'to" became a part of my vocabulary.

    Now I sound like a geographically confused New Yorker.

    By the way, say 'hey' to Harry. Hope he feels better soon. :-)

    Aw, jeez, Kali; do me a favor and let me know what word signifies? I am so behind on these terms.
    I haven't a clue when someone yells Crickets! at me, for instance. I think, "Is he calling for an exterminator? LOL!

    In Pittsburgh they don't use gerunds. They say "The lawn needs mowed. My hair needs cut. The dishes need washed."

    When I hear that I know exactly where the person is from. I like that.

    Ha! Thank you for the offer, C'Ville -- but he could, after all, get some if not all of of those pounds closer to home (although, thankfully, not as many as he could have had last year.) Nonetheless, I've made an appointment for him on Thursday, as well as for Hermione who seems to have been stung by a wasp and is limping about, without being willing to allow me to examine her paw to remove it. Only Tess remains impervious to the more lethal aspects of southern summer -- draped on her garden wall, in the shade, with her faithful servant delivering fresh bowls of water with ice cubes in them, several times a day.

    I'd forgotten those western Pennsylvania "isms." And about "oil" being pronounced "earl."

    Hey Seashell (and '"hey" to the driving dog).
    I don't know about you, but I am always amazed when people refer to coastal Florida as Southern. It's just not. The interior of the state -- maybe -- but not the coasts.
    Btw, I like West Palm and I could shoot myself for the house (with rental cottage that would now support me) that got away while I dithered about making that move.
    Georgia? My sister has lived in Atlanta for thirty years. I lived briefly near Chastain. It was an easy city in which to find a place and great, interesting friends. But, unlike my sister, I could not adjust to being in the car, all the time. I see from your avatar that you and the puppy do not suffer from similar car, 75/85, perimeter aversion. ;-)
    Thank you for dropping by... or beyeh, as you prefer.

    Try rubbing a copper penny (you'll have to find an old one) on the wasp sting. It is miraculous!

    Oh. My. God!



    The driving puppy and I most certainly have an aversion to anything outside of the perimeter. We just don't go there!

    We live in Decatur (as well as Florida) and almost everything we need is right here. We can walk to Decatur Square and all the shops and restaurants. Those are on the lower, sidewalk level and lofts, condos and apartments are built on the upper levels. All of the eateries have outdoor dining, including water dishes for the puppies. For downtown Atlanta, it's less than a mile to MARTA and 6 miles to downtown from there.

    Really? A copper penny? What does that do to a stinger?

    Ah, rats! Ya just couldn't keep The Pledge, could ya, Brew? ;-)

    It takes away the sting of a yellow jacket, bee, or hornet. It has to be an actual copper penny though. Would I lie to you?

    My mother named us all with 2-syllable names:

    Ja--yan (Jan)

    Ay--yan (Anne)

    Ji--yum (Jim)

    The only exception was, "Rae" -- Hard to stretch that one out, but she managed to make it Raaaaay.

    That is Richmond, Southern.

    Was Jiyum your muuther's favret becawse he was the only boyeh?
    (Did I spell that correctly?)

    You would naiveh leye to me, Eyem sureh.
    (WHY does copper work -- chemically?)

    A lot comes down to "descriptive" approaches to grammar vs. "prescriptive".

    Somewhere in the 1800's it became fashionable to tell people how they should be speaking rather than just observing how they speak. We're still paying for this.

    Was it Victoria's deal? That's when kids began to be considered tiny adults.
    How many times was I told, "The Queen just rolled over in her grave as you said that!"
    Did every kid hear it for generations?
    Grammar and diction still are the great Class Indicators, aren't they? Oh--and orthodontia, I should remember to mention... ;-)

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