2017-07-12 / Editorials

Southern accent is melodious

Other Voices
Mitch Clarke

Hardly a month goes by that I don’t hear or read something that make fun of the Southern accent. I never have understood this.

I’m a proud Southerner. Y’all know that.

I’m proud to have grown up in rural southwest Georgia, proud to have grown up around peanut fields and cow pastures rather than skyscrapers and traffic.

And I’m proud of my accent. I say “y’all” and I make no apologies. I tend to drop the “g”s from a lot of words. I say “I’m fixin’ to” do something instead of saying “I’m preparing to” do something.”

I think the Southern accent is melodious. It rolls off the tongue with ease.

I have a friend who grew up in Boston, and she still sports a strong Northeastern accent.

“Let me pok my cah in the back yahd,” she said.

And she has the audacity to make fun of the way we talk.

Even Chelsea, my trainer, gives me grief of my accent. After about the first month of our arrangement, I texted her that I had now gone the longest period of time in my life without eating something fried.

“I’m afraid my Southern card is going to get revoked,” I texted.

“Don’t worry, silly. Your accent proves your Southern card is still valid.”

Worse than the teasing is the fact that modern technology — like iPhone’s Siri or Helen, my GPS lady — can’t understand me when I talk.

“Siri, what is the weather going to be tomorrow in Gainesville?” I’ll ask.

“What the heck are you saying?” Siri responds. Or some words to that effect.

Siri can’t understand me because “going to” comes out “gonna,” and the last syllable in Gainesville sounds more like “vuhl” than “veal.”

It’s not like Siri is a New Jersey American who expects me to say, “Yo, Siri, what’s da weather like tomorrow in Trenton?”

But now there may be some good news on that front. In an article in Science News magazine, a University of Georgia linguist says understanding the diversity of ways Southerners shift vowel sounds can actually help improve the way voice-activate devices work. A vowel shift, according to the study, occurs when Southerners pronounce “pie” as “pah.”

As part of the study, more than 400 hours of audio from the Digital Archives of Southern Speech were analyzed. It includes interviews with 64 native Southerners, representing a mix of ethnicities, social classes, education levels and ages.

What the study found is that all Southern accents are not alike. Southern men and woman are equally likely to pronounce “bet” and “bay-ut,” but upper middle class Southern woman are more likely to pronounce it as “beeut.”

In fact, the study says, Southern women are more likely to draw out words into two syllables.

I’m not sure it’s just the women. Years ago, I went to a college conference in Chicago. I got onto the hotel elevator and said, “Hi.” I got accused of being the only person who could make a two-letter word into two syllables.

I’ll just say I’m glad to see someone working on make devices like Siri understand me. As technology continues to roll forward, I’m certain more and more voice activated systems will be created. Called your credit card company lately? Lots of them now ask you to speak your response rather than pressing a button.

I wish equal luck for the Northerners and their accents up at Hahvahd Yahd.

Mitch Clarke, a native of Blakely, is the editor of AccessWDUN. com in Gainesville. He can be contacted at mitch.clarke@gmail.com. Read previous columns at www.accesswdun.com/ blog/mitch.

Return to top