Somebody told me, to my horror, that there was a class you could take to lose your Southern accent. I was curious so I Googled it, which I don’t think the Queen put in her original English verb list, but anyway I got 198,000 results in .22 seconds. I clicked on the first link and read the headline, “Is your Southern accent holding you back?” Immediately following the title was a testimony from a woman who endorsed the program of study as a “God-send.” She said she now sounds like the highly-educated woman that she really is, which is quite questionable in my opinion, but we’ll let her slide. Do we Southerners speak with an accent?  Heck yeah we do.  It‘s our birthright. Is an accent and an education inextricably linked – heck no!  To the Southerner his accent is authentic. It’s bona fide. Folks from Boston don’t use Rs, but they aren’t signing up for courses to teach them how to stick an R in at the right spot.

When I was a lieutenant in the 3D Armored Cavalry Regiment I served, for a period of time, in the S3 (Operations) shop. Our field artillery officer was a lieutenant from Boston named Grover.  His noncommissioned officer (NCO) was a black man from Louisiana.  One day about 10 of us were sitting in the office talking and this NCO said, with a thick Cajun accent, “LT Grover, he ain’t got an arra (R) in his whole vocabulary. He just leaves ‘um floatin’ in the air and LT Blackmon, he snatches ‘um up and puts ‘um in words that ain’t even got no arra (R) in ‘um.” It’s a wonder that, with a Cajun, Georgian, and Bostonian, we could even communicate, but we were fortunate to have a fellow from Texas who could translate. He was right though. I grew up laying my head on a pillar at night, and looking out the winder of my car.  Our washing machine even had a rench cycle right after it finished worshing the clothes. LT Grover went home from work every day and pa’ked his Ka in the yad.

Sometimes we Southerners even confuse each other when we talk. There are certainly regional accents, but in the South the thickness of the accent also varies between the county and city. When I first transferred from the county to the city high school I met and began dating a girl who lived in town. I stopped by her house one day after school to ask her if she wanted to go to the fair with me. She looked at me with the strangest expression and asked why I wanted to go see a fire. I repeated fair several times before she figured out that I was talking about a carnival vs. a bonfire of some sort.

Yep, our language sounds different in the South, but so do New Englanders, Brits and Aussies, yet they aren’t taking courses to change who they are so why should you and I? Mark Twain, who wrote in our tongue, once said that his books, “are like water; those of great geniuses are wine. Fortunately, everybody drinks water.” You might pronounce words a bit differently. You might even misuse a verb here and there, but you help define a distinct thread in the American fabric. Be proud of who you are and where you came from.

7 thoughts on “Ya’ll Talk Different

  1. Great stuff! So true. It reminds me, years back I helped a couple from Florida unload a bike out of their trailer, they thanked me and introductions were exchanged. Through the course of the following conversation the man and his wife kept calling me “G M”. It finally dawned on me……I had to laugh as I told them it was “JIM”. In my Texan drawl I manage to stretch it into two syllables. I look forward to following your blogs Jimmy, and will have your book “Southern Roots” in hand before the week is out.

  2. Got a good chuckle out of this! Always wonder what I, a Canadian from Saskatchewan, sound like to someone from a different region. Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote,” O would some power the gift to give us to see ourselves as others see us.” That could be changed by one word to ” O would some power the gift to give us to hear ourselves as others hear us.” Anticipating more of your ‘porch thinkin’. Enjoyed reading Southern Roots this winter.

  3. Born and raised in Alabama, I always thought I spoke American. Everybody else was fouled up.

    23 years in the US Navy taught me that folks from Maine and folks from Alabama have the same accent.

    Folks from New york taught me a valuable phrase…”Excuse Me?”.

    Also…Ya’ll is actually you’s.

  4. Enjoyed the post. I have always enjoyed accents and tend to “pick them up” when I visit an area. Reminds me of a visit I made to Iowa some years ago, and the young lady who waited our breakfast table told us how much she like our accent. We laughed and I told her I enjoyed acents, and that I enjoyed hers, too. She was quite surprised, and became visually upset, that someone woud say she had an accent!

  5. I love reading your comments! Growing up in Tennessee amidst other Southerners, I never realized I had an accent until I lived in California for awhile where everybody I met asked: “Where in the South are you from?” I always smiled and thanked them for the compliment.

  6. I grew up in the steel towns of western Pennsylvania. It wasn’t until I went to college (Penn State) that I realized the variations in speech even within my own state. Where I was used to yunz (you), pop (soft drink) and radiator being pronounced radEator, others were astounded. When I moved to Texas in 1985, I quickly adapted to y’all, darlin’, fixin to and the all purpose direction start of “ya take and go down….” Thanks, Jimmy. Good memories.

    Peace, Jim

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