Monday, February 19, 2007


One of the things I love about the south is my southern accent. I love that one syllable words sometimes have two: "will" is "weeuyl" and "head" is "heyud." I love watching videos of my sister and I when we were babies, talking to the video camera. "Mama, feelm me while I go ova thay-ur and do a flee-yup." "Mommy, watch this! We're gon' pre-tee-und like we tha bears at Showbeeyiz."

Rednecks we were not. But southern, we still are.

Which is why I nearly lost my lunch the other week when I was listening to a famous storyteller (yes, that is a job) at a work event. This well-educated man, who travels all over the country, broke the news to us that within a generation or two, dialects and accents might be completely gone.

Doesn't that make you sick? But it makes perfect sense at the same time. After some research on Google, here is what I was able to come up with:

First, all of the accents (eastern, southern, northern) are all merging together. People are moving in all directions, following jobs, schools, etc. How often do you meet someone whose typical answer to "where are you from?" goes something like this: “I was born in Ohio, but moved to Georgia for school and now I work in New York." People moving around so much more means that accents and dialects are being crossed, mixed and phased out.

Did you know that the original dialects in this country were the results of the accents of the immigrants who landed on the east coast? That is why all the majority of accents are in the east. However, as the immigrants migrated to the west, all the accents merged into one, so there are no distinctive regional dialects west or north of southern Ohio (exceptions: Illinois and Minnesota). While there are peculiar pronunciations and vocabularies, like infamous Valleygirl slang in California, there are no distinctive dialects, like the Brooklyn, Boston or southern accent. Now the regional speech differences are fading in the east, as well. And unfortunately, terms and pronunciations that I remember hearing during my childhood, already no longer exist. I imagine this is even more true for my mom's generation.

Secondly, it seems to be a function of education. The more highly educated you want to appear, the less of an accent you strive to have. Why do you think comedians, when imitating President Bush, grossly exaggerate his Texas accent? I have a friend whose everyday voice drips with southern hospitality. It's like she just stepped off the set of Steel Magnolias. But when she meets people or speaks to strangers, her voice totally changes into that of a newscaster's. She does not want her sweet, meek southern voice to indicate ignorance or timidity. I am guilty of this too. Don't we all have an "interview voice?"

Third, we can thank television. Children are watching so much more television than two generations ago, which is what preserved accents for so long and is disintegrating them now. A lot of kids today spend a few hours at daycare, then get picked up by a nanny and plopped in front of the television until Mom or Dad get home to tuck him or her in. This lack of dialogue means that most of the conversations the kid hears is from the television, where everyone speaks the same. TV "brings the dominant dialect to everyone and generally makes fun of the non-dominant ones." Were you like me, and had a very thick accent when you were smaller? As we grow older, we watch more TV and before we know it, we are affected and unwittingly robbed of most of our accents. My 6-year-old cousin speaks with more enunciation and articulation than the rest of our family combined. Seriously. She speaks perfect English. I blame Dora and Barney.

All of that to say, I have enacted a plan to protect the charming dialect spoken by my unborn children and I. First of all, I am training myself to speak MORE southern. Call me if you don't believe me. Secondly, I am also correcting my friends that are losing their southern accent (cough Eric Dunlap and Drew Streich cough). If you whip out some funky non-southern pronunciation that you should know better than to use, I'm going to call you out. Lastly, if I ever have kids, I am going to ban television and home-school them so that no well-intended teacher can instruct my kids that "will" is not pronounced "weeuyl" and "heyud" is actually just "head." The south shall rise again... at least in my family.

1 comment:

  1. ouch. . . sometimes i don't want the way i talk to become a conversation piece.

    i never thought about accents merging as you move west. interesting.


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