The Soon-To-Be-Extinct Southern Accent

Last Sunday two women I have known all my life–a family member and a family friend–stood in front of the church and read the Advent message for the day. As they were reading, I was struck  by the beauty of their accents. And saddened to realize that their unique way with words is disappearing.

There are as many types of Southern accents as there are snowflakes. Unfortunately, the one that most people outside the region know best  is from the Beverly Hillbillies and similiar drivel. Jed Clampitt’s “wheeee doggies” accent conjures up images of toothless,  backwoods, moonshine-making hicks. But there’s another accent all together. Part Scarlett O’Hara…part Steel Magnolias. Part something that’s indescribable–a sense of place.

Close you eyes and listen. These voices are cultured. They are educated. These are women who have lived in the same place for going on 80 years. Their words come out slowly and rounded and deliberately. There’s resonance and one syllable words become two.

It takes a little longer to get the blessing read, but it’s worth it. I could listen to them all day long.

Accents like these are becoming scarce. I don’t talk that way–I’ve lived in other places and watched way too much tv. It’s easy enough for outsiders to mimic a Southern accent for a while, but sooner or later, they falter. To speak like a native in Middle Tennessee, you have to know a few essentials:

  1. Any carbonated soft drink is a coke. A sprite is a coke. A root beer is a coke. Never ever a soda or pop.
  2. You water your garden with a hose pipe.
  3. You build your college bookshelves with Breeko Blocks, not cinder blocks.
  4. Barbecue is pork.
  5. You can’t make a sandwich without mayonnaise.

It seems to me that the more we promote diversity, the more alike we actually become. Twenty years from now, these wonderful accents will be gone. All the children will sound alike–like a network news anchor. I’ll close my eye and listen to them speak and not have a clue if they’re from Franklin, Tennessee or Franklin, Nebraska.


Filed under At Home, Nostalgia

8 responses to “The Soon-To-Be-Extinct Southern Accent

  1. a good friend was born and raised in north carolina, and the sweet lilting accent she has is like music… and neither of her sons has it.

  2. Julie Fisher

    I maintain that as long as there are hot summer days there will be southern accents. You just can’t talk all “clipped and quick” when you live down here. Oh, I mean “when yuh leeuvh dawuhn heeuh.”
    You’re right, of course. It just sounds so darn beautiful!

  3. I stumbled upon this post by way of the nostalgia tag. I’m just close enough to the Ohio to call any and every carbonated beverage a Coke.

    I love a good southern accent. It’s one of the things I miss most about WKU…sometimes I just want to hear a grocery cart called a buggy.

  4. A woman I used to work with was from Kentucky and had the nice Southern accent of which you speak. I loved listening to her talk. Everything just sounded better.

  5. I dated a girl from Memphis who was an actor. She was constantly being told to lose the accent or she would never get work. It broke her heart.

  6. It is sad.

    The southern accent is the most bedevilled in my mind. It can be so ign’nt sounding (Beverly Hillbillies) but so beautiful too. The Georgian Peach; the Virgian gentleman; the Louisiana sing-song. As many as snowflakes is true.

  7. Melanie

    Just today, my mother asked me to get something for her out of the chester drawers, that’s right, right here in Franklin!!!

  8. Pingback: Good writers make me proud of my town at OnNashville | The Tennessean's Blog Directory

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