Southern States English

sorr   Saturday, December 04, 2004, 15:32 GMT
The Southern Dialect


Southern dialect is generally heard south and east of an imaginary line traced along the Maryland-Virginia northern boundary, then along the Ohio River and past the Mississippi (including Souhern Missouri) and finally down through southeastern Oklahoma and East Texas.
Southern talk, like that of New England, began as a type of speech which was basically southeastern English in nature. More than half the colonists in the Virginia colony came from the southern part of England. It is also important to know that whereas the North was largely settled by immigrants who learned English as a second language and who were heavily dependent on the written word, Southerners have always relied on the spoken word. In that respect Southern speech is closer to the native speech of England, and often to Elizabethan English. In any case, only American mountain (or hill) dialect preserves old English so well as Southern talk, and the so-called Ozark accent is often considered a variety of Southern dialect, deriving from the dialect of the Southern Appalachians, which, in turn, was brought there from Pennsylvania by Scotch-Irish immigrants.
Mountain talk is only one possible form of the Southern accent. Southern dialect is extremely varied, and many linguists divide it into smaller dialect regions. Some experts call these divisions the MOUNTAIN (or HILL), PLAINS, and COASTAL DIALECTS. In addition there are the EAST TEXAS DIALECT, LOCAL DIALECTS with Charleston and New Orleans as focal points. Charlestonians are said to be particularly proud of their distinctive accent, which they describe as possessing a amattering of Old English. Older Charlestonians are even sometimes taken for Britons or Scots. New Orleans also boasts of its homegrown Southern accent. A.J. Liebling, a famous linguist, once said about the way people talk in New Orleans: “There is a New York City accent similar to that spoken in New Orleans, even though almost obsolete in New York, living harmoniously in New Orleans alongside Dixie plantation dialect.” It´s major characteristics are:

SLOWER ENUNCIATION: Southern dialects are characterized by a slower enunciation than common in most of the country.

SOUTHERN DRAWL: The Southern Drawl might be described as a gliding or diphtongization of stressed vowels. Results are pronounciations like “yae-yis” for “yes”, “ti-ahm” for “time”. Furthermore “i” is pronounced “ah”, and “oo” is pronounced “yoo”, as in "Ah'm dyoo home at fahv o'clock." and “nice white rice” sounds like “nahs whaht rahs”. An “ow” in words like “loud” is pronounced with a slided double sound “aoo” (combining the vowel sounds in "hat" and "boot").

CORONAL STOPS: Words containing a coronal stop (such as ) and sometimes followed by a high back vowel have a glide inserted between the stop and vowel. Therefore words like tune, new and duty (but not true, rule, sue, dude!) become “tyune” instead of “tune”, “dyuty” instead of “duty” and “nyew” instead of “new”. The forms with are most commonly glided, with less common, and even more rarely. The forms in some varieties become the affricates (eg. ).

CONSONANTS: The final consonants following a combination of slower enunciation and the mentioned drawling vowel sounds (particularly d, l, r and t) are often weakened, resulting in such characteristic Southern pronounciations as “hep” for “help”, “mo” for “more”, “yo” for “your”, “po” for “poor”, “flo” for “floor”, “kep” for “kept”, “nex” for “next”, “bes” for “best”, “sof” for “soft” and “las” for “last”.

SHORT O: Southerners tend to flattern the short o-sound so that it sounds like a short “u”. The most bizarre example is the word “bomb”, which a Southerner invariably pronounces as “bum”.

POSTVOCALIC “R”: The postvocalic “r” is lost in words like “barn” and “turn” in large parts of the Southern Dialect region. Thus Southerners tend to drop the “r” the way New Englanders do, but they don't add extra “r´s”. One has to keep in mind that the “r” is never dropped at the beginning of a word or syllable and a vowel (e.g. “Mary”, “carry” etc.) BEWARE: in some regions (most of Texas, Kentucky) the “r” is kept after vowels!

HOMOPHONES: ”ai” and “a” often fall together so that “blind” and “blond” become homophones (=words that are written differently, but sound alike). ”ai” and “ae” as well often fall together so that “right” is not distinguishable from “rat”.

Like all dialects South talk differs widely within the region. Several examples for this are:

SHORT I-PRONOUNCIATIONS: A very distinct pronounciation heard nowhere alse in the South is heard among older citizens of Memphis, Tennessee who will tell you that they are from “Mimphis, Tinnissi”. As a rule, a short i-pronounciations is used whereever a short “e” is followed by “n”, so that “tender” becomes “tinder”, “penny” becomes “pinny” and “ten pens” become “tin pins”. At the end of words, “y” sometimes has a short ih-sound instead of the “ee” of the New England dialect region. This affects words like “happy” and “carefully”.

BROOKLYN DIPHTONG: The R-colored vowel is followed by a short i-sound in some parts of the Deep South. People there pronounce “bird” as “boid”, “girl” as “goil”, “word” as “woid”, “earth” as “oith”, “oil” as “earl” (all is alternate pronounciation in some Southern parts) and “murder” as “moider” – just as they do in Brooklyn!

THE SOUTH MIDLAND “TH”: In the area of the Appalachian Mountains and the Ozark Mountains, an area originally settled by the Pennsylvania Dutch moving south from the North Midland areas and the Scotch-Irish moving west from Virginia, a “th” at the end of words or syllables is sometimes pronounced “f”.

THE SOUTH MIDLAND –ING-FORMS: An “a” is usually placed at the beginning of verb that ends with “ing”, and the “g” is dropped.

THE SOUTH MIDLAND “O”: An “o” at the end of a word becomes “er”. Thus (together with the fourth and fifth point listed above) people there tend to say: "They a-celebratin' his birfday by a-goin' to see 'Old Yeller' in the theatah").

THE ADDES “T”: A “t” is frequently added to words that end with an “s” sound.

THE VIRGINIA PIEDMONT “R”: When an “r” comes after a vowel, it becomes “uh”, and “aw” becomes the slided sound “ah-aw”. Thus, “four dogs” becomes “fo-uh dahawgs”.

“OY” AND “O”: The sound that is like the sound of the “oy” in “boy” becomes simplified to the long o-sound like that of “owe” when followed by the consonant “l” in some regions of the South. Thus “oil” becomes “ol”, “boil” becomes “”bowl” and “coal” becomes “cohl”.
Brennus   Saturday, December 04, 2004, 19:03 GMT


A good article on the Southern U.S. dialect. It's amazing to me how long the Southern dialect has persisted when General American seems to be taking over everywhere else except in New York, Boston and maybe Minnesota. This may be due partly to the fact that most Southerners are staying close to home and not migrating very much like other segments of the American population.
lims   Saturday, December 04, 2004, 20:04 GMT
It seems that the Southern accent is not easy to shake (not that it has to be of course) because I find that most American Blacks have an accent that's southern-like or at least has touch of the southern accent, no matter where in America that they live. A similar drawl-like accent can be found among Nova Scotian Blacks-- which can be attributed to the great many 'run away' Black slaves of America who found their way to Nova Scotia, Canada.
Brennus   Saturday, December 04, 2004, 22:06 GMT


You are all but right. I remember seeing a young Black boy on a tv program produced in Boston once who had a definite Bostonian accent but 99% of them seem to have a least some Southern cadences and pronunciation in their speech. I live in Washington state where a fair number of White North Carolinians have immigrated and the southern accent can still be heard a little bit in their children who were born here.
lims   Sunday, December 05, 2004, 03:16 GMT
Yes Brennus, the Southern accent has quite a grip on people. It's not my favourite accent, but I prefer the really Southern accents over the George Bush type accents. It's always good to be able to understand very well though.
Jordi   Sunday, December 05, 2004, 04:05 GMT
It would seem there is a social thing about the perception of Southern accents by Northerners in the US. It must be something you are still dragging on from something awful that happened sometime in your local 19th century history, or perhaps even longer before that. It's funny because it would seem that the South was more heavily anglicised than many other places up North, West or even much of the East. You seem to agree on that and yet... After all, the slaves' accents could only be a projection of their masters' accents with whatever substratum they already brought along from across the ocean. They, of course, spread all over the States, especially during the Great Depression and after WWII, I believe. Please correct me if the way the rest of the world is bombarded with US history doesn't correspond to what really happened in Pre-Metropolis times.
It reminds me of the situation in Spain with the Gypsies who, by the way, have been amongst us since the 15th century. Although they now live all over the country they definitely have an accent of their own based on the Southern Andalusian dialect. Needless to say it isn't posh at all to speak Castilian Spanish with a southern accent and even less so in its ignorant Gypsy form. Please understand the irony in my words. They, of course, are entitled to have some of the best musicians and dancers in the country and are supposed to be a happy lot even though they often live in misery. Does that remind you, my American friends, of anything at all? Has that got anything at all to do with the perception we have of accents? What is it Northerners hate most, the Old Grand South or the projection of their accent throughout the Union by the great-grand sons of their freed slaves?
In Spanish there is a saying that goes: there is nothing new in our Lord's vineyards and we, of course, exported the first Grapes of Wrath from Europe. You look too much like the originals to be any different at all.
Brennus   Sunday, December 05, 2004, 07:02 GMT

Dear Jordi,

It's true that Americans in the northern United States tend to look down on their cousins in the southern United States but actually, this kind of stuff goes on all over the world: Russians in St. Petersburg (Leningrad) consider themselves to better than Russians in Moscow; Swedes consider Norwegians and Icelanders to be funny provincials; Koreans and Okinawans complain about being second-class citizens in Japan; Vietnamese consider themselves to be the master race in Indo-China; Newfoundlanders are often the butt of jokes in Canada and even in a country as small as Albania, the Ghegs in the North look down on the Tosks in the South.

You mentioned the Gypsies. I think it's great that you like them and have some nice things to say about them. However, you should also know that before coming to Spain, France and Italy they lived in Germany for a while where they experienced persecution more virulent (in the 15th century) than anything in Spain. Even more recently, in Ceaucsecu's Romania, Gypsies seem to have had a harder life than anywhere in western Europe.
Jordi   Sunday, December 05, 2004, 09:52 GMT
Dear Brennus,
I really appreciate your message. As far as the Gypsies go I did quite a bit of research quite a few years ago and they did arrive later to Spain than the rest of Europe. There is an interesting Spanish bibliography on this question. After all we are the Finisterrae, coming from the Northern Indian exodus that it.
You'd be surprised on the persecution the Gypsies have had in Spain over the centuries. The present day situation of Gypsies has, of course, changed for the better (compared with other periods) although the great majority is still at the bottom of the social ladder. In a country that expulsed the Jews and the Moors, the Gypsies did remain to account for all the hatred the others left behind.
What I tried to get through in my message is that being from a geographic area "that is looked upon" and having the most stigmatised accent of that area (without forgetting shades, colours and, of course, income) is the summum of social disgrace.
Jordi   Sunday, December 05, 2004, 09:54 GMT
that is