Accents, We All Have One (or do we?)

Actually, no, not everyone has an accent. However, I am getting ahead of myself again.

One night when insomnia and I were looking to occupy our time, I landed on PBS. Another college professor droning on about his topic. Blah, blah, blah. Linguistics. He was talking about regional accents and I was ready to switch to the shopping channel when he said something that caught my attention.

Ohio does not have a regional accent. How can anyone not have an accent of some sort. Next he moved to the South.

Okay now my Yorkie, Sam, and I were reaching for popcorn not the remote.

I grew up in the South. I have tramped all over Dixie. I know Southern accents, and I know the subtle differences. Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, NORTH Florida (that area South of Georgia East of Tallahassee, and North of Ocala. The panhandle is the panhandle not North Florida) each just slightly different.

To Yankees we all sound alike, except Louisiana, even Yankees can tell that difference. But the professor was explaining the “why’s and wherefore’s”and as much as I hated to admit it, he made a lot of sense.

He used a map to show the historical migration across the country. Then he showed a map that traced linguistical migration across the country. He even explained when certain groups migrated to certain areas (like Southerners to Missouri or Kansas) based on the commonalities of speech in the old area (South) and the new area (Missouri and Kansas).

If you come across that show sometime, watch it. He really did make it seem interesting. Who knew a college professor could actually be interesting. Turns out Ohio isn’t accent poor. Ohioans just have the most neutral accent of all Americans. He also explained the closest accent in America to the British accent is the Southern accent. The main difference is the ending sound of words. One slides up and the other slides down. Look up the show, you’ll see what I am talking about.

Anyway…. back to our story.

I do know a lot about accents though. And any Southern boy or girl that has moved to the land of Yankees does too. First thing you learn as a Southern Expatriate is — you have a Southern accent, you are stupid.

You work for a multi-national company in the engineering department. You have a master’s degrees in engineering and business administration. That’s nice. The janitor is going to talk down to you, get used to it, you have a Southern accent you are stupid.

Also, you will have people walk right up to you, look you in the eye, and say to you, “Say something.”

Yankees think we “sound cute” too. So you are entertaining, cute, and not very bright.

Obviously my first order of business after moving to this foreign land was not finding a new place to live, new friends, or even the nearest post office. Nope. I had to ditch the Southern accent.

My daughter Elizabeth taught me something about that. But, we’ll get to that later.

It was hard, but I finally managed to tone down the accent enough to fit in. It worked too. No longer was I entertaining, stupid, or cute every time I asked a question. People stopped walking up to me just to say, “Say something.”

Now flash forward two decades. I’m a proud dad, my daughter is ten years old, and my ex-wife has let me take our daughter on a road trip for the first time (thank you Marina).

Now maybe I didn’t want to sound Southern, but just like Herschel Walker, I am proud of my Southern roots. So naturally, after a visit to Missouri to see family, I took my daughter on a tour of the South.

We went through Arkansas, stayed the night in Chattanooga, Tennessee, through Georgia to South Carolina. We visited the Columbia Zoo thanks to one of my childhood friends. Then we went to Charleston and toured the city (I stocked up on yellow stone washed grits while I was there. Yankee grocery stores just don’t have good grits).

We did ghost walks, saw the Confederate submarine HL Hunley, walked the battery, met another childhood friend (awful lot of Floridians living in the Carolinas now that Yankees are taking over Florida), and generally had a great time before taking Elizabeth back to her mother in Ohio.

Now for the lesson on accents from my then 10 year old daughter. At her request, as we were driving around Charleston, I was explaining the history of Charleston and some of the places we were driving past.

As we were closing in on the battery I was in mid-sentence when my daughter started laughing hysterically.

“What is it Pumpkin?” I said.

“Daddy you sound just like them.”

There you have it. Two decades of learning about accents from friends, co-workers, PBS. Two decades of trying NOT to sound Southern. But the most profound thing I learned about accents came from my daughter after just 3 days in Charleston. Art was right, kids do say the damndest things.

It seems you can intentionally change your accent. But after just a few days in “the mother-land” your original accent will start to sneak up on you. No amount of defenses will save you.

You can take the Southerner out of the South, but you can never take the South out of the Southerner.

Y’all have a good day.

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One response to “Accents, We All Have One (or do we?)

  1. Mom was from the hills of Kentucky. I grew up knowing a lot of those people and loved them dearly. We would go to Levi Jackson State Park and spend up to 2 weeks there camping and enjoying our yearly friends. What I did notice was that, upon returning to Indiana, I had garnered the Kentucky/Tennessee accent pretty darn well and it didn’t leave for a couple of weeks. I really enjoyed those weeks. I love the accent and, no, I don’t think Southerners are stupid.