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Jive Talkin'
Monday, 2005 September 5 - 10:28 am
Everyone talks funny... and I'm cool with that.

I have a thing for spoken accents. I love to dissect accents, figure them out, and imitate them. Mind you, I'm not very good at doing them, which is why mostly I'll only try them when I'm alone. But when I'm talking to myself, it's Australian, Scottish (brogue), Canadian, or sometimes North Dakotan (Oh, YAAA).

I think Australian has become my favorite. It's so fun because the vowels are all wacky. Even the word "Australian" is more like "Ohz-TRY-leeyun". Go on, head to The Outback and give it a shot.

But the one accent I'll almost never do is a Southern accent. Actually, there are dozens of distinguishable American Southern accents. But you'll rarely catch me doing any of them, not even the relatively mild Urban Carolina Southern variety. There is an unfortunate stigma associated with Southern accents, especially among snooty Northerners like me. The accent is associated with rural uneducated people... i.e., "rednecks" or "hillbillies". While many years of living in the South have rid me of that association, I still find that I feel a little guilty about doing the accent. It's as if I'm making fun of people, like Cletus the Slackjawed Yokel.

The interesting thing I've found is that Southerners are proud of their accents, despite the stigma. Unless they're planning a career in television, Southerners do not want to lose their accents... at least, not as long as they're still living in the South. I think accents are a sign of belonging to a group. Everyone wants to fit in with the people around them.

Heck, I'd probably reconsider my stance on Southern accents if everyone around me spoke with one. As it is, most of my friends and coworkers are relocated Northerners and Midwesterners. Southerners are a definite minority in my crowd... or ironically, even in Raleigh as a whole. It would be strange if I started speaking with a Southern accent, almost as strange as if I suddenly started speaking with an Australian accent.

For the record, Amy speaks with a fairly thick Western North Carolina accent. She warned me of this prior to meeting me, by telling me, "Fried chicken has been known to fall out of my mouth." Fortunately, I do like fried chicken.

While most accents are rooted in vowel pronunciations, Southern speech has some other twists. The one that I notice a lot is the phrase "might could", as in, "I might could eat some fried chicken tonight". Or there's the related "used-to-could", as in "I used-to-could eat fifty chicken wings in one sitting." These phrases are irritatingly useful, so much so that I have to consciously think about not using them.

Southern English is also marked by longer, heavier accented syllables. In comparison to Midwestern English, Southern has a greater range of dynamics, making it seem more earnest and animated. Sometimes the syllable emphasis gets misplaced, resulting in pronunciations like "UMMM-brella" (instead of the Midwestern "um-brel-la"). I still haven't quite gotten used to that.

The word "can't" is surprisingly different across accents. In Southern American, it's "kaint". In British accents, it's "kont", or sometimes more like "karnt". In Midwestern American, it's a clipped "kent". In parts of New York and New Jersey, it's "keeint". The interesting thing is, that difference in the short "a" vowel is not nearly as distinguishable in most other words. (Okay, maybe that kind of thing is only interesting to me.)

It was a real shock when I discovered that I had an accent. When I first moved to North Carolina, I had a Michigan accent. I think that accent is mostly gone now... except when I go back to Ann Arbor for a visit. Then it comes right back.

So, Internets, what are your favorite accents, and what distinguishing characteristics of those accents do you notice? Do you feel like you want to get rid of your own accent? If so, why? Discuss!
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Posted by Ken in: interesting

Comments

Comment #1 from John C (Guest)
2005 Sep 5 - 8:08 pm : #
Someone from Florida once pointed out to me that I say SHH-treet. Is that just me?
Comment #2 from olafandyjon (Guest)
2005 Sep 5 - 11:26 pm : #
We don't have an accent. Everyone else talks funny...
Comment #3 from Cori May (Guest)
2005 Sep 6 - 12:56 am : #
I like my voice, and as a result, my accent (which I suppose would be best defined as 'educated Canadian', but my husband could probably describe it better).

I like Scottish accents, and educated English accents.

Brenda Bakke (American Gothic's Selena Coombs) had the sweetest, sexiest voice in the history of television; she has completely justified Southern accents for me. Until I watched it (just this year) I had no idea a Southern accent could even be like that.

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