30 November 2005

Gettin' Shet o' Mah Accint

Macon.com carries an AP report on Southerners shifting their accents.
COLUMBIA, S.C. - "Y'all" isn't welcome in Erica Tobolski's class in voice and diction at the University of South Carolina. And forget about "fixin'," as in getting ready to do something, or "pin" when talking about the writing instrument.

Tobolski's class is all about getting rid of accents, mostly Southern ones in the heart of the former Confederacy, and replacing them with Standard American Dialect, the uninflected tone of TV news anchors that oozes authority and refinement.

"We sort of avoid talking about class in this country, but clearly class is indicated by how we speak," she said....

Across the fast-growing South, accents are under assault, and not just from the modern-day Henry Higginses of academia. There's the flood of transplants from other regions, notions of Southern upward mobility that require dropping the drawl, and stereotypes that "y'alls" and "suhs" signal low status or lack of intelligence.

But is the Southern accent really disappearing?

That depends what accent you mean. The South, because of its rural, isolated past, boasts a diversity of dialects, from Appalachian twangs in several states to Elizabethan lilts in Virginia to Cajun accents in Louisiana to African-influenced Gullah accents on the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina.

One accent that has been all but wiped out is the slow juleps-in-the-moonlight drawl favored by Hollywood portrayals of the South. To find that so-called plantation accent in most parts of the region nowadays requires a trip to the video store....

Georgia-bred humorist Roy Blount Jr. understands that people with strong Southern accents are often perceived as "slow and dimwitted." But he thinks it's "sort of a shame" that people should feel the need to soften or even lose their accents.

"My father, who was a surely intelligent man, would say `cain't'. He wouldn't say `can't.' And, `There ain't no way, just there ain't no way.' You don't want to say, `There isn't any way.' That just spoils the whole thing," Blount said.
It shore do! My Tidewater-Virginia-raised, college-and-seminary-educated father still says `cain't'--and some of his kin keep the small class of `ahn' words together, pronouncing aunt `aint', aren't `ain't', and maybe even haunted 'hainted'. He also resorts to compounds to distinguish `inkpin' from `stickpin'.

But I made a concerted effort to purge `cain't' and other Southernisms from my speech when I was a kid, especially when I was away at a Canadian boarding school in Japan, where I also teased other Southern missionary kids who came back from furlough with their accents in full bloom.

By the time I went off to college, I had acquired one of those 'no-accent' accents. Most people cain't place my accent when I challenge them to--beyond general American, of course. My wife, who grew up in the Dakotas and Minnesota, also has one of those 'no-accent' accents, unlike her two sisters, who respectively exhibit those unmistakable Minnesota and Wisconsin shibboleth vowels. And my daughter is acutely aware of my distinctive upglide on the mid front vowels of measure, treasure, and leisure.

My maternal Shenandoah Valley-accented cousins, however, found my wife's accent most charming. My mother remembered as a kid having to practice moderating her regional diphthongs by repeating "How now brown cow"--distinctive but not quite the same sound or phonetic environment (before voiceless consonants) as the near "Canadian raising" that Sen. Warner (R-VA) just demonstrated in his interview on the NewsHour tonight. (He talked about 'sitting out', 'waiting out' and 'getting out' with respect to Iraq.)

I liked listening to the marked regional accent of Sen. Reed (D-RI), too. In fact, most of the time, I tend to tune out the content when politicians bloviate on TV and concentrate instead on pinpointing their accentual differences. One of my favorite accents on the NewsHour, though, is that of Alabama native Jan Crawford Greenburg. Unfortunately, her perceptive analyses of the Supreme Court often distract me from her accent.

via Atlanta-based Photodude

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