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More Southern Accents

Every now and then I receive a letter from one of our visitors that doesn’t contain the sort of incisive insight most of my posts contain ;-) but is just downright pleasant and well-written. Larry Gilbert sent me one today (or recently) which I thought I might share with yall. Here it is:

For Dr. Goodword:Southern Accent
Just read your dictionary of Sourthern words and sayings. Might nice. Of course, it’s hard to be complete in so little space and, as we both know, there are differences in dialects within the South, too. For example, the people on the Outer Banks have their own dialect with many words quite different from folks in the Smokey Mountains. Likewise, there are differences between the speech of North Carolinians, Georgians, Texans and Mississippians.

Southerners from different areas do have different ways of pronouncing the same words. The one example I noted in your dictionary is pecan. While North Carolinians may say “pee-can,” that is anathema to Mississippians. In fact, that’s the way we hear damnyankees pronouncing pecan. In South Mississippi, a pee-can is a thunder jug, kept under the bed. South of Hattiesburg, the word is pronounced “puh-kahn” or even “p’kahn,” with a soft [p].

Finally, I’d like to throw another word your way, shouldna. It’s an abbreviation of “Should not have.” The word is usually used in conjunction with oughta, meaning “ought to have.” The example is “You shouldna oughta whacked that hornets nest,” meaning, “You should not have struck that hornets nest.”

Thanks for the great dictionary.

Larry R. Gilbert

My response:

Dear Larry,
Thanks for dropping by. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed your visit and hope yall* come back again.

Yes, we are well aware of the differences in southern dialects and have mixed them all together because we didn’t think it worth the effort to try to identify them all. Actually, no one has tracked them all down and located them, so we couldn’t have done it without a gumment grant and, the way we talk, we figgered we didn’t stand a chance of getting one of those.

People from all over the South have written in and, if we think their contributions worthy of the level of our work, we just add them. Someone from Morganton, NC wrote in this morning with the same comment, reminding us that dialects vary greatly from the northern to southern parts of Morganton. When I lived in Cumberland County, NC, I could distinguish people from three different parts of that county and distinguish them from folks over in Sampson County.

Our efforts are part heritage preservation (our words have been used in several heritage celebrations down South) and part fun. I’m surprised about puh-kahn in Mississippi–that is pure Yankee speech in NC. But then these dialect feature lines run ever which a way down there and it is hard if at all possible to keep them straight.

My academic colleagues at Bucknell, when I taught there, always laughed when I would say “I might could to that . . . ” since northern English grammar strictly forbids two auxiliary verbs. “Shouldna orta” is another example of that. I see no reason not to double up on auxliaries if you need two. It all boils down to simply sounding funny to northerners.  Who cares?

“Dr. Goodword”

*Northerners who think Southerners mistakenly use yall in the singular miss an important aspect of Southern culture (and you can’t separate language from culture): it is impolite to invite one person to your home without inviting their family. In the South, you can do that with one word, yall.

2 Responses to “More Southern Accents”

  1. Timothy Knox Says:

    Y’all also didn’t mention the distinction between “y’all” and “all y’all”. :-)

  2. Beverly Says:

    Hi,
    I got a real kick out of the taking the test. I scored 98% southern and was asked, if Gen. Lee was my grandfather! I left Montgomery, Al. in 1980 and have lived on the west coast ever since and I still have my accent. It really is amazing the different dialects from one section of county to another and so on.
    Beverly

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