Southern Accents

Photo by richard_b on
Photo by richard_b on

“I used to say that whenever people heard my Southern accent, they always wanted to deduct 100 IQ points.”  —Jeff Foxworthy

In a recent conversation with someone locally, I heard a couple of statements that fail to surprise me any more. The woman, who is in retail, talked about effecting a Southern accent in order to charm her customers. She then went on to say that a Southern accent may make you sound more charming, but it also makes you sound stupid. Groaning, I stood up and stated that I refuse to eliminate my twang. I think she ultimately failed to see my point.

Although growing up in Oklahoma is technically not the Deep South, I heard an Okie twang on a regular basis. “Ya’ll” and “all ya’ll” were part of my daily vocabulary and conveyed perfectly what was intended. Too, traveling to Texas to visit relatives, I enjoyed the difference in accent. Drinking sweet tea out of Mason jars, we discussed the new colored lights–i.e., tinted windows–that protected a passing car. Our talk was comfortable with none of the attempts to impress that I would later see at college and elsewhere.

Admittedly, I did try to get rid of my own accent when I realized how others perceived us. No matter how much education I might obtain, I knew that people would still see me as a stupid Okie. And yet I knew that I would never be able to escape my own self, especially after watching an episode of Three’s Company with my brother. In the episode, Ralph Furley was talking yet again about oil. His pronunciation, though, was something like “aaahhhlll.” My brother and I attempted to pronounce “oil” like Mr. Furley, but it didn’t work. Ours still came out with our usual two-syllable pronunciation, “oi-uhl.”

Having been around people from all over since then, I have found that most assume that anyone with a Southern accent must have very little education. The typical conversation deteriorates into some form of patronizing. Usually–but not always–this is particularly true of people coming in from the East coast; they often see the Midwest as a vast desert of education and culture that would benefit from a little East coast knowledge. Provided by them, of course.

So do I still try to pronounce “oil” with one syllable? No, I sure don’t. It seems like a waste of time. Now that I’m older, I appreciate where I came from, along with the friendly attitude of the people I knew. We may say “buggy” when referring to a shopping cart, but that doesn’t affect our intelligence. And impressing others with my vocabulary? No, I don’t even try any longer.

I’d much rather drink some sweet tea and enjoy some quiet time with friendly people.

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