If you listened to our episode on Southern American English, you can read more about it below. If you haven’t listened yet, you can find it here.
What other features are there in Southern American English (SAE)? We mentioned many features of Southern American English but managed to leave out a few interesting ones. My favourite one that we skipped is double (or even triple) modals. Modals are auxiliary verbs (in English, anyway) that tell you something about likelihood, ability, permission or obligation (e.g., ‘would’ or ‘can’, etc.). In SAE you can double up on modals, unlike in most other dialects of English. So you can say “I might could go to the store”. Why might speakers use more than one modal at a time? Because they can. But also, double/triple modals might be more polite than single modals, in dialects that allow them.
Other features that we didn’t get around to discussing (still not comprehensive, and varies from region to region):
(a) ‘dropping the g’ singin’ instead of singing. (This isn’t really ‘g dropping, since there is no /g/ sound in singing. Your tongue moves forward from the velum (soft palate) to closer to the front (behind the teeth a bit).)
(b) the pin-pen merger (both pronounced as ‘pin’) and fill-fell (both pronounced as ‘fill’)
(c) wudn’t for wasn’t
(d) other kinds of pronunciation differences (genuine – genuwine; nuclear ~ nucular). People mocked George W Bush for this pronunciation, which was really unfair. Different pronunciations are normal in English. Think aluminum (North America) vs. aluminium (UK). Stress patterns are different too, like INsurance (instead of inSURance) or POlice (instead of poLICE).
(e) y’all – English used to have a second person singular/plural distinction (thou (you singular) vs you (you plural)). But we lost the singular form, leaving us with you (singular or plural). We seem to really like having a plural form and y’all is one of those. Other dialects have ‘you guys’, ‘youse guys’, ‘yinz’ etc.
What if I want to learn more about discrimination against Southern accents? Glad you asked. Accent discrimination is widespread, and it’s not only directed towards Southerners.
“Accent discrimination can be found everywhere in our daily lives. In fact, such behavior is so commonly accepted, so widely perceived as appropriate, that it must be seen as the last back door to discrimination. And the door is still wide open.”
English with an Accent: Language, ideology, and discrimination in the United States
The study that showed that older children (9-10) already have a pro-Northern/anti-Southern bias – even when growing up in Tennessee – is an important read. Another study from Cupid.com showed that people think Southern accents is a sign that the speaker is sexist.
(Mimics Southern speech) ‘As y’all know, I came up from Texas when I was about twenty-one. And I talked like this. Probably not so bad, but I talked like this; you know I said “thiyus” [“this”] and “thayut” [“that”] and all those things. And I had to learn reeeal [elongated vowel] fast how to talk like a Northerner. ’Cause if I talked like this people’d think I’m the dumbest … around.
‘Bill’s college alumni group – we have a party once a month in Philadelphia. Well, now I know them about two years and every time we’re there – at a wedding, at a party, a shower – they say, if someone new is in the group: “Listen to Jo Ann talk!” I sit there and I babble on, and they say, “Doesn’t she have a ridiculous accent!” and “It’s so New Yorkerish and all!”’
Jeff Foxworthy also jokes about people treating him as stupider with a Southern accent. (This video also provides examples of double modals! And different stress patterns (THANKSgiving)!)
Cuz in a lot of parts of the country, you know, people hear me talk, they automatically want to deduct 100 IQ points.
Beth talked about trying to adopt a Northern accent. Is this normal? It’s certainly advice given to actors like Walton Goggins.
MCEVERS: Was your accent ever a barrier to getting roles, to getting parts?
GOGGINS: No, I don’t think so. I think when you first come into this business, it is very easy for people to put you in a box. And if you come from where I come from, you can bet you’re going to play a racist. It’s convenient. You can bet you’re going to play someone that’s stupid. That’s just how this business sees people from the South – at least, early on.
‘Accent reduction’ courses are all over the place. But this is the wrong way to think about it. You don’t reduce your accent; you adopt a new one. Reduction assumes there is a norm (the standard) that other dialect deviate from, but everyone has an accent. There is no baseline, there are just differences.
How can we fight the stereotypes against Southerners? You can tell people that it’s not cool to stereotype huge swaths of people. Or you could fight it with comedy, like Trae Crowder does:
“Yeah, I’m a white trash, trailer baby from the deep South… But I’m also educated, agnostic, well-read, cultured. I’m [all] of those things at the same time and if you can’t reconcile those things in your head, that’s your problem.”
You can also learn more about linguistics, or more about linguists fighting this type of discrimination, like Walt Wolfram. Fight back against casual regionalism wherever you find it.
Where is SAE spoken? Well there are different varieties, but SAE more broadly is spoken here.
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