Like most people, I don’t think of my accent too much, and since I have always lived in Calhoun County, mine sounds like that of most other people who live here. However, now that my children live in other parts of the country, and since I visit them regularly, I am more aware not only of my accent but also of the accent of other Southerners.
For instance, in April, when I was in Andover, New Jersey, I walked into a Walmart and was greeted by a cashier. “Hi,” she said, dragging out the “i” and making it sound more like “ie.” I knew at once she was from the South, from other words she used, but it was hard to place my finger on how I knew. No doubt, part of it had to do with her friendly, unhurried voice.”
“Oh, my goodness,” I said. “You talk like I do.” The woman laughed and said she was from South Carolina, although she could have been from any one of Alabama’s border states. We all talk about the same way. Some people call it the Dixie accent.
I was in a hurry that day and didn’t stay to get to become acquainted with the woman. I’m sure she was a nice person, though, because her voice was a reflection of her pleasant demeanor. In August, my daughter’s and my accent attracted a new friend. During our trip to Manhattan, a server in a restaurant there named Nondi said our accents were like those of her kinfolks in Florida who, unlike her, were originally from Georgia and Alabama. Nondi was raised in Florida where there are few natives but many transplants, most of them from the Northern states. Nondi said hearing our voices made her miss her family. She and my daughter exchanged contact information; and they, since both are far away from family members, promised to stay in touch.
One Southerner who lives up North sometimes gets homesick and drives to a nearby Cracker Barrel restaurant. Other Southerners tend to go there also, she said, and she likes to hear them talk. Of course, having good Southern cooking is a draw, too. I know that, whenever I travel up North, I seek out Cracker Barrel restaurants. Those who work there, however, do not always understand the Southern accent. Once, at an Ohio restaurant, a hostess misunderstood me. “How many in your party?” she asked. “Nine,” I said. “None?” she repeated and laughed. She thought I was joking until I pronounced the number in our party with a sharper-sounding “i,” which did not come naturally.
Also in August, my daughter and I visited a Southerner in Morristown, N.J., a former Annistonian, in fact. She is a young mother who is adamant about making sure her young children do not speak with a Yankee accent. She corrects them when they do. My daughter is not that concerned about the matter. However, her accent is so thick that her children will likely inherit at least some of it. During our visit, while I was playing with her three-year-old son, my grandson, I saw him run toward a group of other children in the park. “Hey, you guys,” he said. I grimaced. Where was the “Hey, y’all” that my children had always called out. I bit my tongue not to correct the grandson.
Just this past week, a heavily accented Southern voice made the news. The entire country heard the voice of school clerk Antoinette Tuff. On Wednesday, Aug. 21, she possibly saved lives with her calm, compassionate, and very Southern voice. She talked a shooter at a school in DeKalb County, Ga., into laying down his gun. When I heard the exchange on television, I sat up straight and smiled. Mrs. Tuff didn’t sound country, syrup-y, or twang-y, just loving and Southern; her beautiful voice enveloped the genuineness of her character.
Accents from the various regions of the United States sound better when they reflect a person with a positive character trait, especially one who knows how to use language in an honest, engaging, and educated manner. Personally, when I have traveled elsewhere and returned home, the Dixie accent sounds like music to me.
By the way, there are a few tests on the Internet to determine the name of the American accent you use. Just type the words “American accent tests” into your search engine and choose one or two. They are fun to take.
Email Sherry at email@example.com.