Accents - Southern Dopers?

I talk to a lot of people while I’m at work, and I get to hear a lot of accents. Lately I’ve been getting better at discerning what part of the south someone with a drawl comes from by the variances in the accent. I learned to do the same with eastern accents while I lived in Boston, so I can usually tell between New York, Boston, and Joisey. But to me, all west coast accents sound the same. I was wondering if y’all down south notice your drawl (wouldn’t think so if that’s how everyone speaks), and if you notice any difference between west coast speakers.

Also, if there’s anyone else that spends a lot of time on the phone out there… what accents piss you off? Personally, if I hear someone from Texas or New York, I automatically get ready for a fight, even though I know they’re just people. Well, except the New Yorkers. And I just can’t think through a chinese accent… it takes everything I have just to understand what they’re saying. All my problem to deal with, I know, but I wonder if others have the same problems with other accents.

I have a few opinions on the concept of “Southern.”

I consider “Southern” these states: NC, SC, GA, AL, MS, LA.

While FL is geographically “southern,” I don’t think anyone really considers it culturally “Southern.” It is very Northern, whether as the result of Northern retirees, (or Northern Havana, as the result of the large Cuban population. :))

KY, TN, and AR are generally considered “Southern,” but I personally don’t. To me, they are a separate culture of, well, for lack of a better term, “hillbilly” states.

I don’t think Texans consider themselves Southern, probably Western–or probably just Texan.

Again, these are strictly my opinions.

I’ve never been to TN, KY, AR, so I can’t attest to those accents. The larger metro areas that I have been to, though, you are finding fewer and fewer “Southern” accents, especially.

A couple of reasons (again, my opinion, only):

One is TV. People growing up watching TV learn a more neutral accent.

Another reason: The South has a very large population of displaced Northerners who have fleed the cities they helped to destroy as a result of bad decisions made by people they elected.

And, to some extent, I think a lot of accents are “schooled” out of people. Don’t know how to elucidate much on that.

I met a person from Atlanta recently, who is a native born Atlantan–the first one I’ve ever met.

But back to the OP, the only regional accents that I can recognize are the “Charleston” and “Gullah” accents. I wouldn’t know an indigenous Tarheel from a Volunteer, an Ozark, or a Georgia Peach.

Anyway, those are some rambling musings.

Feel free to pick 'em apart.

Northern Florida is defintely the south. If you speak to someone from Jacksonville they will sound just like someone from GA. Southern flordia is where the retirees go, so it is mostly northern except where it is spanish.
For me, the west coast and south/west (except for Texas, which I consider south) and midwest all sound about the same. Obviously there are exceptions, people move around…and the farther north you go the more likely the people are to sound sort of swedish.

We consider Texas part of the south here in southeast Texas. If you get out west, near New Mexico, they might feel differently.

A South Texas accent is readily distinguishable from East Texas which is distinguishable from South Louisiana which is distinguishable from New Orleans which is distinguishable from Mississippi etc.

Of course, if you live in any big city, you hear a lot more than a local accent. I grew up here in Houston and I’ve got a bit of a drawl, but many of my friends do not. And of course, during a typical day I may talk to displaced New Yorkers, Pakistanis, Arabs, Vietnamese who sound quite different. This morning I had a long talk with one of my best friends in the business - he’s Chinese and has been here 21 years and still has a horrible accent and a sometimes amusing understanding of English. The funny thing is he’s picked up a little Texas drawl on top of the Chinese accent.

How to place the Southern Accents:

get them to pronounce the word “oil”
awwull: Appalachians (N. Georgia, Tennessee)
owwrll: Alabama, South Georgia
erl: Virginia, parts of Texas
owweeeeyulll: West Texas / Oklahoma
wlll: northerner or midwesterner
oh-well: Florida, some Georgia, S. Carolina
orwell: Mississippi, West Tennessee

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I know I’m hijaking, but that reminds me that yesterday an Australian friend told me to tell an Aussie accent from a Kiwi accent. An Aussie will say fish “fesh” and a Kiwi will say “fush.” How to get someone you don’t know well enough to even know where they’re from to talk about fishes is beyond my knowledge, though.

I think that was a run-on sentence.

BTW, I have a California accent (I was talking on the phone to a friend from Cleveland the other day, and she couldn’t stop laughing at my accent), but there’s no way I could even begin to describe it.


“You couldn’t fool your mother on the foolingest day of your life if you had an electrified fooling machine.”

The neat part about southern accents, IMO, is that you can often place a persons social background by the way they enunciate - very similar to British english. There is a definite “upper crust” southern accent, as was imitated in Gone with the Wind, which would relate to the King’s english. There is a “middle class” southen accent, spoken by most southerners, and related to “standard” British english. And then there is “lower class” southern, which is commonly referred to as “hillbilly”, and relates to British cockney.

Do other American accents work similarly?

The overwhelming majority of people have more than the average (mean) number of legs. – E. Grebenik

All good comments above. Obviously, similar accents are more distinguishable to those who are familiar with them. For instance, my ear can tell the difference between NY, NJ, MA, ME, IN, IL, PA, etc…but I might not be able to identify each one.

Mjollnir: KY is definitely a border state, E being more Appalachian, W being more midwestern. I’m not sure about AR, but you have the Ozarks there. TN? It depends on where in TN. Memphis and Chattanooga are as Southern as grits and hog jowl. Nashville is in a world of its own (Cashville). Knoxville is Appalachian and was a Union city in The War of the Southern Rebellion. But all Tennesseans think of themselves as Southern, y’all can rest assured.

Cooper is right about FL. In fact, I’ve heard the panhandle called LA (Lower Alabama). South of Gainesville, It’s a Yankee state.

beatle is the first Texan I’ve heard of who thinks of TX as any part of the United States!

And yes, you can travel 100 miles and hear a distinctly different accent if you are talking to someone who is 3rd or more generation local. Mj is right about TV and mobility homogenizing accents all over the U.S. to some degree.

Finally, it is indeed bloody hilarious to hear a thick Asian accent with a Southern twang/drawl… I hear it more and more these days… :slight_smile:

BTW, I work with a gal from Venezuela who learned to speak English in TN, from “Southern” instructors.

Her English is flawless, so far as grammar usage is concerned, but she has a Spanish accent unlike most others I’ve heard.

That is, yes, you can tell she learned “Southern” English.

Going off-topic a little, I knew a gal once from Algeria, so Arabic was her first language.

Since Algeria was a French colony, most educated people also learn to speak French, as she did.

And, of course, many people learn the world over to speak English for obvious reasons.

Hearing her speak was incredible–she was Arabic (1st), but spoke (flawless, also) English with a French accent.

My guess is that her English instructors were probably French.

I grew up in Mississippi and Alabama, and have lived most of my adult life in the upper midwest. The “southern” accents that you hear on TV and in movies really ticks me off, as it is totally fake. This American Life had an interesting segment on it. Go to the archive and listen to act 3 of The Real Thing, episode 138 from August 27, 1999. It’s interesting.

I lived in North Carolina for years, and now live in Mississippi. There is definitely a difference in accents. MSPI tends to be softer and slower. There are regional accents in both states; one of the oddest being on the Outer Banks of NC. It has holdovers from Elizabethan Old English.

My favorite Mississippification is the Delta accent. It’s undulating and mysterious, and makes mah haht go pitta- payat eh-vuh-ry tahm Ah heah it!

Southerners have a strong oral storytelling tradition, especially the older folks. It takes quite a while to recount an event, so best to sloooww down and listen. If you’re impatient or interrupt a lot, you’ll miss out on the best of it. In that light, I’ve found that Faulkner is best read as if listening to a Southerner speak, not by running every run -on together.

Louisiana is really two birds…The northern part of the state sounds like MSPI and East Texas, while the southern part has it’s Cajun French and Creole enclaves. And then there’s New Orleans, which is on a different planet linguistically. It has French, Spanish, Irish, and Carribean influences. The deep Creole spoken there is really hard to catch, and the Yat accent has a lot in common with Brooklynese.

All of these also have variation according to “class”.

Hush my mouth!

It seems/sounds to me that Texan accents change from east to west, from a more southern style (coon-ass around Beaumont) to a more western “cowboy” style. I was born in south Texas into a south Texas family, but was raised in Dallas (where most accents are affected… well, a lot of 'em), so I’ve got a drawl I can turn on or off (alcohol tends to turn it on). Most urban Texans I’ve known would probably say the same thing. Accents where I live now are mostly either western-style or hispanic. This side of the state is MUCH more “Western U.S.” than “The South”, and the accents–and attitudes–reflect that.

If–just for the sake of argument–we’re pretending that Texas is part of the USA… some neighbors of mine a couple of years ago tried to secede, y’all may recall…

I have lived in GA all my 36 years and have no discernable accent. Many people will have the nerve to ask me where I’m from. Most think I’m from the northeast. On rare occasions, a bit of a Southern accent will pop out. Last one I remember was saying papline for pipeline. I also hate the Southern accent as portrayed in movies. I have only run into a very few people who sound like they just left Tara.

I’ll add that I experience what
Pantellerite noted - booze brings out the drawl, ya’ll.

Beeeatlle, Hush now, you don’t wan’t people to be thinkin’ we caiinn’t control ourhicksevves now, doooya? Please say it ain’t so…

Um… a couple corrections here. First of all there’s no such thing as “Elizabethan Old English.” Old English is the language that preceded the Norman Invasion. Elizabethan English is early Modern English.

Secondly, the belief that people speak Elizabethan English somewhere in this country (usually it’s the Appalachians, but I’ve heard the Outer Banks version too) is just a bit of folklore with very little basis in fact.

Given the fact that there were virtually no English speakers here in the Elizabethan era (apart from the Lost Colony, which was, of course, lost), this ought to be obvious, but …


While I would not use the word hillbilly to describe their accents, there is a very good reason why KY and TN do not sound Southern–they aren’t Southern.

The accents in that region are part of the midlands accents. (I was taught that Midlands was divided between a Northen and Southern variety, with the Northern passing through PA, OH (South of Akron and Findlay), and IN (South of Fort Wayne and South Bend).

The recent maps in the site that Phil posted on the “How does one speak Ebonics” thread in GQ don’t show the exact dialect lines that I learned, but my studies were 30 years ago and both linguistics and American speech has probably changed since then. The maps Phil found allude to the mapping that my older source relied on (from 1961), but they draw the lines differently, following different phonemes. I would agree with Mjollnir that the speech of KY and TN is quite distinct from that of GA, AL, and MS. (I only know one native speaker from AR and have no idea how representative of that state he is.)

The maps Phil linked can be found at .


ruadh, you are correct in your statements but let me point something out. At least in the case of the Appalachian dialects, the people who settled these areas were mostly from the highlands and more remote areas of England, Scotland, Ireland, etc. Therefore, the language spoken by these people was closer to an antiquated version of English than say, someone from London at the time. So that is how some of the “odd” pronunciations came to this area. And since there were parts of the Appalachians that were not easily accessible into the twentieth century, these words, phrases and pronunciations have not yet been fully tempered by what many in this country refer to as “correct English.”

The margarine of evil

If you’ll notice, most of the Gulf Coast escapes the southern drawl for some reason.

I’m in Lafayette, LA, about an hour from the coast. Though you can’t get much further south than this, the accents are very weak.
Drive about 40 miles north and you encounter thick Cajun accents, which are rather comical, but not annoying.

A mere 40 miles further to Alexandria, LA, and you’re immersed in hillbilly-speak.

For the truly daring, go a couple hours further north to Shreveport, and the hick accent is SO BAD that you’ll feel an intense desire to manually remove your eardrums with an icepick.

Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.

I am from Texas and there are basically seven basic regional accents: German (yes, people speak German in Texas…My step-grandfather who for all intents in purposes I consider my real grandfather did not learn to speak English until he was in kindergarten), Hispanic (varies by region but definately has a flavor all its own in addition to being commonplace pretty much everywhere in Texas), and North Texas, East Texas, South Texas, West Texas, and cosmopolitan (the more generic accent that most Americans have adopted). There is a definate difference between all of the regions. I have been able to pick out where people are from in Texas simply by hearing them.

As for Texas not being part of the south, I have to disagree. Texas fought on the side of the Confederacy in the Civil War. That makes it the south to me. Anyway, most Texans think of Texas as a country unto itself because of its perceived autonomy. This actually stems from before the Civil War when Texas was an independant country. (Factoid: Texas is the only state that can fly its flag at an equal position to the US flag because it joined as an independant country.) I have the cosmopolitan Texan accent. Certain words bring out my accent like oil (I say “oy-yull”), roof (“ruwf” rather than “roooof”), and skull (sounds almost like school). These are relatively minor and pretty much everyone I have talked to does not know where I am from unless I tell them.


Gasoline: As an accompaniement to cereal it made a refreshing change. Glen Baxter