Southern Accents

How did Southern (U.S.) accents aka “The Southern drawl” develop?

Did it have anything to do with African slaves?

There are two main schools of thought.

One is, as you suspect, that it has its origins in Africanized English. But arguments against this theory are that it is unlikely that slaveowners would have adopted the accents of their slaves in speaking to one another, and that there were several African languages spoken by slaves.

The other is that it is close to the accents of British gentry from the 17th and 18th centuries. It makes more sense to me that Southern aristocrats would adopt such accents rather than the accents of their slaves. You can hear some of the earliest sounds in southern coastal cities like Norfolk, Charleston, and Savannah.

Or perhaps it was something in the water?

Maybe the excessive sticky, moist heat, caused them to feel tired, relaxed & sluggish in speech and it just took off from there?
You can definately hear my drawl a lot more clearly when im hot, tired and whiney.

Aristocrats trying to sound snooty?

And weren’t a lot of folks settled in the south, prior to slaves being introduced?

I sincerily doubt the accent has “anything” to do with race.
But then again, I have no idea. :confused:

My money is on the sticky weather & lazy days.

I live in Charleston, SC, and the southern drawl is a myth. It’s just a put-on for the Yankees. If y’all from the north visiting, restaurant people will say, “Y’all come back, y’hear.” But when I leave a restaurant, they say, “So long… and don’t bother coming back.”

Actually, there has been such an influx of northeners (“snowbirds”) here, especially from NY, that most Charlestonians don’t have a southern accent. Oh, yeah, there are a few who’ve lived south of Broad (“SOB’s” we call them) and a few others that have the southern drawl, but they are the exception. If you’re not a SOB, you are not a native Charlestonian.

Gullah is spoken here, by that’s another topic, and it’s a dying language among descendants of slaves.

On the Africanized English:

Many slaveowners were raised primarily by black slaves from babyhood, so it makes sense they would pick up some of the slang and inflection used by their caregivers. This does not, however, explain where the whites who were not raised by slaves and who did not own plantations got their accents. Also, not everyone is descended from the old artistocractic gentry and, besides which, I have yet to hear a Southern accent that sounds like a slowed-down English accent, as I have heard claimed by various persons.


P.S. Wasn’t “okra” orginally an imported African word?

Especially in those all-you-can-eat places.

I don’t see how it can not originate from a British accent, given the history and until recently, relative isolation of the area.

My wife is one generation removed from rural SC and my dad was born and raised in Mississippi. They always come up with these odd little British ways of saying things like “she’s at university” or using a hard H in “herbs”.

My two cents: I think the only reason African slaves picked up English with a dialect was because the native speakers they picked it up from were most likely southerners. If you look at how a native African picks up English today, he or she usually pronounces every consonant flawlessly, without a hint of anything approaching a drawl. Speaking in very general terms, African languages tend to rely more heavily on consonants than English does.


taken from here

We’ve known for years , down here, what Elizabethan English sounded like .

I live in NC. I moved here in 1971. Once after living here for about 10 years I worked with a guy who had such a drawl I could only figure out what he was saying about 1/2 the time. He was from a rural area. Even with tons of transplants there are still plenty of real southern accents left.

I think in some cases girls here will overdo the southern accent because they think it is sexy. And they are probably right. I can’t imagine a Brooklyn accent being sexy but maybe it is if you live up there.

This place runs me nuts. Standard drawl is one thing, but when you hear a Scottish brogue (or whatever it’s called) overlaying the more common drawl, now you’ve heard a true abomonation. “Ya’ll” isn’t bad; "Yaoe’ll is.

Doesn’t Charleston also do that Orangeburg thing with the long a’s? “Ah eht ma ehtty-ehth cehk t’deh.”

Generally speaking Lib is right, but what 'Uigi says has a lot of bearing, too. For one thing, there is not a southern accent, there are many dialects in the south, which to outsiders seem to be the same. I had someone correctly identify the fact that I’d lived in Georgia at a time I was living in Cincinnati. I have now lived in Mississippi for 27 years and most of you would say I have a strong southern accent. There isn’t a native around that won’t tell you that I talk like a “yankee”.

Georgia was settled by people that Oglethorpe got out of debtors prison, so they were not the same class of Englishmen that settled in Charleston, S.C. The French had an influence over Louisana and over into places like Mobile so they speak somewhat different. The Scots settled into Tennessee, West Virginia and Kentucky, because that was more like home and they have their way of speaking (I’m going to sit in that char). So there isn’t any real quick and easy way to explain a southern accent.

If you are ever flying out of Memphis on a RJ (regional jet) and have a flight attendant with the damnest accent you’ve ever heard, that’s my wife. :slight_smile: Hers is a combination of Alabama with some Mississippi thrown in.

Just thought of something else relating to the Charleston “thing”:

It’s more likely to find the aformentioned “scottish drawl” sliding out of the mouth of a senior (old) local power politician, or a long time resident of the Battery/south of Broad St. area. Recent arrivals haven’t picked up this “thing”; with luck, they won’t.

There is no southern accent. All other English speaking people have accents.

I agree that “Southern Accent” is an overly vague term.
Do people in Minnesota, New York, and Maine all speak a “Northern Accent” ?

Accents vary from state to state, county to county, even within the same city. I thought everybody knew that.

That said, it’s getting more and more difficult to pin down a “local accent,” simply because folks have been moving around a lot more in the last few decades. (Plus universal TV and movies and all)…You gotta talk to someone who has lived in the same spot that their family has lived for several generations.

Anyway, something neat about the country folks in East Tennessee (technically, not “South’” but “Southern Appalachia”)
…they still use words like yonder, lit out (went), reckon, you’uns, nary, ailing, hit (for “it”), etc…all words that are Middle English in origin, IIRR.
Seems like the mountain folks settled in and stayed isolated enough to hold on to some of those old speech patterns.

Just a theory. I ain’t real book-smart, I reckon.

Peace Y’all,

Why do they all go on the Jerry Springer show?

The Griffin, that just cracked me up! :slight_smile:

Years ago, when I was a child, there were people around who spoke ‘Southern Honey,’ with an accent so thick you could cut it with a knife and sounding like a B movie about the South, especially Georgia. “Y’awl kum back naow, ya heah?” “Yew chilluns stop that naow, ya heah?”
Men walked around in long sleeved white shirts, wearing wide brimmed, straw colored hats, with big brown trousers held up by suspenders, hands usually in the pockets, shits with loose ties or open at the neck and smoking big cigars and calling every young man ‘boy’ and every young woman ‘misses’.

I had heard that the accent developed from there being no major industrial pressure on the folks, like in the North, where they had to learn to talk fast between the cycles of repeating machinery, like stampers. Southern people could take longer to say things, stretched out words, spoke slower and saved energy in the often appalling heat and humidity of the Southern summers before the creation of air conditioning. In the old days, in the deep south, businesses closed in mid afternoon when it was hottest and people took naps to avoid the oppressive heat, dressing in light colors, wearing hats and carrying parasols to get protection from the sun.

High, humid heat is energy sapping, so their slang and word usage could have been formed from having to cope with it.

As for the slaves, they would have learned the language from their masters and then added their own accents to it from their own native tongues.

Remember, in the old days things moved slower in the South than in the North, including the speech patterns. Words were dragged out and spoken slower while the industrialized North had begun to speak faster because of noisy factories and machinery so the North shortened words and added choppy accents to save time.

Ummmmmmmmmm … he-he … that should be SHIRTS in the first paragraph.

:confused: I don’t know. Never heard that Orangeburg has a special dialect. Very few up there know how to speak anyway.

The southern drawl varies dramatically from one area to another. Georgians have a very distinctive drawl. People from Murrell’s Inlet that I’ve known also have a southern drawl. Most people here in Charleston do not. The old-time politicians, and I mean “old,” such as Thurmond and Hollings have a slight drawl, but not as dramatic as the Georgians. As I said, there has been a great influence here due to the snow birds that have settled here. I would say that 80-90% of Charlestonians do not have the southern drawl.