Sunday, April 10, 2011

Do I Talk Funny?

            Lately, I have been thinking a lot about regional differences.  I was reading about a major study conducted by Cambridge University that tracked 620,000 Americans for 6 years to determine the influences of where they live on their personalities and behavior.  It occurs to me that I don't have a region.    It remains to be seen (according to some) if I have a personality but I definitely have behaviors.

Note: to put this lack of regional identification into context: My childhood was  fairly evenly divided between Illinois (the North) Arizona (the West) and Arkansas (the South).
Just maybe one of the  reasons I have become so conflicted as an adult is my geographical ambiguity. Let's give it a name. We can call  my condition a Traumatic Regional Identity Psychosis or T.R.I.P. for short. The result of T.R.I.P is that you keep adapting to your surroundings and never really identify with one particular area.

If I count my moves prior to marriage (PM) and my after marriage (AM), I have moved 37 times. Other people use the phrase there is "no place like home".  I use the phrase "No place is home."  Well, at least on a long term basis.

I tend to be more of a mish-mash of regional influences, customs and cultures.  I am from the North AND the SOUTH and a little WEST thrown in for good measure.

So today, I am going to talk about my SOUTHERN influences.
These are a few of the traits I acquired while living in the South:
A.  How to talk Southern (I am bilingual as I am fluent in both Northern and Southern)
B.  I learned how to pick cotton before cotton picking got modernized. (it taught me to respect people that work hard for a living)
C. I learned how to be a good cook especially foods that are associated with the South.  (I also, learned how to eat all of it with the exception of greens.  I hold no distinction between greens, turnip, collard......(gagggg)

First off, I need to preface that in 2011 a lot of the South is the NEW SOUTH.  You will know that you are in the New South because when people talk, you will understand them.  Not only will you understand what they are saying, it will sound nice.  Their southern drawls will be soothing to your ears.  It's like someone spooned honey down their throats just so they could talk to you.  Gosh, I am inclined to call someone right this minute in Memphis, Atlanta or Houston just to listen to their voice mail.

In the last 50 years, the population has become more mobile which has a lot of the southern dialects blending.  There are still regional differences in "how people talk" but they are definitely less pronounced than they once were.

As far as southern accents go there a lot of variations.  The part of Arkansas I moved into in 1960 had a dialect called Old Southern American English.  It is still around in some of the more rural areas of the south. One of the other unique qualities to Old SAE is that the older the speaker and the more rural the environment in which they live will define how "thick" of accent they have.  (this probably has to do with the fact that younger people have access to  a better education and  now children being taught grammar and enunciation)
Anyway, in 1960 there was a very pronounced southern accent in the area that I moved into. It was pointed out to me that I talked "northern" or as I was repeatedly told, I talked Yankee. (I wonder if anyone still says that?)  This was a total liability.  My classmates couldn't understand me nor could I grasp much of what  they were saying.  According to them I talked too fast and from my vantage point, I didn't understand the vernacular and they needed to speed it up. 

Just like any other language skills though, if you are totally immersed in culture you pick up the language.  It didn't take long before I developed a very thick southern accent with all the nuances and colloquialisms.

Here is a little primer if you want to know the basics of talking Old SAE.  (I don't know when this might come in handy but every once in a while I hear someone with a inauthentic southern drawl.)

One of the first things you need to know to talk Old SAE is the fact that some words are unique to the South. For example words like yonder, fixin and y'all are southern words.  There are also, some unique qualities to the area that I had moved into, such as the vowel shifts. An example of this is  using the letter "a" before  words such as :  He's a pickin, he' a fixin or he's a hootin and a hollerin).  Part of this pattern is to be sure to drop your g's.  There were also word substitutions such as using the word "like" for the word "nearly". (I like to had a heart attack.) There is also the runnin together of words. (as in the case of whachaeatin? Answer: an apple) The one other major component to Southern talk is the colloquialisms. There are entire books on these but you can pick up some basics by watching Dr. Phil.  A couple of Dr. Phil's faves seem to be "that dog don't hunt" and " talkin' to you is like talkin' to a fence post". (Funny, though, that southerners consider Dr. Phil a Northerner as he was born in northern Oklahoma and spent most of his life above the Mason Dixon line.)

  Now take all those  tips and slow your speed down by at least half of what you are used to and try not to move your lips much.

As I stated earlier, Old Southern American English is getting rarer, thanks to how transient our society has gotten.   Not entirely gone though. Kiddo #2 went to Ole Miss and said that he still was hearing some of the Old SAE accent into the 1990's. Seems a shame really, since I took the time to learn it, where will I get a chance to speak it.  Kind of the same problem with the three years of French I took in school.

Video Explanation:

A couple of years ago, on the 2009 America's Got Talent there was a contestant that had a modified version of Old SAE.  He was fairly easy to understand but did use certain vowel shifts and dropping g's. (plus he has a bit of a stammer)

The thing that struck me,  was the minute he walked out and started talking, the judges wrote him off as a loser.  You can see it on their faces.  Every time I watch their reactions to him, it makes me incredibly sad. This is where I am conflicted today.  Kevin Skinner didn't help himself with the "chicken catcher" story, or how he dressed that day. (the backwards hat and all)  BUT  did he deserve the out right "eye rolling" giggling, disrespectful behavior of the judges?  I don't think he did.  NO MATTER, how he dressed or the sound of his speech, he deserved the same respect as any contestant that made it to the stage.  That, I realize, is not how the real world works, is it?

The Good for the day...A lot of life experiences force you to grow in many directions and strengthen you to meet new challenges.

The Bad for the Day....There are unfair stereotypes to some people dialects. We shouldn't judge a book by it's cover so to speak.

The Weird for the day....When I go back to Arkansas from time to time, my southern talk comes back to me quickly.  It's comfortable like a pair of old jeans. Some of you may disagree but the sound of those southern accents are music to my ears.


Nicky said...

I don't think you talk funny at all, but I do think you write very funny stuff :-)

Cperz said...

Thanks, Nicky,

I was over visiting your site today and "same to you". Very funny. I will be putting you on my blogroll page. Great stuff.

injaynesworld said...

Did you live in Arkansas when Clinton was governor? I'm a third generation Californian. I lived in other states for short periods of time as a young child, but don't recall anything of them. I tend to plant roots in one place and stay there for a long time. Hell is moving.

Cperz said...

No, I was just a kid when I left the state. Clinton would have still been a kid, too. He's 6 years older than I am. I remember as a young married wife/mom when I went back to visit relatives, a lot of people in Ark. loved him as gov.

I don't think we will be moving again. (I never say never, though)
Corporations don't move people like they used to.

Bodacious Boomer said...

Great post, especially about the south! Most people can never tell where I'm from till I trot out a ya'll. Then it's all over.

Cperz said...

Hi Michelle, I was over at your site snoopin' around today. Did you already have your facial?

Now that I have my northern accent back people think I sound Chicagoan but when I travel South, that Southern drawl just sticks right back to me like a nylon sock fresh from the dryer.

I would love your ya'll

Nicky said...

I don't think you talk funny at all, but I do think you write very funny stuff :-)