Southern Accents

Dear Martha,

As someone from the Southern1 United States, I must (unfortunately) tell you that I have had experiences similar to yours2 but regarding Southern accents.

One of the stereotypes about Southerners is that they are less intelligent. When someone makes mistakes or does something that seems obviously wrong, people will sometimes talk about it using a Southern accent. And they will do this in front of people who have Southern accents. I have experienced this with friends and acquaintances and with people I do not know, including English-speaking people from England, Ireland, and Canada. (U.S. television shows export the stereotype to people in other countries.)

I have heard many stories of Southerners visiting or moving outside of the South and being told that their accents are “cute.” When someone tells you that your accent is cute, it is a way of dismissing your intelligence and not taking you seriously.

I have also seen people get overly fascinated with Southern accents. It’s fine to be curious about and interested in people from other places, but people sometimes fixate on Southern ways of speaking in ways that are not thoughtful of Southern people. That kind of fascination belongs in Co-Counseling sessions. I am able to be an informal counselor to people if I can tell3 that they are simply curious and are not acting superior. Sometimes I can relaxedly say, “You know, this is a normal way of speaking for thousands (millions) of people.” Sometimes I can’t.

I and many other people have “lost” our accents. (Sometimes my Southern accent will surface but usually not unless I am around other Southern people.) People both in and out of RC can be quick to comment on this, which is not a benign thing to do. I tell them that I have assimilated, and that it is a big hurt.

People have to experience a lot of humiliation to give up on their native way of speaking. Many Southerners who have “lost” their accents have internalized the message that they are somehow “less than”—less intelligent, less important, and so on. Sometimes they simply say that they gave up their accents because they didn’t want people to think they were stupid. I feel great sorrow and anger about this.

Please trust your thinking that you have been experiencing language oppression. I fully support your interrupting any remarks from us USers, including those of us from the South, if we are not being thoughtful about how you and other Canadians talk. I promise to discharge my own fascination with accents, especially if I have superiority material4 connected to that fascination, so that I can be more thoughtful of people who speak differently from me.

Rachel Winters
Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA

1 Southern refers to the South,   the states in the  southeastern part of the United States.
2 See previous article. PT 157 page 80. "Be respectful of Canadian Accents", by Martha Jackson.

3 In this context, tell means see.

Last modified: 2015-02-10 21:27:23+00