A Guide to Southern Accents and Sayings
Living in the South
The Southern Accent
Living in South Carolina my entire life, I have always been surrounded by the Southern accent and the slow Southern drawl. The accent changes from southern state to southern state, and even city to city. I have a Charleston accent, which is actually quite different from the traditional Southern accent. Many people ask where I am from, because it does not quite match the general South Carolina accent.
As distinct as the British accent, the Southern accent means different things to different people. Some embrace the slow and friendly drawl, while others make fun of it. If you are not that familiar with the Southern accent and find yourself visiting or moving to a Southern state, you may need a this guide to translate and understand what is being said. No, it is not a separate language, but there is a noticeable accent, and we have different terms and sayings as well.
The Southern Drawl
The first noticeable thing about the way a Southerner talks, is the speed. Southerners are typically more laid back and that is reflected in the speech which has drawn-out vowel sounds. You will also notice words that run together like gonna (going to) and lem-me (let me). No, we are not "slow" or "backwards", but we usually take our time and enjoy life. Some find the Southern drawl irresistible. Think of Matthew McConaughey in the movie A Time to Kill.
Growing up, we had friends that moved to England for a year. When the girls first arrived at school, their new classmates would beg them to talk and then just squeal in delight over their Southern drawl and accent. Then there are others that assume a person with a Southern drawl is lazy and even ignorant - that is until they actually meet a real Southerner!
The US South
Southerners don't say I or eye the way you do. It is more of an aah with a short "a" sound. We also say mah for the word my, also with the short "a." So, for example, you may hear "Aah have an aah-lash in mah aah." (I have an eyelash in my eye.)
The word get does not rhyme with yet here in the South. We say it like git. There is a common rhyme teachers use at school when students complain about not getting their first choice. In the North, you might say: "You get what you get, so don't be upset." But, that does not rhyme for us. We say "You git what you git, so don't throw a fit." Pretty interesting, huh?
Southerners with a heavy country accent don't say tire like you do. It is more of a taar - that being one syllable instead of two. So you may hear "Lordy be, Aah've got a flat taar." (Oh no, I have a flat tire.) Or it may be, "Lem-me put mah feet up - Aah'm taard." (Let me put my feet up - I'm tired.) Fire follows the same rule and is pronounced faar.
The word can't in many small towns here actually rhymes with paint. Hmmm...maybe that is where ain't came from. Likewise, again is pronounced the way it looks, and rhymes with rain. The preposition on is pronounced own. So, you may hear something like "Aah caint put own mah bray-own shoes ah-gain." (I can't put on my brown shoes again.)
Translating Southern Pronunciations
Used in a sentence
Say grace be-fo-ah you ate.
Have we met be-fo-wah?
Aah caint fit into this wed-din dray-ess, Mama!
You look lac a wet dawg.
Mama and Diddy sayd so!
Diddy's drive'n the faar-truck.
He's such a swate fellah.
four or for
One, two, thray, fo-wah
Git your boots off the table!
Aah'm gonna git you, Bubba!
Aah lak your pick-up truck.
Aah'm gonna mare you one day, swate pay.
Come own, girl!
Ate your grayn pays, swatie.
He looks lac a ray-ed neck.
Cuz I sayd so.
You best go back to scole.
Aw, that baby possum's so swate.
Mah truck has a flat taar.
Y'all come back now!
Give meh that yellah mustard for mah dawg.
Southern Terms and Sayings
The most famous Southern expression is y'all, which is an abbreviation for you all. The greeting Hey means Hello. A true Southerner would never ever say "Hello, you all" or "Hi, you guys." But, very often, you will hear "Hey, y'all." These are some other common Southern terms and sayings:
- just pickin: teasing - Aw, come own now, Aah'm just pickin wid ya.
- pitch a fit: complain - Don't pitch a fit about that dray-ess.
- now: We throw that word in anywhere - Hey, now; Run along now; Now don't you git sassy with meh.
- cut the light off: turn out the light - Cut the light off, Sugah.
- fixin: getting ready to do something - Aah'm fixin to change that taar.
- reckon: to figure or think - Aah reckon we kin make it in time.
Charleston, South Carolina
Gullah Children's Story as told by Louise Miller Cohen
The Charleston Southern Accent
Natives from Charleston, South Carolina have a unique Southern accent, and not so much the slow drawl of our neighbors. Our accent was affected by the local African-American Gullah dialect, as well as different European influences. We seem to avoid final and middle "r" sounds, so the name of our city is pronounced Chaahs-tun. Other words you may hear are :
- riv-ah - river
- ow-wah - our
- pow-ah - power
- few-cha - future
- hee-yah - here
- ovah - over
The pronunciation of house is strange. It is not quite hass, but more like hahss. So, you may hear "Now y'all come on ovah hee-yah to owwah rivah hahss for drinks." (Now you guys come on over here to our river house for drinks.) Even this particular accent has variation. There are some Charlestonians that clip their words a bit, so house is more like huss.
Charlestonians do not use Southern expressions like just pickin, though we do use the famous y'all. We don't say taar or faar, either, for tire and fire. It would be fair to say that the Charleston accent is less "country" sounding. There is very little, if any, twang, but definitely a different pronunciation of some words.
Sadly, the charming Charleston accent seems to be dying out. My grandmother spoke with a heavy accent, and my mother has some traces. My accent contains only hints, and my children even less.
Finding the Southern Accent
If you travel the South, you will notice some areas with a very strong twang, while others are less noticeable. In bigger cities like Charleston and Atlanta, you may not consistently hear the accent, because so many people from other places live there now. The stronger Southern accents are more widespread in the smaller towns and communities.