Why do people constantly say “Southerners talk funny.” Worse yet, when we’re portrayed on TV shows, our accents are twisted into caricatures that don’t sound real.
When it comes to “talking funny,” you people in North Dakota, Maine, NYC, and Boston really shouldn’t be pointing fingers at us. But here’s the thing, even though y’all talk funny, I don’t assume you’re stupid. Sure, some of you are: I mean, let’s face it, everyone in the South sure isn’t a rocket scientist even though we have more of those per capita than the rest of the nation.
The South is blamed for a lot of things, so saying that we talk funny and are ignorant is just another way to libel everyone on this side of the Mason-Dixon Line.
I thought of all this after reading a writer friend’s post from the Florida Panhandle. She and another writer friend heard two men at an adjacent table in a cafe talking about books. They were impressed and thought, how refreshing, a conversation that’s not about football. The men caught there eye on their way out, and when my friend said she hadn’t meant to eavesdrop and loved their discussion, and then said she’s a writer, the men scoffed and said, “We never read anything Southern.”
If that’s true, they’re missing some of the best literature on the planet. But their comment is typical of the kind of slander those of us in the South are getting tired of hearing even though your accents make it sound almost like gibberish.
I don’t have a Southern accent unless I want to have one. When my family moved to the Florida Panhandle when I was in the first grade, my speaking patterns were already formed from life in the northwest. So, I can talk to all kinds of bigotted people and they have no clue I grew up and still live in the South. Sometimes they ask me where I was born. I say, Berkeley, California, which is true, and since that place is ground zero for all the strange things going on in California, they nod approvingly and treat me like a god. That’s when I wonder if I know enough hexes to smite them.
I once walked into a store somewhere in London and tried out my Southern accent to see what would happen. “Oh, God,” she said, “you must be from Glasgow.” I said that I was from the U. S. “Probably Boston,” she said. “Bostonians talk funny and don’t like our tea.” It never occurred to her that I came from the purportedly illiterate redneck region of the U. S. However, it was refreshing to be slandered for somebody I wasn’t. I said, “Dinnae gimme ony trauchle aboot cuppa,” and she gave me a free cup of tea. (I’m of Scots ancestry and everybody thinks we talk funny.)
Sometimes, people think accents are variously quaint, vibrant, and a joy to hear. Sometimes, they think accents are a sign of stupidity. Same goes for the place you live. Some day, perhaps we’ll be viewed by others as individuals rather than the denizens of a region where people “talk funny.”
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Lena,” a Florida Folk Magic set in the wondrous panhandle where he grew up.