As many of you know I am not a native to West Virginia and grew up in Boulder Colorado. A place of almost no accent when speaking and a trait that is valued by the media. One of the things I treasure most about my family is their accent and choice of speech. I found my mother in laws accent endearing when she told stories about “putting up” the green beans from the garden or that her car was hit by a “buggy “at the IGA . She would tell us that she never enjoyed “beer joints” because of the drunks and “fightin”. My husband likes to say “YOU ARE FIXIN TO GET A ASS WHIPPEN”when the kids have bugged him to losing his temper. Yet, while working with some of the Americorps members from farther south, I learned that having an accent is not always a thing people are proud of and that they have worked to lose it. I have mixed feelings about people who train themselves to speak without an accent and who give up local language traditions. I wonder if we are losing something along the way?
I am not the only person who has wondered about this loss of accent. I had a nice conversation with a former English As a Second Language teacher recently who said that many her students also wondered why america is always trying make everyone look and sound the same. They wondered why in such a large place that we worked so hard to make even our towns and shopping centers look the same. We discussed how stereotyping works against southern kids and how West Virginia accents are viewed negatively outside the state. ” That southern accent makes you sound stupid” is still a very prevalent stereotype.
So when a person has an accent from the southern US, and they work extremely hard to lose that accent,what are we teaching them? Are we trying to say the place where you were raised has less value then someone who is from a place that has less of an accent less? Are the residents of the south less intelligent or less wise? Here is my point, some of our countries most intelligent and inspirational and innovative people have come from the south and brought their accent with them, Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, William Faulkner, Harper Lee,Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Would we want Dr. King to lose his southern accent?… Does he sound dumb or uneducated when he speaks? If you have never heard Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” here is a very short sound bite of that speech from 1968. I am guessing that there is not a single person who hears this speech that thinks this man is lacking in education and should lose his manner of speech.
Often, it is our differences that make us stand out and make a deeper impression on others. An accent can be used in the same way that our personal appearance and dress can be. An attractive, well-educated, warm person is always going to leave a great impression with or without a southern accent. I just happen to like my friends and family wrapped up in the slow southern drawl of the hills and hollows of my home. I prefer to hear an honest story-teller who uses the local langue of their home. I find a person’s home-grown style of speaking more interesting and pleasant over something filtered through the expectation of others. So take it from Chad Prather who explains to everyone all about having a southern accent and how to be proud of it.
Even Conan O’Brien knows that truth about the sexy southern accent and how he is just out of luck in the sexy accent department. So just remember there is always someone out their who loves the way you sound and does not want you to change who you are!