Real Men Say Y'all: Celebrating the Southern Accent
By Alexa Day
I’ve spent my adult life in the American South. I was raised in the Deep South and think of myself as part of the New South. So while I’m excited to kick off a Southern theme week to celebrate this Friday’s print release of Elizabeth Shore’s HOT BAYOU NIGHTS, I’ve had a tough time trying to decide what aspect of Southern living I wanted to bring into your homes. What facet of the South is the hottest and the sexiest?
It’s the accent. It marks a Southern man as a Southern man. Its nuances tell his story. Southern men tend to be discreet, but if you get one talking, his speech patterns will tell on him. His money, his education, his job, his family — yeah, his tongue will tell you. No matter what his circumstances are, that accent of his is smooth, disarming, and always a little seductive. When it’s weaponized, the Southern man’s accent can be used to get him just about anything he wants.
You might not have ready access to a Southern man. I wish I could remedy that for you; they’re a special breed. I can help you get pretty close to that special sound, though, with the help of some dedicated experts … and Hollywood.
Your first stop on the way to aural deliciousness should be the IDEA: International Dialects of English Archive. The IDEA makes for spectacular character research, if you’re writing someone who speaks accented English from anywhere in the world. (Be warned. You should only go to the Archive if you have time on your hands; you’re going to spend a lot of time clicking and listening.) Inside the IDEA, a rich repository of real Southern men are just hanging out, waiting to tell you a story. Have a listen to Georgia, South Carolina, and these prime exemplars from Alabama and North Carolina. And that’s just a tiny sample — the Archive is far more diverse than my selections in this post.
The entertainment industry has had a tough time getting this right, but there are bright lights on the big and small screens. I just want to touch on a couple of standouts.
Matthew McConaughey is in A Time to Kill, and while he sounds more or less like a Southerner should, he’s actually from Texas, and there is some debate regarding whether Texas is part of the South. Kevin Spacey and Oliver Platt both earn their seersucker. They both play attorneys — the sort of men who are used to having their own way in their own way — and they both sound the part.
If you want to see the Southern accent done absolutely right, you owe it to yourself to see The Walking Dead. I had seen Andrew Lincoln in Love Actually more than once before The Walking Dead started. I had never seen David Morrissey before, but I have seen him since in an episode of Doctor Who. The Walking Dead‘s accent coach has those two British actors sounding not just like Americans, not just like Southerners, but like two men who have spent most of their lives in Georgia, where the show takes place.
So who else is getting that down home sound done right, and who sounds like Foghorn Leghorn? That’s the sort of discussion that’d keep a porchful of Southerners locked in friendly debate for hours. My advice? Try to keep them talking. They might not ever come up with answers, but at least you’ll enjoy the sound of the argument.
In the meantime, y’all need to follow Lady Smut and get in line for HOT BAYOU NIGHTS, coming right at you in print this Friday!