How to Write a Southern Accent
Representing an accent in your writing is nearly impossible. Distinguishing “proper” English from “other” English is difficult, because every person has his or her own way of speaking. This means that all of us have an individual accent. However, giving a character a Southern accent can be a nice stylistic move, especially if you are a fiction writer that strives to deliver an authentic atmosphere and let the reader dive deeper into your story.
Some writers try to represent phonetics in the text, imitating the way people from different regions pronounce the words. Others rely on syntax and focus on the specific sentence structure. So, there are several ways to show that your character is Southern. Let’s discuss some of them.
The Southern drawl
If you have ever met a person from the South, the first thing you probably noticed was the speed of his or her speech. Southerners move at a slower pace, so their dialect is full of long vowels. No, Southern people are not slow, they are just relaxed and know how to enjoy every minute. And such a tempo can sound really charming. In the Southern accent, “going to” sounds like “gonna” and “let me” sounds like “lemme.”
How to imitate Southern pronunciation when you write?
You may try using Southern accent words to mimic the way people from this region speak. In such a case, you will be wholly focused on the way the words sound, which is a pretty efficient technique. Southerners don’t pronounce “I” the way others do. They say “aah” instead of “I” and “mah” instead of “my.”
Also, you will hear a Southerner saying, “You git what you git, and don’t throw a fit” rather than “You get what you get, and don’t be upset.” The rhyme matters!
Other examples are “taar” instead of “tire” in which Southerners pronounce a doubled syllable. The phrase “I’m tired” can be written as “Aah’m taard.”
“Aah caint do that” is a Southern way of pronunciation for “I can’t do that.” Chances are that the word “ain’t” comes from here.
Don’t forget about syntax
The organization of words and sentence structure is different for people from various regions. This is a more advanced way to copy the way someone talks in a written form. In fact, syntax is a real accent challenge even for a professional same day essay writer, not just a beginning novelist.
The syntactical organization may differ from one territory to another. What is more, it might change depending on the age, gender and social status of a person.
Here is a small example. Usually, people from Ireland use the word “like” in the beginning or at the end of a sentence. People from other regions generally use “like” in the middle of a sentence: “I was like a bit frightened” vs. “Like, I was a bit frightened.” If you want to show a character who is young and modern, you should write the second variant. Old and rural people usually use the first one.
Southern phrases are also constructed differently. For example, one type of Southern accent calls to mind the style of Appalachian code-switching. The mainstream regions have other particularities. Before writing a novel with a Southern character, you should do research and choose a particular accent that corresponds to his or her place of birth. Syntax shows the regional differences no less than phonetics and works much better in texts, so pay special attention to this way of adding more authenticity and realism to your writing.
Types of accents to consider
As you know, the South is pretty large. Start your accent research with this list:
Inland or Mountain Southern English
The main distinguishing feature of this type of accent is that endings of words with “en,” “em” or “im” sound like “in.” For example, “gen” will sound more like “gin.” And the double “o” sounds shorter than usual. “Moose” will sound more like “mus.”
This dialect combines French and Creole languages. It is specific for New Orleans and Louisiana. It is characterized by low “a” and “o” sounds and is often compared to a New York or Boston accent.
This one is the most common and recognizable Southern accent. Usually, characters in the movies speak this way with long vowels and relaxed pronunciation.
Where can you meet the Southern accent?
As a writer, you may want to present your real-life experience and talk to Southern people. Traveling around the South, you will see that some regions have a more noticeable accent than others. The larger cities are not the best places to search for the accent, as there are too many people from other countries and states living there. However, villages and small towns are rich for different dialects and speech specificities.
As you can see, the Southern accent is more something you hear than write, but there are two main ways to show this dialect in your text. The first one is pronunciation imitation, and the second one is syntax. To create a consistent and authentic text, you should try to combine both.
In any case, when using this accent in your written speech, you have to know what you are doing. Make sure to choose the particular region, do research and find out about the distinctive traits of language peculiar to this or that part of the country.
Jeff Blaylock is a writer and reader. He is fond of American gothic literature and, therefore, the South is the place of his interest. He has a degree in Linguistics and dialects, and language peculiarities are his passion.