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Study: US bias against Southern accent starts early

December 9, 2012

Northern children associated sounding Southern with being 'foreign' & less intelligent.

One of the ways that the US bias against Southern culture and identity is expressed is through the (often undisguised) contempt for the Southern dialect (or accent). Southerners are frequently discriminated against in the US business world, for instance, if they speak in their native manner. Sadly, as noted in a recent National Public Radio feature, many Southerners have made an effort to disguise their accent or give it up completely because of the strong anti-Southern bias in the United States. This is just one of the many ways that the USA undermines Southern identity and culture.

The Daily Mail (UK) has published an article which reports on a recent study that explored the association in the mind of young people in the USA between the Southern accent and a lack of intelligence. The article explains:

According to a new study by psychology professors Katherine Kinzler and Jasmine DeJesus, children display such biases as early as age five, and it leads them to make associations linking Northern accents with being ‘smarter’ and ‘in charge’ and Southern accents with being ‘nice.’

The researchers say that the results show that while parental influence has much to do with how young children develop biases against certain accents, it also has a lot to do with what they hear and are exposed to on a day-to-day basis.

The article goes on to explain that Northern children associated the Southern accent with being ‘foreign.’ Meanwhile, Southern children, because of the lack of Southern-sounding people in the US media, did not associate sounding either Southern or Northern with being ‘foreign.’ Both Northern and Southern children associated the Southern accent with being ‘nicer’ while Northern children still demonstrated a preference for being friends with other Northern children. The article concludes with some telling statements:

…Southern children associate Northern accents with prestige simply because nearly all the celebrities and individuals of high standing they hear in the media speak with a Northern accent, creating a self-perpetuating stereotype that firmly entrenches itself into the minds of children by at least the age of nine.

Still, the researchers were unable to prove whether parental influence or cultural norms have a more long-lasting impact on these biases.

Nevertheless, they have managed to show that regardless of where these influences come from, children are extraordinarily susceptible to picking up accent biases starting from a very young age and urge parents to think about these implications when raising their children.

Also see: US war on the Texas accent

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  • the29thtn

    yep, I know it all too well. Government school destroyed my accent. I was a small child and bought into the “you will sound like an idiot” argument. Now people ask me if I’m from here when I have lived here all my life.

  • Jim

    Guido, Vinny and Theresa from “Joisey”,sound stupid to me. They can’t spell very well and use “agreeance” instead of “agreement”, and a host of other, nonsensical non words. I find this line interesting; “Northern children associated the Southern accent with being ‘foreign.” Even young Yankees instinctively know they are a different nation from us. Or this one; “Southern children associate Northern accents with prestige.” I never did. I associated it with arrogant ignorance, condescension, totalitarianism and “busybodyism”. In short, the voice of the enemy..

  • http://none KGeorge

    How odd. I grew up with my family referring to the way yankees talked. Of course, that was long ago. Maybe because I’m a Texan and everybody here talks with some kind of “twang” (West Texas is a whole different inflection than say, Dallas-Ft Worth or South Texas). lol I got teased once for not saying “hawg” properly.
    I agree with you, Jim. I have always associated a New Jersey accent with aesthetic tackiness and crass behavior- and most of the North with being pushy and rude.

    It’s ironic considering the professed “sensitivity, empathy, and tolerance” from the left that they so blatantly demean Southerners and Texans for something as superficial as the way we talk.

    • Jim

      I grew up in North Texas, close to the Red River, during the 70’s and 80’s. We were taught in school to cultivate an educated accent, use proper grammar and spell correctly. We were not taught to disparage either the Texas, or Southern accent. Such an accent was a sign of manliness, refinement and breeding. We had a few kids move in from the North, but they mostly came from the plains in Illinois and Iowa. Which made it easier for them to assimilate, and for us too. Interestingly, they hated the pretensions of the Northeast, too. We did have at least two students from the Northeast. Needless to say, they didn’t fit in very well. It was funny to see our English teacher, a retired professor of English literature at NTU, correct a “guido’s” grammar. In a perfectly cultivated Texas accent, she informed him that one can be in “agreement” but not in “agreeance.” Yet it is precisely these types who claim to be of a superior education. Interestingly, listening to the accents of the patrons in Dallas shopping malls, one finds it hard to believe that one is still in Texas. As a humourous asside, a friend and I were having dinner, or lunch, as the Yankees say, at Sonny Bryan’s BBQ pit in Las Colinas. A group of yuppie types walked in and took their place in line. One of the ladies, a not unattractive one, asked in an obvious, North Central states accent, if they removed the bones from the pulled pork rib sandwiches. My friend and I nearly choked on our dinners. She obviously thought that we eat ribs; meat bones and all. Yet, like a lot of people from the “soft” North, she’s probably grown to love Texas.

  • Harold Crews

    Let the arrogant Yank under estimate us by thinking we’re stupid. Our resistance will catch him by surprise and unprepared.

  • Virginian Secessionist

    KGeorge, I know what you mean about their accents. I lived in Rhode Island for more years than I care to admit (and still have family there). Out there they have no idea how pathetically small their State is (King Ranch is larger). If it takes you fifteen minutes to get somewhere, it probably wasn’t worth the drive in their minds. And the accent is awful! I kid you not this is how they talk out there: “Unh! Thee othah day I had to droive moi cah oall the way to thee othah soide of Proavidence, just so Oi could get moah stuff from Shar’s (Shaw’s); it was tarrable! While Oi was out theah, Oi decoided to get moi haiah cut. Them moi pal axed me, ‘Heyhowyadoin! Jeet? (Hi. Have you eaten yet?)’ Oi sed ‘no’ so we went to Dunkin Donuts and gought some coaffee.”

    Everybody is always in such a rush out there. That’s why a common greeting like “heyhowyadoin” doesn’t actually imply that they want to hear about how you are doing. It is a way of politely acknowledging someone’s existence (often they’re too busy to even do that). If they actually care to know how you are doing, they’ll repeat the question in a more audible way. I have honestly had someone say this to me before, “Heyhowyadoin! How ah you t’day?” Also, they call a water fountain a “bubblah.”

    Honestly, now that I’m free of Rhode Islanders (aside from visits to family for Christmas), I’m content to let them exist in their own little world and talk in their own peculiar way. It’s the typical Yankee arrogance that bugs me. If I started talking like a Southerner out there, they’d immediately start laughing at me for sounding like an idiot. It’s very hypocritical.

  • mpoitevint

    While we’re on the subject, let me vent one of my pet complaints. In movies and on TV, if the characters are Southerner, they NEVER get true Southerners for the part. Instead, they use a northerner who creates one the worst impressions of a Southern accent imaginable. Positively no one in the South talks like that! I believe they think that the more ignorant and stupid it sounds the more Southern it is. Now I have no idea what the population of Southerners are in this country; suffice it to say there are lots and lots of them. Then why, for crying out loud, are not REAL Southerners chosen for these parts? We represent a vast area of this country, but find no real representation in the media, except for the phony and made-up. It is not only baffling but offensive.

    • Virginian Secessionist

      I believe this is to further propagate the notion that we *are* in fact idiots, racists, and inbred morons. Most true Southerners would not willingly portray their people in that light. And most of us don’t have a nasty drawl that adds to the feel of stupidity (though I’ll admit, there are a few of them out there). A native Southerner would bring a sense of the real South, with a distinct but intelligible accent, and a level of respectability. This is not what they want for their Southern roles. They want the hick drawl, the tacky and backwards look, and the utter lack of intelligence. I agree that it is offensive.

      • mpoitevint

        Not all are meant to be disparaging. The movie, My Dog Skip, a movie I happen to like, is not at all offensive and shows the South from a rather positive perspective. Yet not a single actor in the cast is Southern. The accents for the most part are horrendous. Billy Bob Thorton, in an interview for Sling Blade, made comment as to the really phony and terrible imitation of Southern accents in movies. That’s why, he said, he chose only real Southerners for parts in his movie. Even if you don’t like the movie Sling Blade, at least the people and accent are realistic. I agree that most movies are made to disparage and make fun of the South. We are the country’s whipping post. We refuse to conform to their ideal of perfection of ‘American’. That is, the northern way of doing everything. We are different; therefore, we are not ‘American’. And to that I say, Thank God.

  • Colin Martindale

    That’s probably because on average the southern states do far inferior in state education rankings…

    • Long Live Dixie

      Do you think five-year-old Yankee children peruse state education rankings before forming biases against Southern accents?

      That said, a quick Google of state education rankings shows that seven of the top ten are Southern.

    • michaelCfromSC

      That has a lot to do with the much larger Black population in the South. I wouldn’t exactly hold Detroit or NYC’s educational system as a model either. They are every bit as dysfunctional as is Birmingham or Memphis. The commonality there, quite obviously, is race. If you actually want to compare apples to apples you’d have to look at White Southern students compared to White Northern students.

  • Bowtie and Fedora

    I was born in Ohio but raised in Tennessee. Southern is my adopted culture and I refuse to change that, no matter the setting.


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