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Southern Language

In an effort to promote the revival of Southern speech, SNN has put together information divided into the following language-related topics: links, vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation. This is an on-going project and our content will be expanded. SNN is looking for help with this project. Please contact us if you’d like to contribute. Thank you!

Verbal Independence: Lessons 1-8 (A tutorial series on Southern orthography and language begun in the July-August 1997 Southern Patriot)

Southern Language Links

Southern American English (Wikipedia)

Southern American English: Past, Present, and Future (journal article)

Southern States English

Sounds of the South

US Language Map

VOCABULARY

The Southern words below are followed by the Standard American English words in parenthesis and an example of the word in a sentence.

Coke (soda, pop) “My favourite coke is Pepsi.”

Commode (toilet) “This fancy new commode is something else!”

Cut on/off (turn on/off) “It’s time for bed. Cut the lights off.”

Buggy (shopping cart) “Mrs. Williams pushed her buggy full of groceries across the parking lot to her car.”

Dinner (lunch) “My sister helped Mamma set the table for dinner today.”

Directly (in a minute; soon; momentarily) “I’ll get those dishes done directly. First, I’m going to finish reading this article.”

Dog don’t hunt (a machine that does not work or a theory or idea that does not make sense) “She kept trying to sell me on that crazy idea of hers but I told her that dog don’t hunt.”

Hanker (strong, restless desire) “I’ve got a hankering for a big, juicy steak!”

In cahoots (two or more people acting in concert in an endeavour) “They’ve been in cahoots all day trying to get me to go with them on the tour.”

Mash (press) “Mash that button on the keyboard.”

Lightning bug (Firefly)

Like (nearly) ”I was so angry that I like to hit him!”

Reckon (believe, suppose, guess) “Well, it’s late. I reckon I’ll get on down the road. See y’all tomorrow!”

Sight better (much better) “I was sick last week but I’m a damn sight better now.”

Supper (dinner) “We boiled crawdads for supper last night.”

Take a notion (sudden or whimsical inclination to do something) “Sometimes I take a notion to see the Low Country, so I get in the truck and drive all the way down to Beaufort.”

Tote (carry)

Also see Regional Vocabularies of American English: The South

GRAMMAR

Second person plural (the plural form of “you”) in Southern English is “y’all.” This form does not exist in Standard American English. The Southern word “y’all” follows the regular pattern for grammatical person and is a standard pronoun in Southern English, including the possessive form “y’all’s.”

Example of second person plural: “She gave each of y’all keys to the building and someone none of y’all have kept up with them. How is that possible?”

Another example of second person plural: “Kelly and Jim, I’m giving y’all an ‘A’ on this project. Outstanding group work!”

Example of the possessive form of second person plural: “Kelly and Jim, y’all’s project was outstanding!”

Some people misinterpret the phrase “all y’all” as meaning that Southerners use the “y’all” as singular and “all y’all” as plural. However, “all y’all” is used to specify that all members of the second person plural (i.e., all persons currently being addressed and/or all members of a group represented by an addressee) are included; that is, it operates in contradistinction to “some of y’all,” thereby functioning similarly to “all of you” in standard English.

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Double modal verbs (occasionally triple modal verbs are possible) are common in Southern English. Frequently used modal combinations include “might could” (conveys a greater sense of tentativeness than “might be able”), ”might should,” “might would,” “used to could,” etc. Double modal verbs also appear in the closely related language of Scots (as well as other Germanic languages). Considering that a large percentage of native Southerners are of Scottish or Ulster-Scots ancestry, it is not surprising that Southerners have maintained this aspect of their speech.

PRONUNCIATION

Southerners pronounce many words differently than do people from outside of the South. In general, Southern pronunciation is less “nasal” sounding than that of of New England and less “crisp” than that of the Midwest. Southerners tend to draw out their words and the tempo of speech in the South is less hurried than in other regions of North America. There is also a tendency in Southern English to stress on first syllable of a word, while the tendency in Standard American English is to stress the last syllable of many of these words.

In the list of words below, when there is a distinct Southern pronunciation it appears first and is followed by the Northern/Yankee pronunciation in parenthesis. If the syllables of the word are stressed differently, the stressed syllables appear in capital letters. Other pronunciation differences are also noted.

Pecan: PEE-can (peuh-KAHN)

Card: k-ard (k-add – in New England)

Cement: SEE-mint (sah-MINT)

Caught: kalt (kot)

Coffee: kolf-ee (kaff-ee or koif-fee)

Human: hue-man (you-man – in New England, especially Boston)

Lawyer: law-yer (loy-ya)

Southern English 101: Ni-qull (NyQuil)

NiQuil : Ny-qull (The ‘i’ -at least in the sandhills of western SC – is pronounced more like a short u)

Often: off-ten (off-in)

On: own (ahn)

Veteran: Vet-er-in (vet-tren)

“Pin” and “pen” are pronounced the same.

Pronunciation Links

The following links provide detailed information about different aspects of Southern English pronunciation.

Central dipthong

Post-coronal glides

Vowel lowering

Vowel shift

  • Ginny

    My sons love these Southern English 101 videos. They’re going to enjoy their breakfast this morning because they will be watching this newest lesson. You have big fans in our home.

  • http://southernnationalist.com/blog/author/administrator/ Michael

    lol…. Thanks, Ginny. Glad your sons enjoy them.

  • Sebastian

    Great page, thanks for it, Michael. I always love to learn more about Southern language. Reminds me that I wanted to finish that article on the Prussian officer for SNN. Ah, I’ll get to that directly…

    Oops :-)

  • http://southernnationalist.com/blog/author/administrator/ Michael

    lol… Excellent use of “directly,” Sebastian.

  • johnny reb

    Dear Sirs; I like the comments in this article because it tells you, and explains to all Americans, from north of the Mason-Dixon line, the correct and right way to speak the King’s and Queen’s English.

  • Timothy

    I really do like these. If possible would you also create a segment on manners? I would really love to see an uprise again on southern manners and etiquette. I have not reviewed all your videos and am not sure if one currently exists, but i am very happy to see a revival in our wonderful culture and an action actually being taken by someone to rebuild our proud way of life.

  • john

    Thank you so much for this page!! The use of Supper and Dinner was the source of a debate that, thanks to you, I won.

  • http://greekns.blogspot.com Great Lord

    The key to freedom is looking back to your nationality, restoration of your roots.The flag is a very important thing, a nation’s flag when hold up high is powerful like a person’s voice when charged with wrath.

    See your roots, discover if you are a French American, or a British or Irish etc(Americans are West Europeans mostly). Nationalism is the key to success!

    And by the way, do something for your food supplies, the gov is getting you poisoned people. Mutants? Why? There is no food emergency to use them, America can support your population. Abolish mutants and hormones immediately. Autism, cancer, diabetes and many others are on the raise because of the crappy mutants. And the most important they make a human weaker and less smart, they wish that so they can control you.

    Good luck to yee all!

  • Shawn

    I love these videos. :-)

    One thing I would like to point out, though, is the distinct sub-dialects of the different regions of Dixe. There is no single “Southern Dialect”. Just about all of the states have their own version of the dialect. They are similar, but not the same.

  • http://southernnationalist.com/blog/author/administrator/ Michael

    That’s true, Shawn. That is the way it used to be with all the major languages and dialects. There was a great deal of variance from one valley or region to another. Sadly, central governments have purposefully tried to destroy this positive diversity in most places of the world. Here in the US we have seen an effort in public schools and in the media to destroy Southern speech, along with the rest our culture. They want us to be cogs in the machine of the welfare/warfare state.

  • Brent Brumley

    What about ther word “reckon”. Don’t Southerners reckon about things while Yankees don’t reckon about anything? =)

  • Michael

    Thanks, Brent. Just added it. And you’re right. This is something we have in common with British-English. We both use “reckon” for “suppose” or “believe” while Yankees almost never use it.

  • Shawn

    One thing I’ve noticed recently is the way we use the word ‘as’. Such as in:

    “Dey’s de type of men as’d nevah gie up.”

    which in normal English would be:

    “They are the type of men that would never give up.”

    I don’t know if that’s something common to the whole South, but it’s something you might hear in this part of Alabama.

  • Michael

    Shawn, that’s interesting. Now that you bring it up, I do hear this. Thanks for pointing this out.

  • Shawn

    Ooh, I noticed some more about the pronunciation! We tend occasionally to pronounce ‘a’ and ‘e’ as ‘uh’

    For instance: “A tree.” We would pronounce it as “Uh tree”, instead of the specifically higher-pitched ‘a’. We also sometimes do this with ‘e’. I noticed this in the case of the name Bedlem. I automatically pronounced the first ‘e’ as I would in ‘bed’, but in the second I pronounced it as ‘lum’.

    Not sure if this is widespread or not, or what the pattern of this is, but I thought it was interesting.

  • davidcaskey

    You forgot the word naked. In Southern, there are at least three ways to say the word to indicate various levels of disgust or moral indignation.

  • Rudel

    “Double modal verbs also appear in the closely related language of Scots (as well as other Germanic languages).”

    There is no “Scots” language. The Scots spoke a form of Gaelic (which is from the Celtic branch of the Indo-European language family not the Germanic one.)

  • Michael

    Actually there is a Scots language, Rudel. This is distinct from the Gaelic of the Highlands. Check out the link below: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scots_language

  • Rudel

    According to the article it hardly qualifies as a separate “language” as it is merely a bastard dialect of English. Sort of like Ebonics.

  • Michael

    Rudel, comparing an ancient dialect/language of the Scots to the degenerate ghetto slang of Detroit and south-central LA is hardly flattering. The word ‘language’ is problematic at any rate. There’s an old quip on the subject that goes something to the effect of the difference between a dialect and a language is that a language has an army. In other words, it’s generally backed up by state power. We see this Montenegro, for example, where what many people consider a local dialect is promoted as a separate language by the government of that state.

  • Rudel

    The only true Scotsman are the Gaelic speaking Highlanders who didn’t give up their culture and religion to their English slavemasters. The clearings and forced migration to Ulster only further degenerated the Scotch-Irish. Moving to Appalachia only continued the degeneration. They turned from their odious Calvinistic Presbyterianism to snake handling, speaking in tongues, and, worst of all, pig ignorant Baptists who deny science.

    West Virginia has the lowest average IQ for whites than any other state in America.

  • Michael

    Ok, Rudel. Now I know it’s pointless to discuss the matter further with you, given your apparent belief that you are the authority on who is or isn’t a true Scot and your other ridiculous and bigoted statement about Baptists and Scots-Irish. Please find somewhere else to vent your anger.

  • http://lagriffedulion.f2s.com/ Rudel

    Actually Scotch-Irish is the more correct term and was the one that was in common use until recently when the the term Scots was introduced to provide some sort of false gentility to the group. You don’t eat butterscots candy or wash down Scots eggs with Scots do you? I didn’t think so.

    Their is a lot of good that Scotch culture introduced to the US like music and bagpipes but those were relics of their Gaelic roots that hadn’t been hammered out of them by their English masters.

  • Virginian Secessionist

    Actually, Rudel, you are not correct. “Scotch” is more of a slang term, and should only be applied to inanimate objects, like Scotch Whiskey or butterscotch. It should never be used in relation to Scottish persons, culture, or language. Scots Gaelic (not Scotch Gaelic) is the traditional language of the highlands. The lowlands have, for a long time, spoken Scots English (not Scotch English), also just called Scots (not Scotch). Scots English has even been the legal and official language of Scotland since the high middle ages (I believe since Robert the Bruce, though perhaps I am off by a generation or two).

    Also, lad, it’s not the English as a whole that butchered and persecuted Scottish culture. You have to blame the Whigs for that. The Whigs wanted to do to Britain what the First French Republic or the Yankees would later want to do in their own countries: eradicate dialects and distinct cultures, forming a single, homogeneous culture group. It was a political agenda of the Whigs, not the hatred of the English, that forced so many loyal Scots from their native land.

  • Amy

    Michael,

    I very much enjoyed the videos on Southern English. Nicely done!

    My grandparents said “commode” and “directly,” but I can’t recall ever hearing anyone refer to a shopping cart as a buggy–although I would have known what they meant if they had.

    Just a suggestion for future videos…you may want to consider including “yonder” and “fixing to.” I have a friend and former coworker from Ohio who was almost driven over the edge by folks who were always “fixin’ to” do something!

  • Jim

    I’ve heard this all of my life, I just thought it was normal, everyday speech.

  • Gritsgirl55

    I am also glad to so this page on our language. I grew up with most of it (as different regions use different dialects). Of course, in school they attempted to eradicate it from our vocabulary. Mostly, I feel that my generation stuck to the old pronunciations. Sadly, many of the current generation are influenced by the speech patterns of TV and radio. It is so heartwarming to be in a crowd of true Southrons and hear these words. I turned down a very lucrative position recently in a large city and accepted a lower-paying position in a small town. The reason: Language and culture.

    • Virginian Secessionist

      I was born in Virginia Beach, and in my earliest youth I had a strong drawl, and used what words from this list that I learned (keep in mind, this is only about the first four years of my life counted here). After we moved away from Virginia the schools effectively bred my accent and dialect out of me. I was stuck in New England so long I actually picked up a fair chunk of their accent. Thankfully, five years in Minnesota has almost completely cured me of that atrocious dialect (though sometimes if I say ‘horrible’, ‘terrible’, or ‘hilarious’ it still sounds nasal and nasty: ‘hAHrrible’, ‘tAHrrible’, and ‘hilAHrious’). For the most part, these days, I have a mild Minnesotan accent. Hopefully moving back to Virginia this fall will cure me of that and I can get a good Virginia-Piedmont accent again. But until then, I will say that a Minnesota accent is not nearly so annoying to have as a New England one. Other than the aforementioned exceptions (which I cannot as yet control), I only break out a New England accent to mock them. ;)

  • Gritsgirl55

    I really had to chuckle at your descriptions! Funny thing, I once went to Chicago (God forbid)and while there very few people could understand me – nor me them. AND, my own accent became more pronounced. I believe subconsciously I wanted to make sure they knew I was Southern. :) At any rate, I was so glad to leave and get back to the Southland. There is something that will make a Southerner sick if they stay up north too long. We were not meant to be there. Oh, and speaking of “nasal”, I had a history professor from the New England area with that “nasal” tone to his voice. And he was the most boring man to listen to. Unfortunately, I had to take 3 classes under him. Minnesotan is truly less annoying. :) I know you will be glad to see Virginia again.

    • Virginian Secessionist

      Words cannot describe how good it will feel to be home. I haven’t lived down South in 11 years, and haven’t lived in Virginia in about 20. Of the North, I have little else to say but what Hank Williams Jr. once sang, “If this is the Promised Land I’ve had all I can stand! And I’m headed back below that Dixie Line! No, I just don’t fit in and I’ll NEVER come back again!”

      You are right when you say that something will make a Southerner sick if they stay up north too long. But it is a sickness of heart and soul. After a long time you do get numb to it, though. Forget it is even affecting you. That’s what a decade up north did to me, despite some visits down South early on in that time. Especially during the years from 2008 until the spring of 2012, when I never even set foot in Dixie. During that time, I became so numb I didn’t even know how sick I was. Then two weeks in Dixie changed it all. First thing I did upon exiting the car when we reached the place in Virginia where we stayed for week, was to drop to my knees and kiss the sweet earth. At that moment, I knew at long last where I belonged, and I have felt nothing but emptiness since. It has now been over a year since I last set foot in Dixie. And I have a few months yet before I can return. But when I get home, you can know that, aside from brief visits to family and friends north of the Mason-Dixon, I will never leave my homeland again. I will live and die in Dixie, God willing.

  • Gritsgirl55

    VS,
    Funny you should mention the Hank, Jr song. That is one of my all-time favorites. Sends chills up my spine each time I hear it. (That and Dwight Yoakam’s “I Sang Dixie”). Dixie is in our blood. Move anywhere in the world and it is still there. I imagine Scots would say the same thing. I remember how soothing it was to hear a Southern accent again – and I was only gone 1 week! May God keep your path straight toward home and give you a safe journey. Doesn’t matter how long we’re gone – our kin (Southrons) always welcome us back.

    • Virginian Secessionist

      I very nearly cried when last I was in Georgia, stopped by a friend’s pizza place, and had my order taken by a wonderful young lady with the most beautiful Georgia accent I have ever heard. It was her voice, in that dear accent, that truly convinced me of what I had been feeling for a while at the time: Dixie, and Dixie alone, is where I belong. And for me it had been years since hearing a Southron speak to me.

      A couple of months ago, at my local dollar store here in MN, I encountered another woman with a Georgia accent. Turns out she and her husband moved up here last fall because of his job. But they missed Georgia. We talked for a good while about Georgia, and how much we missed the South. Another refreshing chat.

      And yes, that is something I love most about our people. When I come home, they will welcome me. I look forward to returning to Virginia, because I won’t be an outsider for long. Especially when folks there learn that I’m originally from Virginia. I’ll be the Prodigal Son returned at last, not some foreign stranger.

  • irondutch

    Finally here! “Hooked on Southern Phonics”! How do I order my kit?

  • irondutch

    Wow! “Hooked on Southern Phonics” is finally here!!! How do I order my kit? Does it come with its own workbook or is that extra?



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