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