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Southern Drawl MAG
“My nose itches, I smell peaches. Someone's coming with a hole in their breeches. First one to say a word has to patch 'em!” This saying has swirled around in my household for as long as I can remember, popping up anytime my grandmother finds that she has a sinus “inflection,” as she calls it. Terms such as “cornpone” (cornbread cooked in a small pan) and “chaw” (chewing tobacco) and other adapted words like “afeared” (afraid) and “flusterated” (a hybrid of frustrated and flustered) mix together to form a tapestry that cements my family's origin in the lower Appalachian mountains.
The warmth of Appalachian English binds us in ways that our pointed, impersonal standard English simply cannot. However, both serve purposes: the former for family, the latter for business. Just as a coin has two sides, the members of my family possess both standard English and our Southern Appalachian dialect; in a sense, these two accents reflect how we have adapted to the modern world.
Like a cotton quilt, my family's Southern drawl warmly covers and unites us. The accent, properly known as Appalachian English, hails from the Appalachian Mountains, which string along the Midland South. Supposedly a remnant of the older English spoken by the region's first settlers, the dialect draws out words, particularly vowels, in the distinctive Southern drawl, much like spooning out sorghum. We throw words all over the place, make them do double duty, and often blob terms together to make new phrases.
Like the people of the region – in our case, northern Alabama – Appalachian English has had to mold to the land, twist to fit in the grooves of the fields, and weather the harsh mountain winds. Yet the tiring work of the mountainous farmland yields fruit in the form of our dialect: for ours is the language of cornbread in milk, of warm summers by the lake, of homemade blackberry cobbler.
The austere simplicity of its sound harkens to the old South, when my grandparents, growing up in the mountains, were born not in hospitals but in their homes, and had midwives, not doctors. They lived a Spartan lifestyle, often isolated from technology like the refrigerator and the television, but families knit into such close groups that the world beyond the mountains was not only obscure but unwanted.
The accent has always had a whimsical musicality; like Appalachian “buckdancing,” a colorful medley of springy feet and jaunty bounces, Appalachian English jives to the rhythm of its speaker's emotions. When I remember my childhood, I can still hear my nana saying “shrill” or “shrimp” with a sort of whistle, a little sweet song in the “sh” sound. The music of our accent, while not as classical or smooth as standard English, has a hearty, robust vigor that always makes me feel like tapping my toe.
In the modern world, abandoning the comforting warmth of Southern sayings and sweet talk for the metallic, mechanical sound of typical English has led to a sort of double life in my family. Since we moved from the country to the city in the last thirty years, we have adopted a language suitable to our new home while still retaining our past. Around Nana and Papa, I find myself bubbling with idioms like “fixin',” whereas at school, where the drawl is all but weeded out, I revert to standard English.
The interesting part of a Southern dialect is how easily it can be dropped. In day-to-day living, speaking “normally” (the sort of language acceptable for national television or radio) comes readily in my part of Alabama. Like bilingual speakers, many members of my family can wield a “business” vernacular just as easily as their Southern drawl.
Though my mother and father had to leave some of their heritage in the country when they moved to Birmingham, they took their speech with them, and every so often they lapse into their Southern accent. Oddly, I find speaking “Southern” difficult unless I am with family. Since my generation grew up on a regular diet of television, we've heard enough “standard” speech to ingrain that style into our minds.
Nationally, Appalachian English has a connotation of sounding uneducated or illiterate. While those two words could define many speakers, they do not fit my family. But even though I tend toward the modern talk of today, I always return to the warmth of my past, to the language of my grandparents, when I spend time with my family.
So while the clean utility of regular speech has its place in our lives, I prefer the soft and messy style of the South. The sound has a flair of nostalgia, whispering of past days and simpler living, calling for a return to purer ideals. When I dream, I hear the music of this accent, the voice of a people looking for the wholesome in the harrowing, the divine in the daily drone of life.