In professional and educational settings, it’s not uncommon to be judged for a Southern accent. Others have commented that I talk “too country” and that I sound like a “southern belle” on numerous occasions. Recently on a flight, I was approached by a flight attendant. She asked, “Awe where are you from? Your accent is so cute.” These situations can leave me feeling as though I sound dumb and uneducated. I used to be self-conscious about the way I talk, but I have shifted my mindset. I no longer give any time of day to these comments.
As long as the speech is grammatically correct and punctuated, there is nothing wrong with sounding Southern. It is a commonly held belief that Southerners are dumb because they talk slower and drag out syllables. However, that is not a fair statement. So I talk a little bit slower; that doesn’t mean I think any slower. In contrast, who is to say that Southerners aren’t more intentional and considerate about their choice of words? Typically professionals take Southerners less seriously when they are presenting, interviewing, or simply having conversations. Often people attempt to hide their Southern accents in job interviews. If someone feels as though they cannot be their true self in those situations, then it is not the right workplace to be a part of. Everyone should have the confidence to use their voice. As long as Southerners use correct speech, there is nothing that they need to change about the way they talk.
It is important to note the difference between sounding Southern and using slang. It isn’t appropriate to say things like “I reckon we better leave” and “I’m fixin’ to call her”, in professional settings. This type of speech shouldn’t be used in the workplace. There is a proper time and place for everything. However, correctly pronouncing words with a Southern accent is perfectly acceptable. Clear and concise speech is important, and a Southern accent doesn’t necessarily contradict that.
In a research study published in the Sage Journals, Katherine D. Kinzler and Jasmine M. researched the development of accent attitudes in the United States. The psychologists evaluated children’s preferences and attitudes toward northern and southern speakers. 5-6-year-old children from Illinois preferred their own, northern accent, but 5-6 year olds from Tennessee did not have a preference. However, the study found that as children got older, stereotypes began to develop against regional accents in the US. The report stated, “Nine- to 10-year-old children in both Illinois and Tennessee evaluated the Northern-accented individuals as sounding ‘smarter’ and ‘in charge’, and the Southern-accented individuals as sounding ‘nicer.’” This study supports that accent stereotypes are learned from adults and one’s environment over time. However, it revealed positive and negative beliefs exist about both northern and southern accents, even within each group. So, everyone should embrace their accent and stay true to themselves. Even though accent prejudice does exist, there will always be contrasting opinions on accents, northern and southern included. I know who I am and am not interested in proving myself to others by changing how I talk.
I believe that having a Southern accent adds character. When meeting other people, a Southern accent is welcoming and makes others feel more comfortable around that person. After all, people always say that Southerners are nicer. It builds a layer of authenticity. I am proud of where I am from and I own it. Northerners have unique accents, but society has accepted them. There seems to be a double standard in this regard. It is respectable when people are unapologetically proud of where they grew up, in contrast to trying to be something they aren’t to “sound smarter”. Having a Southern accent can be charming and set a person apart. In a conference room full of people, others will more likely remember the one person who sounded a little different from everybody else. So, in a way, having a Southern accent can sometimes be an asset. It can build a sense of trust with others and make someone seem more relatable. There is something comforting about the slow and soft speech of a Southerner. Southern speech is sweet and smooth like honey. Southerners seem to be easier to talk to and consequentially, easier to open up to. The practice of embracing one’s background is authentic, and doing so is admirable. And to those that persistently urge Southerners to shed their accent: bless your hearts.
Kinzler, Katherine D., and Jasmine M. DeJesus. 2013. “Northern = Smart and Southern = Nice: The Development of Accent Attitudes in the United States.” Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 66 (6): 1146–58. https://doi.org/10.1080/17470218.2012.731695.
Anna Claire Carter; Jonesboro, Arkansas; 12th; @annaclairecarter